, the term weak
(originally coined in German: schwach
) is used in opposition to the term strong
) to designate a conjugation
when a language has two parallel systems. The only constant feature in all the grammatical usages of the word "weak" is that it forms a polarity with "strong"; there is not necessarily any objective "weakness" about the forms so designated.
This terminology seems to have been used first in relation to Germanic verbs
. In this context, "strong" indicates those verbs that form their past tenses by ablaut
(the vocalic conjugations), "weak" those that need the addition of a dental suffix (the consonantal conjugations). It is only in this context that the term would be applied to modern English.
By extension, the terminology was also applied to Germanic nouns. Here too, the weak noun was the consonantal declension, such as the German nouns
that form their genitive in -n
- standard noun: der Mann, des Mannes - "man".
- weak noun (or n-declension): der Junge, des Jungen - "boy".
Although the term "weak noun" is very useful in German grammar to describe this very small and distinctive group, the term "strong noun" is less commonly heard, since it would have to include many other noun types that should not necessarily be grouped together. Some of these have umlaut
plurals (die Männer
), but most do not.
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