As a funny mental exercise, I wanted to try to see what English would look like if it used German grammar, but with English vocabulary preserved as much as possible. The result is a constructed language which I call Germanish.
Learning Germanish is a good way for someone not familiar with German to learn German grammar without having to memorize any vocabulary and to appreciate the differences between the two languages. In this article, we will learn about construction of verbs and pronouns in Germanish.
In German, there are two different words for the “singular you” and the “plural you”. In order to match this phenomenon, in Germanish, we reintroduce the old English thou for the “singular you” and use you only for the “plural you”.
German infinitives always end with “-en”, but the English ones almost never do. If an English verb ends with an “e”, we add -n to it to create the Germanish infinitive, otherwise we add -en, e.g. goen (to go), seen (to see), walken (to walk).
Conjugation in German is somewhat more involved than in English. Our conjugation table will look as follows:
We just take the English verb and add -e, -st, -s, -en, or -t depending on the subject. The second person singular gets only “-t” if the verb already ends with an “s” or “sh” (e.g. thou hisst, thou blusht). The third person singular is the same as in English (with all its irregularities) to increase legibility (the German ending is actually -t, not -s). If the verb ends with a “t”, the second person plural gets -et instead of just -t.
The polite way to address someone you want to show respect to is They, the same as the third person plural but with a capital “T”. For example, you could ask:
Do you want to watch TV?
There are two irregular verbs in Germanish: ben (to be) and haven (to have), which are conjugated as follows:
Are you hungry? Do you want to eat something?
Have is conjugated as:
The simple past
The simple past of irregular English verbs is the same as in English, but the endings are different. Let’s conjugate the verb see in the past:
Notice that, unlike the present tense, the third person singular doesn’t get the ending “-s”. All irregularities are inherited from English, e.g. for goen the forms would be I went, thou wentst, he went, we wenten, you wentet, they wenten. For regular English verbs, the table looks as follows:
If the verb ends with a “t”, the endings are -ete, -etest, … instead of -te, -test, …, e.g.
The past participle and past perfect
The past participle of irregular English verbs is formed by adding the prefix ge- and sometimes adding the ending -en. If there is an English form ending with -en, we just add ge- to it, e.g. geseen, gedrawn, gewritten. If the past participle is irregular and ends with a -t or -d, we also just add ge-, e.g. geset, getold, gebent. There are only 9 irregular English verbs for which this is not the case—come, done, gone, hung, made, sung, slung, stuck, wrung—whose past participle will be, in the same order, gecomen, gedone, gegonen, gehungen, gemade, gesungen, geslungen, gestuckt, gewrungen.
The past perfect tense is usually formed using an appropriate form of haven, as in English. For example:
Have you seen it?
However, for the verbs expressing movement (such as goen), the auxiliary verb is ben, not haven:
He has gone out.
For regular English verbs, the past participle is formed by adding the prefix ge- and replacing -ed or -d by -t, for example gewalkt, gewatcht, gestoppt. In verbs ending with -y, we don’t replace -ied by -it to increase intelligibility, e.g. gecarried, gecried.
If a verb already has a prefix, such as “out” in outweighen, it doesn’t get the prefix “ge-” in the past participle! For example outweight, overcomen, mistaken.
English contains a lot of phrasal verbs. The corresponding construction in German is adding prefixes. To translate an English phrasal verb into Germanish, simply take the preposition after a verb and put it in front of it as a prefix. For example “to go off” becomes offgoen, “to bring up” becomes upbringen, “to get along” becomes alonggeten.
In the present tense and simple past in a main clause, the preposition moves to the end of the sentence, for example:
We all get along well.
And using alongget in a sentence with an infinitive:
You want to get along well, I hope.
In the past participle, “ge-” gets between the preposition and the verb, for example offgegonen, upgebrought, alonggegotten.