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Grimm's Law

The peculiar type or character of the Teutonic languages, distinguishing them as a class from the other Indo-European languages, is prominently determined by a general change in the pronunciation of those consonants commonly known as mutes or explosives. The other consonants remain in general unchanged, thus: n in Eng. new, Lat. novus; m in Eng. name, Lat. nōmen; r in Eng. acre, Lat. ager; l in Eng. light, Lat. lux; w in Eng. will, Lat. velle; y in Eng. yoke, Lat. jugum; s in Eng. seven, Lat. septem; but the explosives (k, t, p, g, d, b, gh, dh, bh) occupied so prominent a place in the mechanism of the parent speech, one or more of them appearing in almost every word, that the changes which they underwent in passing into the Teutonic form could not fail to impress upon the Teutonic languages a distinct mark of individuality. The credit of first discovering the uniformity of these changes is largely due to a Danish scholar, Rasmus Kristian Rask (1787-1832), but the formulation of them in the shape of a general law and the exhibition of the parallelism contained in the second or High German shifting are the work of Jakob Grimm (1785-1863), first made public in the second edition of the first volume of his Deutsche Grammatik (1822).

I. The General Teutonic or first shifting.

The most essential facts are the following:

(1) Indo-European gh dh bh become
  Teutonic g(g) d(d) b(b)  
(2) Indo-European g d b become
  Teutonic k t p  
(3) Indo-European k t p become
  Teutonic h p f  


The Indo-European voiced aspirates (gh, dh, bh) represent an explosion of voiced breath followed by an after-puff; the pronunciation of dh, e. g. may be crudely illustrated by the sound of d-h in sandhill. These sounds passed readily and very early into the affricatae gg, dd (cf. in the pronunciation of Eng. j, bb, which double sounds were then unified into the pure spirants g, d, b. The first of these (g) is the voiced form of German ch, and equivalent to the Modern Greek medial gamma, and may be produced by driving voiced breath over the tongue set nearly in the position for English y. The sound d lies between English th in then and z (ž) in azure. Finally, b may be produced by pronouncing English v with the two lips instead of with the under lip and upper teeth. These three spirants, g, d, b, became quite generally changed to voiced explosives or mediae (g, d, b) in the West Germanic dialects (i. e. all except Scandinavian and Gothic), though the spirants g and b (v) remained medially in all but the High German dialects; contrast Eng. lay, day with Germ. legen, tag, and Eng. raven, have with Germ. rabe, haben. With the understanding, therefore, that g, d, b represent sometimes spirants and sometimes explosives we may set the formula, Indo-European gh, dh, bh>Teutonic g, d, b. The regular correspondences in the cognate languages are as follows:

I.-E. Sanskrit. Gr. Lat. Teuton.
      Initial. Medial.  
gh h χ h h(g) g(g)
dh dh θ f d d(d)
bh bh φ f b b(b)


Sanskrit. Greek. Latin. Teutonic.
hansa/-, goose χήν (h)anser gans goose
va/hati, convey ὄχος, wagon veho wigs way
dhA-, set, make ἔθηκα, set fēcī gadēps deed
vidhAvA, widow ἠΐθεος, bachelor vidua widuwō widow
bha/rati, bears φέρω fero baíran bear
lu/bhyati, desires   lubet liubs lief


The Indo-European voiced explosives (mediae) become voiceless (tenues). The labial b was evidently a rare sound in Indo-European, and as an initial sound it seems not to have existed at all. The following are the regular correspondences:

Indo-Europ. Sanskrit. Greek. Latin. Teutonic.
g j γ g k
d d δ d t
b b β b p


Sanskrit. Greek. Latin. Teutonic.
      Goth. Eng.
ja/nas-, race γένος genus kuni kin
jA/nu-, knee γόνυ genu kniu knee
a/jra-, pasture ἀγρός ager akrs acre
da/s/a, ten δέκα decem taíhun ten
ve/da, I know οἶδα video wait wot
dubùs, deep     diups deep


The Indo-European voiceless explosives (tenues) become voiceless spirants:

Indo-Europ. Sanskrit. Greek. Latin. Teutonic.
k s/ κ c h
t t τ t p(th)
p p π p f


Sanskrit. Greek. Latin. Teutonic.
      Goth. Eng.
s/van-, dog κύων canis hunds hound
astau/, eight ὀκτώ octō ahtáu eight
tra/yas, three τρεῖς trēs preis three
bhrA/tar-, brother φρα?τωρ frāter brōpar brother
pAd-, foot πούς pēs fōtus foot
nápāt-, grandson νέποδες nepōs neffe nephew

In the interest of simplification we have thus far omitted all mention of another Indo-European series of gutturals, included in the group known as velars or back-gutturals, and which show in Greek, Latin, Keltic, and Teutonic a labial development. The most characteristic correspondences are the following:

Indo-Europ. Sanskrit. Greek. Latin. Teutonic.
q k (c) π, τ, κ qu, c hw
g g (j) β, δ, γ gu(v), g kw
gh gh (jh) φ, θ, χ gu(v),f gw

In Sanskrit the palatals c, j, jh appear before vowels which were in Indo-European e, i, e. In Greek, π, β, φ appeared before o-vowels, and I.-E. m, n, r, l; τ, δ, θ appeared before e-vowels (τ also before i-vowels). In Latin, qu, gu (v) appear in general before vowels (except u; f (<I.-E. gh) before r. Examples:

Sanskrit. Greek. Latin. Teutonic.
      Goth. Eng.
ka-, who πόθεν, whence quod hvas who
sa/cate, follows ἕπομαι sequor saíhvan see
ga/mati, comes βαίνω veniō qiman come
jIva/-, alive βίος vīvus qius quick
gharma/-, warmth θερμός formus warmjan warm
snë˜gas, snow νίφα (acc.) nivis (gen.) snáiws snow

Apparent exceptions.

The apparent exceptions to the laws stated may be chiefly summarized under the following heads:


Dissimilation of Indo-European aspirates in Sanskrit and Greek. In Greek it took place after the voiced aspirates had become voiceless, thus: I.-E. dh-dh > Sanskr. d-dh, Gr. τ-θ, Teuton. d-d; cf.:

Indo-Europ. Sanskrit. Greek. Teutonic.
dhedhēmi da/dhAmi τίθημι  
bheudh- boa/dhati πεύθομαι anabiudan
bheîdh-   πείθω bidjan
bhe[ncirc ]dh- ba/ndhu- πενθερός bindan
dhigh- dih- τεῖχος deigan
bhāghú- bAhu/- πῆχυς OHG. buog

cf. Grassman, Kuhn's Zeitschr. xii. 81 foll.


Shifting of k, t, p checked by preceding spirant in the combinations I.-E. sk, st, sp and Teuton. ht (<I.-E. kt), ft (<I.-E. pt); cf. Lat. piscis, Goth. fisks; Lat. stāre, Goth. standan; Lat. rectus, Goth. raíhts; Gr. ἔστι, Goth. ist; Lat. spuere, Goth. speiwan; Lat. noctis (genit.), Goth. nahts; Gr. κλέπτης, Goth. hliftus; Lat. captus, Goth. hafts. See Brugmann, Compar. Gramm. i. 528.


Interchange of mediae and tenues and of mediae and aspirates in Indo-European, especially at the end of roots. This dualism was probably due originally to the character of the following consonant. So are to be explained, e. g. Gr. πυθμήν, O.Eng. botm; Gr. ἀστεμφής, O.H.G. stampfōn; Goth. táikns, teihan, etc.


The phenomena discussed under article Verner's Law (q. v.).

II. The High German or second shifting.

This affects only a portion of the West Germanic dialects. It began in the fifth century A.D. in the extreme south, affecting most powerfully the dialects of the Lombards, Allemans, Bavarians, and Southern Franks, but losing its force as it spread towards the north (cf. Braune, Paul-Braune's Beitr. i. 1 foll.). The frontier between the present High German and Low German dialects is formed without any reference to the older dialectal divisions by the final halt in the shifting of the tenues. The dialects which change initial t to ts (z), medial and final t to s, medial p, k to f, ch are High German, the others Low German. This frontier crosses Germany from west to east. Its course is approximately indicated by a line drawn from Aix-laChapelle through Düsseldorf, Siegen, Cassel, Magdeburg, Lübben, Fürstenberg (south of Frankfurton-the-Oder) to the Slavic language-frontier at Birnbaum on the Warthe. The most prominent features of this second shifting may be exhibited by a comparison of the sounds concerned as they at present stand in English and modern German. The English retains these sounds approximately in their original West Germanic values. The modern German as a normalized standard language occupies in its adoption of the results of shifting a middle position between the south German dialects which shifted most and the northern which shifted least. The second shifting affected the dentals most radically.

  Tenues. Mediae. Spirants.
English k t p g(y) d b(v) h th(p) f
German Initial and after consonants k ts(=z) pf g t b h d f
  After vowels ch ss f    


  • 1. Eng. cold, Germ. kalt; Eng. yoke, Germ. joch; Eng. break, Germ. brechen.
  • 2. Eng. ten, Germ. zehn; Eng. token, Germ. zeichen; Eng. heart, Germ. herz; Eng. bite, Germ. beissen; Eng. goat, Germ. geiss.
  • 3. Eng. path, Germ. pfad; Eng. sleep, Germ. schlafen.
  • 4. Eng. gird, Germ. gürten; Eng. ghost, Germ. geist; Eng. day, Germ. tag; Eng. honey, Germ. honig.
  • 5. Eng. dead, Germ. tot; Eng. drink, Germ. trinken; Eng. deed, Germ. that; Eng. bread, Germ. brot.
  • 6. Eng. blood, Germ. blut; Eng. love, Germ. lieben.
  • 7. Eng. home, Germ. heim; Eng. heath, Germ. heide; Eng. laugh, Germ. lachen; Eng. might, Germ. macht.
  • 8. Eng. that, Germ. das; Eng. thorn, Germ. dorn; Eng. wether, Germ. widder; Eng. earth, Germ. erde.
  • 9. Eng. ford, Germ. furt; Eng. floor, Germ. flur.

For treatment of the West Germ. double consonants, gg, dd, bb, kk, tt, pp, etc., cf. Wilmanns, Deutsche Grammatik. 47, 48, 76, 84; Brugmann, Compar. Grammar, i. 532, 535, 540.

Reference may be made to Brugmann, Elements of the Comparative Grammar of the Indo-Germanic Languages, i. 342-344, 374-376, 393-395, 439-444, 527-541 (Eng. transl. N. Y. 1887); Wilmanns, Deutsche Grammatik. 17 foll.; Kluge, Paul's Grundriss der germ. Philol. i. pp. 324 foll.; Behaghel, Paul's Grundriss, i. pp. 584 foll.; Brandt, German Grammar. 407 foll., and Amer. Journ. Philol. i. 146 foll.; Skeat, Principles of English Etymology, first series, chs. vii, viii.

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