Grimm's law
Grimm's law named for Jacob Grimm
Jacob Grimm
Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was a German philologist, jurist and mythologist. He is best known as the discoverer of Grimm's Law, the author of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie and, more popularly, as one of the Brothers Grimm, as the editor of Grimm's Fairy...

, is a set of statements describing the inherited Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 (PIE) stops as they developed in Proto-Germanic (PGmc, the common ancestor of the Germanic branch of the Indo-European family) in the 1st millennium BC
1st millennium BC
The 1st millennium BC encompasses the Iron Age and sees the rise of many successive empires, and spanned from 1000 BC to 1 BC.The Neo-Assyrian Empire, followed by the Achaemenids. In Greece, Classical Antiquity begins with the colonization of Magna Graecia and peaks with the rise of Hellenism. The...

. It establishes a set of regular correspondences between early Germanic
Germanic languages
The Germanic languages constitute a sub-branch of the Indo-European language family. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic , which was spoken in approximately the mid-1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe...

Stop consonant
In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

s and fricatives and the stop consonants of certain other centum
Centum-Satem isogloss
The centum-satem division is an isogloss of the Indo-European language family, related to the different evolution of the three dorsal consonant rows of the mainstream reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European:...

 Indo-European languages
Indo-European languages
The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects, including most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and South Asia and also historically predominant in Anatolia...

 (Grimm used mostly Latin
Latin is an Italic language originally spoken in Latium and Ancient Rome. It, along with most European languages, is a descendant of the ancient Proto-Indo-European language. Although it is considered a dead language, a number of scholars and members of the Christian clergy speak it fluently, and...

 and Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

 for illustration). As it is presently formulated, Grimm's Law consists of three parts, which must be thought of as three consecutive phases in the sense of a chain shift
Chain shift
In phonology, a chain shift is a phenomenon in which several sounds move stepwise along a phonetic scale. The sounds involved in a chain shift can be ordered into a "chain" in such a way that, after the change is complete, each phoneme ends up sounding like what the phoneme before it in the chain...

  1. Proto-Indo-European voiceless stop
    Stop consonant
    In phonetics, a plosive, also known as an occlusive or an oral stop, is a stop consonant in which the vocal tract is blocked so that all airflow ceases. The occlusion may be done with the tongue , lips , and &...

    s change into voiceless fricatives.
  2. Proto-Indo-European voiced stops become voiceless stops.
  3. Proto-Indo-European voiced aspirated stops become voiced fricatives; ultimately, in most Germanic languages these voiced fricatives become voiced stops.

The chain shift can be abstractly represented as:
→ → →
→ → →
→ → →
→ → →

Here each sound moves one position to the right to take on its new sound value.

The voiced aspirated stops may have first become voiced fricatives before hardening to the voiced unaspirated stops "b", "d", and "g" under certain conditions; however, some linguists dispute this. See Proto-Germanic phonology.

Grimm's law was the first non-trivial systematic sound change
Sound change
Sound change includes any processes of language change that affect pronunciation or sound system structures...

 to be discovered in linguistics
Linguistics is the scientific study of human language. Linguistics can be broadly broken into three categories or subfields of study: language form, language meaning, and language in context....

; its formulation was a turning point in the development of linguistics, enabling the introduction of a rigorous methodology to historical linguistic research. The "law" was discovered by Friedrich von Schlegel in 1806 and Rasmus Christian Rask
Rasmus Christian Rask
Rasmus Rask was a Danish scholar and philologist.-Biography:...

 in 1818. It was elaborated (i.e. extended to include standard German
Standard German
Standard German is the standard variety of the German language used as a written language, in formal contexts, and for communication between different dialect areas...

) in 1822 by Jacob Grimm
Jacob Grimm
Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm was a German philologist, jurist and mythologist. He is best known as the discoverer of Grimm's Law, the author of the monumental Deutsches Wörterbuch, the author of Deutsche Mythologie and, more popularly, as one of the Brothers Grimm, as the editor of Grimm's Fairy...

, the elder of the Brothers Grimm
Brothers Grimm
The Brothers Grimm , Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm , were German academics, linguists, cultural researchers, and authors who collected folklore and published several collections of it as Grimm's Fairy Tales, which became very popular...

, in his book Deutsche Grammatik.

In detail

Further changes following Grimm's Law, as well as sound changes in other Indo-European languages, can sometimes obscure its effects. The most illustrative examples are used here.
Non-Germanic (unshifted) cognates Change Germanic (shifted) examples
Ancient Greek: πούς (poús), Latin: pēs, pedis, Sanskrit: pāda, Russian: под (pod) "under; floor", Lithuanian: pėda, Latvian pēda *p→f [ɸ] English: foot, West Frisian: foet, German: Fuß, Gothic: fōtus, Icelandic, Faroese: fótur, Danish: fod, Norwegian, Swedish: fot
Ancient Greek: τρίτος (tritos), Latin: tertius, Welsh: trydydd, Sanskrit: treta, Russian: третий (tretij), Lithuanian: trečias, Albanian: tretë *t→þ [θ] English: third, Old Frisian: thredda, Old Saxon: thriddio, Gothic: þridja, Icelandic: þriðji
Ancient Greek: κύων (kýōn), Latin: canis, Welsh: ci (pl. cwn) *k→h [x] English: hound, Dutch: hond, German: Hund, Gothic: hunds, Icelandic, Faroese: hundur, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish: hund
Latin: quod, Irish: cad, Sanskrit: kád, Russian: ко- (ko-), Lithuanian: kas }→hw [xʷ] English: what, Gothic: ("hwa"), Icelandic: hvað, Faroese: hvat, Danish: hvad, Norwegian: hva
Latin: verber "rod", Homeric Greek: ῥάβδος (rabdos) "rod, wand", Lithuanian: virbas *b→p [p] English: warp, West Frisian: werpe, Dutch: werpen, Icelandic: verpa, varpa, Faroese: verpa, Gothic wairpan
Latin: decem, Greek: δέκα (déka), Irish: deich, Sanskrit: daśan, Russian: десять (desyat), Lithuanian: dešimt *d→t [t] English: ten, Dutch: tien, Gothic: taíhun, Icelandic: tíu, Faroese: tíggju, Danish, Norwegian: ti, Swedish: tio
Latin: gelū, Greek: γελανδρός (gelandrós), Lithuanian: gelmenis, gelumà *g→k [k] English: cold, West Frisian: kâld, Dutch: koud, German: kalt, Icelandic, Faroese: kaldur, Danish: kold, Norwegian: kald, Swedish: kall
Lithuanian: gyvas }→kw [kʷ] English: quick, West Frisian: kwik, kwyk, Dutch: kwiek, Gothic: qius, Icelandic, Faroese: kvikur, Danish: kvik, Swedish: kvick, Norwegian kvikk
Sanskrit: bhrātṛ }→b [b]/[β] English: brother, West Frisian, Dutch: broeder, German: Bruder, Gothic: broþar, Icelandic, Faroese: bróðir, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian: broder
Sanskrit: mádhu 'honey', Homeric Greek: μέθυ methu }→d [d]/[ð] English: mead, East Frisian: meede, Dutch: mede, Danish/Norwegian: mjød, Icelandic: mjöður
Ancient Greek: χήν (khēn), Sanskrit: hamsa (swan) }→g [ɡ]/[ɣ] English: goose, West Frisian: goes, guos, Dutch: gans, German: Gans, Icelandic: gæs, Faroese: gás, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish: gås
Homeric Greek: (eáphthē) "sang, sounded", (omphē) "voice" }→gw [ɡʷ]
(After n)
English: sing, West Frisian: sjonge, Dutch: zingen, German: singen, Gothic: siggwan, Old Icelandic: syngva, syngja, Icelandic, Faroese: syngja, Swedish: sjunga, Danish: synge
Sanskrit: gharmá-, Avestan: garəmó, Old Prussian: gorme }→gw→w or g
(Otherwise merged with existing g and w)
English: warm, West Frisian: waarm, Dutch, German: warm, Swedish: varm, Icelandic: varmur

  • Note: Proto-Germanic } from Proto-Indo-European } has undergone further changes of various sorts. After *n it was preserved as }, but later changed to *g in West Germanic. Following vowels, it seems to have become *w, presumably through a fricative stage }. Word-initially, the most plausible reflex is a labiovelar stop } at first, but the further development is unclear. In that position, it became either *w, *g or *b during late Proto-Germanic. The regular reflex before *u would likely have been *g, due to loss of the labial element before a labial vowel. Perhaps the usual reflex was *b (as suggested by the connection of bid < *bidjana- and Old Irish guidid), but *w appears in certain cases (possibly through dissimilation when another labial consonant followed?), such as in warm and wife (provided that the proposed explanations are correct). Apparently, Proto-Germanic } voiced by Verner's law fell together with this sound and developped identically, compare the words for 'she-wolf': from Middle High German wülbe and Old Norse ylgr, one can reconstruct PGmc nom. sg. *wulbīz, gen. sg. *wulgjōz, from earlier *wulgʷīz, *wulgʷjōz.

This is strikingly regular. Each phase involves one single change which applies equally to the labials and their equivalent dentals , velars and rounded velars . The first phase left the phoneme repertoire of the language without voiceless stops, the second phase filled this gap but created a new one, and so on until the chain had run its course.


There are three main systematic exceptions.

1. The voiceless stops did not become fricatives if they were preceded by *s (itself a fricative).
Non-Germanic examples Change Germanic examples
Latin: spuere, Lithuanian: spjáuti *sp English: spew, West Frisian: spije, Dutch: spuwen, German: speien, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish: spy, Icelandic: spýja, Faroese: spýggja, Gothic: speiwan
Latin: stāre, Irish: stad, Sanskrit: sta, Russian: стать (stat), Lithuanian: stoti, Persian: ايستادن (istâdan) *st English: stand, Icelandic, Faroese, Norwegian: standa, Gothic: standan; West Frisian: stean, Dutch: staan, German: stehen, Danish, Swedish: stå
Lithuanian: skurdus *sk English: short, Old High German: scurz, Icelandic: skorta
Irish: scéal } English: scold, Icelandic: skáld, Norwegian: skald; West Frisian: skelle, Dutch: schelden, German: schelten

  • Some linguists dispute the origin of the word "scold", but Julius Pokorny
    Julius Pokorny
    Julius Pokorny was an Austrian linguist and scholar of the Celtic languages, particularly Irish, and a supporter of Irish nationalism. He held academic posts in Austrian and German universities.-Life:...

     among others proposed *skwetlo as the assumed root.
  • Dutch
    Dutch language
    Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

     has *k → *h (ch) even after *s, though this is a separate development.

2. The voiceless stop *t did not become a fricative if preceded by another stop, but the preceding stop was generally devoiced and then fricativised.

Combined with the previous exception it is therefore most convenient to say that in a series of two obstruents, the second does not become a fricative but the first does. This is sometimes treated separately under the heading Germanic spirant law
Germanic spirant law
In linguistics, the Germanic spirant law or Primärberührung is a specific historical instance of dissimilation that occurred as part of an exception of Grimm's law in the ancestor of the Germanic languages.-General description:...

Non-Germanic examples Change Germanic examples
Ancient Greek: κλέπτης (kleptēs), Old Prussian: au-klipts "hidden" *pt→ft Gothic: hliftus "thief"
Latin: atta, Greek: ἄττα (átta) *tt→tt Old High German: atto, Gothic: atta "father"
Ancient Greek: οκτώ (oktō), Irish: ocht, Latin: octō *kt→ht English: eight, West Frisian, Dutch, German: acht, Gothic: ahtáu, Icelandic: átta
Irish: anocht, Latin: nox, noct-, Greek: νύξ, νυκτ- (núks, nukt-), Sanskrit: नक्तम् (naktam), Lithuanian: naktis, Hittite (genitive): nekuz }→ht English: night, West Frisian, Dutch, German: nacht, Gothic: nahts, Icelandic: nótt

  • Note: Icelandic nótt comes from Proto-Germanic *naht-, with the /ht/ regularly becoming /tt/, which was originally pronounced [tː] before pre-aspirating. Thus, the [h] of the modern Icelandic form is not a direct descendant of ancient /h/. The same ancestry holds for the /tt/ of Icelandic átta as well.

3. The most recalcitrant set of apparent exceptions to Grimm's Law, which defied linguists for a few decades, eventually received explanation from the Danish linguist Karl Verner
Karl Verner
Karl Verner was a Danish linguist. He is remembered today for Verner's law, which he discovered in 1875.Verner, whose interest in languages was stimulated by reading about the work of Rasmus Christian Rask, began his university studies in 1864. He studied Oriental, Germanic and Slavic languages,...

 (see the article on Verner's law
Verner's law
Verner's law, stated by Karl Verner in 1875, describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby voiceless fricatives *f, *þ, *s, *h, *hʷ, when immediately following an unstressed syllable in the same word, underwent voicing and became respectively the fricatives *b, *d, *z,...

 for details). (This is not necessarily an actual exception: the traditional dating of Verner's Law occurring after Grimm's would mean that the consonants affected did undergo Grimm's Law, and were only changed later.)

Correspondences to PIE

The Germanic "sound laws", combined with regular changes reconstructed for other Indo-European languages, allow one to define the expected sound correspondences between different branches of the family. For example, Germanic (word-initial) *b- corresponds regularly to Latin *f-, Greek , Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 , Slavic
Slavic languages
The Slavic languages , a group of closely related languages of the Slavic peoples and a subgroup of Indo-European languages, have speakers in most of Eastern Europe, in much of the Balkans, in parts of Central Europe, and in the northern part of Asia.-Branches:Scholars traditionally divide Slavic...

, Baltic
Baltic languages
The Baltic languages are a group of related languages belonging to the Balto-Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family and spoken mainly in areas extending east and southeast of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe...

 or Celtic
Celtic languages
The Celtic languages are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family...

 b-, etc., while Germanic *f- corresponds to Latin, Greek, Sanskrit, Slavic and Baltic p- and to zero (no initial consonant) in Celtic. The former set goes back to PIE } (faithfully reflected in Sanskrit and modified in various ways elsewhere), and the latter set to PIE *p- (shifted in Germanic, lost in Celtic, but preserved in the other groups mentioned here).

See also

  • Verner's law
    Verner's law
    Verner's law, stated by Karl Verner in 1875, describes a historical sound change in the Proto-Germanic language whereby voiceless fricatives *f, *þ, *s, *h, *hʷ, when immediately following an unstressed syllable in the same word, underwent voicing and became respectively the fricatives *b, *d, *z,...

  • High German consonant shift
    High German consonant shift
    In historical linguistics, the High German consonant shift or second Germanic consonant shift is a phonological development that took place in the southern parts of the West Germanic dialect continuum in several phases, probably beginning between the 3rd and 5th centuries AD, and was almost...

  • Glottalic theory
    Glottalic theory
    The glottalic theory holds that Proto-Indo-European had ejective stops, , but not the murmured ones, , of traditional Proto-Indo-European phonological reconstructions....

  • The Tuscan gorgia
    Tuscan gorgia
    The Tuscan gorgia is a phonetic phenomenon which characterizes the Tuscan dialects, in Tuscany, Italy, most especially the central ones, with Florence traditionally viewed as the epicenter.-Description:...

    , a similar evolution differentiating the Tuscan dialect
    Tuscan dialect
    The Tuscan language , or the Tuscan dialect is an Italo-Dalmatian language spoken in Tuscany, Italy.Standard Italian is based on Tuscan, specifically on its Florentine variety...

    s from Standard Italian
    Italian language
    Italian is a Romance language spoken mainly in Europe: Italy, Switzerland, San Marino, Vatican City, by minorities in Malta, Monaco, Croatia, Slovenia, France, Libya, Eritrea, and Somalia, and by immigrant communities in the Americas and Australia...

  • The Uralic
    Uralic languages
    The Uralic languages constitute a language family of some three dozen languages spoken by approximately 25 million people. The healthiest Uralic languages in terms of the number of native speakers are Hungarian, Finnish, Estonian, Mari and Udmurt...

     Hungarian language
    Hungarian language
    Hungarian is a Uralic language, part of the Ugric group. With some 14 million speakers, it is one of the most widely spoken non-Indo-European languages in Europe....

     was also affected by a similar process, leading to a high frequency of f and h, and can be compared to Finnish
    Finnish language
    Finnish is the language spoken by the majority of the population in Finland Primarily for use by restaurant menus and by ethnic Finns outside Finland. It is one of the two official languages of Finland and an official minority language in Sweden. In Sweden, both standard Finnish and Meänkieli, a...

    , which did not change this way.
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