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This may have been asked before because it seems like something I would have wondered, had I ever learned German via textbook. But I couldn't find it, so I'm asking. Also, I am not sure if such a discussion is meant for this community. I hope it is.

More to the point: The present tense second plural form of "sein" is "(ihr) seid". Now if we look at the same form but in past tense it turns to "(ihr) wart".

The usage of "-t" at the end seems to be the regular way, since many other verbs (including some irregular ones) use it (both in present and past tense):

  • laufen -> (ihr) lauft -> (ihr) lieft
  • sagen -> (ihr) sagt -> (ihr) sagtet
  • kochen -> (ihr) kocht -> (ihr) kochtet
  • werden -> (ihr) werdet -> (ihr) wurdet
  • gehen -> (ihr) geht -> (ihr) gingt

There is one obvious possible reason for using "(ihr) seid", which is that "seit" has a different meaning. But I was wondering: is there a different reason for this irregularity? Especially noting that words with double meaning have not thoroughly been removed from the language elsewhere.

As an extension, the question arises: why was the present tense changed (irregularly), but this irregularity was not kept through the other tenses (c.f. "wart")? I fear this could fall into the same category, as "ward" at least historically had been used differently (as the past tense of "werden").

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  • analogy to wir sind, es wird perhaps
    – Crissov
    Jun 28 at 20:09
  • Do you mean because those are also spelled with a "-d" and are irregular? If so, then "wir sind" could have a connection. I didn't realize that 1st and 3rd person all have "d"s. But with "werden" I believe the "d" is already part of the base, so no surprise there.
    – niak
    Jun 29 at 0:14
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In Middle High German the 2nd person plural of the present tense of the verb "to be" is "sît" and this is the etymologically correct form. The modern spelling with -d was introduced to distinguish "seid" from "seit", as you correctly suspect.

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  • 4
    A reference would be nice ...
    – Roland
    Jun 28 at 13:06
  • On top of that: What makes the spelling of Middle High German the etymogically correct one, as opposed to other historical variants of German? Does it still reflect pronunciation (do we know whether Middle High German already have terminal devoicing?) Also, was this spelling even standard in Middle High German? AFAIK, it generally did not have a very standardised orthography.
    – Wrzlprmft
    Jun 28 at 15:18
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    @Roland. I have consulted my copy of Wright's "Middle High German Primer"
    – fdb
    Jun 28 at 16:08
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    Thanks for looking this up, @fdb. I'm new to this so, could you maybe also give a hint/reference as to why MHG would be the correct predecessor to High German as written today? Also, where did you find the note about the change to distinguish the two words? If it's also in Wright's book, could you maybe give an approximate page number, I would like to know more about how and why specifically that was changed (if there actually are details).
    – niak
    Jun 29 at 0:09
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    @Wrzlprmft: Varieties like the Swiss German dialects that have a robust fortis-lenis distinction show that sît ‘seid’ and sît ‘seit’ are homophones, unlike minimal pairs such as leid ‘leid’ vs. leit ‘legt’ or fâd ‘fad’ vs. fât ‘fängt’. In standard German, a spelling pronunciation seid might interfere, of course.
    – mach
    Jun 29 at 6:14
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In short: History.

German as a language has many sources, germanic, celtic, roman, etc. These languages have different types of grammar etc.

So it got all a bit mixed up.

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