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From Proto-Indo-European word *nepōts (Latin nepos, Sanskrit napāt) I need to determine what is its cognate in Old English. More precisely, I need to determine whether the result is nefa (Grimm's Law) or neba (Verner's law).

So as far as I know, if the stress is preceding the p in *nepōts, the result is nefa.  If not, the result will be neba.  But how do I know which syllable is stressed in Proto-Indo-European?  Does the length on the o mean that the primary stress isn't there? Or that it is?

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It sounds like this is meant as a puzzle of some sort. So I'll tell you right away—the information you've given isn't sufficient to know where the stress is. Stress in PIE isn't always predictable, so it's usually marked with an acute accent in reconstructions: *népōts.

How do we know this? In this case, the Sanskrit word is stressed on the first syllable, nápāt. Sanskrit nouns preserve PIE stress fairly well, so this is a good indication that the PIE word was stressed on the first syllable too.

This is backed up by evidence from Germanic, which shows the result of Grimm's Law, not Verner's. Can you think of an English (or German or whatever) word similar in form and meaning to *nefa? (Answer in the spoiler below.)

Germanic reflexes include English "nephew", German Neffe, etc.

EDIT: I was wrong, the English word I suggested is in fact a borrowing from French. The German, however, is a direct descendant.

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  • So we can conclude that the answer is *nefa by looking at modern day German and English?
    – lmc
    Apr 24 '20 at 20:01
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    Be careful: nephew isn't a Germanic reflex, it's borrowed from Old French neveu, which has a v for different reasons. The native word is the (now rare) neve.
    – Cairnarvon
    Apr 24 '20 at 20:13
  • @Cairnarvon Ah, my mistake! Edited.
    – Draconis
    Apr 24 '20 at 22:35
  • @lmc Or by looking at where the stress is in the PIE form, if that had been marked (it usually is). But looking at direct descendants is almost always a good strategy.
    – Draconis
    Apr 24 '20 at 22:36
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    @Draconis Wait, sorry, if we have for example the PIE word *pH₂tér, its Gothic cognate is fadar (Verner's law). Athough if the stress isn't marked and we just look at English father and German Vater, we might think its Gothic cognate is faþar (Grimm's law). Can we really draw conclusions if the stress isn't marked?
    – lmc
    Apr 25 '20 at 12:41

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