The Grammar Factor – irregular verbs, dive/dove, practice/practise

By Mary Morel | April 2014

Irregular verbs

A reader’s question below about ‘dived’ and ‘dove’ got me thinking about irregular verbs and why they still exist. Why don’t we all use the regular ‘-ed’ ending for past tense verbs? For example, ‘dived’ instead of ‘dove’ and ‘bringed’ instead of ‘brought’. But ‘dived’ looks fine because I am used to it, and ‘bringed’ just looks wrong.

According to linguist Steven Pinker, there are 180 irregular verbs in our language today whereas Old English had twice as many. Some have died out of the language or become archaic (‘gird’ and ‘girt ‘ are seldom used apart from in the Australian national anthem and in the expression ‘gird your loins’!) and others have taken regular endings (‘holp’ has changed to ‘helped’).

But even though their numbers are declining, they remain ‘defiantly quirky’ – ring, rang; catch, caught; throw, threw; cling, clung; wear, wore; send, sent.

Steven Pinker says that irregular verbs are the legacy of the Indo-Europeans, the prehistoric people whose language took over most of Europe and Southwest Asia. Their language formed tenses by changing vowels.

He says they are here to stay for two reasons:

  • The 10 most common verbs in English are irregular (be, have, do, say, make, go, take, come, see, get).
  • About 70% of the verbs we use are irregular and 80 irregular verbs are so common that children use them before they learn to read.

Most new verbs coming into the language take the regular ‘-ed’ ending (ping, pinged), but a century ago, ‘snuck’ sneaked in, maybe because it rhymed with ‘stuck and ‘struck’.

READERS’ QUESTIONS

Practice and practise
Question: When ‘practice’ is used as an adjective is the ‘c’ or ‘s’ form used? For example:

There are some practise exams on the internet.
There are some practice exams on the internet.

Answer: In Australian, New Zealand and British English, we use the ‘c’ form for a noun and adjective and the ‘s’ form for a verb. American English uses ‘practice’ for the noun, adjective and verb. Much simpler!

In Australian, New Zealand and British English, the above sentence should read:

There are some practice exams on the internet.

Dived and dove
Question: What is the correct past tense for ‘dive’? I find that US books often say ‘he dove into the water’; whereas we say ‘he dived into the water’.

Answer: You can use either ‘dived’ or ‘dove’. You are right, Americans tend to use ‘dove’ more than Australians and New Zealanders. In this case, ‘dived’ is older than ‘dove’, which came into the language a couple of centuries ago. Maybe because it rhymes with ‘drove’ and ‘wove’.

Another example of a regular and irregular verb form co-existing is ‘learned’ and ‘learnt’.

READERS’ COMMENTS

log in, login or log-in?
A reader pointed out that I used ‘login’ as one word on my website and I should have used two words (log in).

I think you can use ‘login’ as one word now – it’s an example of words joining when they are commonly used. What form do you use – login, log-in or log in?

Another example is skim read, skim-read and skimread.

Adaption and adaptation
A reader whinged that often in the media we hear that such and such is an ‘adaption’ rather than an ‘adaptation’.

I hadn’t noticed this, but will now! According to the Macquarie Dictionary, ‘adaption’ is a variant spelling of ‘adaptation’. ‘Adaptation’ is more commonly used than ‘adaption’, but we say ‘adaptive’, not ‘adaptative’ – I wonder why?

Write to Govern workshops

In May, I am conducting two half-day ‘Write to Govern’ workshops on how to write board papers.

  • Sydney, 14 May
  • Melbourne, 22 May

For more information visit the Governance Institute website.

ARTICLES ABOUT WRITING

How we learn grammar
Recent research has shown that despite the wide variety of human culture, the underlying grammatical structures are ‘more a reflection of the deep properties of human minds than social and cultural factors’. Read more

Most cost-effective font?
If you’re printing a lot of documents have you ever stopped to wonder what font is the most cost-effective? I certainly hadn’t, but a US student did the research.

Have a guess, then read the article to find out what font to use to save money.

Eight pronunciation errors that made the English language what it is today
Did you know that a ‘wasp’ used to be a ‘waps’ and a ‘bird’ used to be a ‘brid’. This process of letters swapping places is known as metathesis.

Read the article to learn about seven other punctuation errors that have influenced the language. Read more

QUOTE ABOUT WRITING

‘Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.’
Franz Kafka, 20th-century German author

 
 

online grammar
Copyright © 2013 All Rights Reserved

Design by mel anderson | Webdev by tony cosentino