Irregular Past Participle Forms

By Maeve Maddox

I went through elementary school in the bad old days, when teachers drilled the class on irregular verbs. For example:

Teacher: go
Student A: go, went, have gone

Teacher: come
Student B: come, came, have come

Teacher: write
Student C: write, wrote, have written

I don’t recall when the drills began, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t do them after the sixth grade. By then, as they say, we knew the drill.

From my experience I conclude that a child of eleven or twelve is capable of mastering the irregular verb forms. That’s why I don’t understand why so many grown-ups writing on the Web get them wrong. Here’s a sampling. By the way, one of these examples is from a writer of British English, and one is from the official web site of a museum in a large American city.

I’ve had this post sitting around for a while. Since I’ve written it, I’ve went back and forth about posting it.

A few weeks ago I started having wrist pain from playing too much basketball. Since then I’ve went to many doctors and some have said it’s tendonitis,

I want to publish my book I have wrote.

Paleo-Indian people are thought to have came to Wisconsin from the west and south about 12,000 years ago.

Old English had hundreds of what we now call irregular verbs, most of which have become regularized with -ed endings. For example, the old past forms of helpholp and holpen–now have the regular forms helped and helped.

The process of regularization continues. For example, while many speakers still prefer to say slay, slew, (have) slain, others have begun to say slay, slayed, (have) slayed.

The irregular verbs most resistant to change are the ones we use most frequently, like come and go. Because they are such high-frequency words, one can only wonder why speakers who have completed six or more years of formal education haven’t mastered their forms.

Perhaps readers of forums or amateur blogs aren’t troubled by “have came” or “have began,” but readers in search of accurate information probably wouldn’t attach much confidence to anything written on the following sites, each of which presents itself as a reliable source of knowledge:

Giant asteroids might have began the age of dinosaurs as well as ended it. (headline on science site)

Over the last few decades humans have began to bend and break the laws of natural selection—laws that have governed life on Earth for the past four billion years. (course offerings, university site)

Working with what we have at the moment, we have began putting some of our birds together so we can open up enclosures and make them much bigger! (Australian wildlife park)

Related post: Beware of the Irregular Past Participle Forms

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17 Responses to “Irregular Past Participle Forms”

  • Rich Wheeler

    Those are some groaners, but I had to look up ‘participle.’ You *have finded* one of the gaps in my education.

    Some of the examples go beyond abusing participles. For example, “my book [that] I have wrote” shouldn’t even use a participle (have written); it should use past perfect (wrote): “my book that I wrote.” (We’ll ignore how “I wrote” is superfluous).

    Reviewing the types of participles, I remember one reason I did not major in English.

    By the way, to remember that -ing gerunds work as nouns while -ing participles work as adjectives, I repeat to myself, “Gerunding is about participling participles.”

  • Edna Buday

    Ouch! Your examples are grating on the ears!

  • Jim Porter

    Oh, my word. Finally–and all of the other cliches that go with it.

    Your post on irregular past participle forms is needed in 21st Century English-speaking American and Canada–the Brits have their own problems. Let them dangle their own modifiers in their own linguistic Narnia. (Where it’s always winter, never Christmas).

    I am living in horror as I watch and hear the simple past tense, much less proper irregular participles usage, becoming extinct. Besides the gang-bangers who are interviewed on every conceivable subject by news reporters who want to know how they feel rather than, what the facts are, the news reporters themselves are using “I seen” rather than “I saw.” (There’s an error in my last sentence somewhere, but if I take time to look for it, I won’t pursue what I am saying.)

    Not only reporters, but also editors, pastors, Ted talkers, stock brokers, doctors, lawyers–perhaps fewer lawyers–and even teachers, home makers, professional athletes, et al, seen something occur. Police officers, deputy sheriffs, Sunday School teachers–you get what I’m saying.

    And I think it starts right there, in the elementary school class rooms of American grade school education. America was surprised, but not apparently not moved to do something about it, when a high-profile witness in a high-profile murder case could not comment in court on something because she can’t read cursive writing. And teachers took up for her!

    I don’t hear my grandchildren talk about being taught proper English. When I ask them, they are amazed that grandpa don’t get it–they have more important stuff to learn.

    I guess I have seen it coming. And now, unfortunately, I seen that it’s here.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Hi, Rich Wheeler,
    A small correction: “wrote” is the simple past, not the past perfect. The past perfect is “had written”.

    Also, I think that using “have written” (instead of “wrote”) in many cases is idiomatic English. In other words, “wrote” might be technically correct, but “have written” has been used in its place for centuries. The bottom line is this:
    In many cases, either “wrote” or “have written” is correct.

  • Dale A. Wood

    The “foul up” about the past participle of “to go” is prevelant among common folks in the Southern United States. (Maybe it is elsewhere, too.) To me, it is always ear-splitting that such people don’t know about “go, went, gone”, so they misuse “went”. All of these are starkly incorrect {have went, had went, shall/will have went}. Why don’t they know this?

    My sister and I, and our cousin the schoolteacher, our cousin the nurse (both of them), and our cousin the medical secretary, our cousin the accountant, and my daughter all take care of the irregular verbs on AUTOMATIC PILOT. (As for the other cousins, I don’t know since I do not know them well.)

  • Dale A. Wood

    I think that it is interesting that small children when they are learning to speak – sometime at the ages of one or two – go though a stage of “thinking” that all verbs are regular verbs. I have read this, and I surely noticed it with my own daughter, Sarah. I just thought that some of her verbs were extremely cute! {I eated, I run-ed, I have-ed, I sing-ed}

    Within a few months, Sarah was catching on to the irregular verbs. Sarah was an excellent student all the way through grade school, and she took calculus in high school, and she has her bachelor’s degree in applied biology and chemistry. Like father, like daughter, as it is in many cases, and I am very proud of Sarah.

  • Yorick

    I never learnt all of these rules in school. Well I don’t remember rote learning of them as drills anyway. Which is why I am here reading these explanations now. All the incorrect examples are painful to read.

    So how did I learn the correct tenses? I can only suggest that it was from reading quality books. Books get edited before publishing – or did back then (60’s). Nowadays anyone can publish on the web – or a book – and thus the quality is mixed. Even for my own blog postings I get somebody else I trust to proof and edit my work. I’m no expert and there are plenty of others out there that are that I can ask.

  • venqax

    @Jim Porter: …it starts right there, in the elementary school class rooms of American grade school education.
    Yes, and in the everyday speech many kids hear. Of course teachers defended her. That way they excuse their own failures at teaching and of course they must at all cost refrain from judging anyone, even if it means labeling them illiterate just because they can’t read, or pointing out that their “dialect” is not standard English I’ll be the defense from so-called linguists would be even more vigorous.

    @Dale A. Wood: In many cases, either “wrote” or “have written” is correct.
    Yes. Like many things, it is at the very least idiomatic and really more a matter of style than correctness. Like use of the passive voice in many cases, it isn’t wrong, but it can be awkward and thereby impede meaning.

    All of these are starkly incorrect {have went, had went, shall/will have went}. Why don’t they know this?
    Because no one tells them it’s wrong and reinforces it. It is what they hear and it is what educators allow. Most of the teachers probably don’t know better to correct them in any case. They are products of the same factory. If the point were/was pressed, I’m sure it would be defended as part of their “dialect” and correcting it would be labeled elitist, imperialist, racist, or some other monstrous thing. For evidence, look at the 50 Incorrect Pronunciations To Avoidpost on this site. It is flabbergasting what people will defend and the extent to which they appeal to “dialect” especially when it comes to any attempt to enumerate standards.

    @Rich Wheeler: You could have majored in linguistics. They will accept anything, the worse the better. There is no such thing as gerunds or participles. They are socio-political, politico-social, eco-statusist constructs.

  • Your Bartender

    Poor English drives me crazy (as I’m sure it does you, fellow readers). In my world, the most misspoken word is “drank,” as opposed to “drunk”. Haha.
    Patrons would rather avoid the “drunk” word entirely, saying instead: “I’d drank too much; she had already drank it before we got here…” Etc, etc.
    He drank, she drank, they had drunk a gallon of whiskey… …and, well, they were drunk.
    🙂

  • Your Bartender

    @venqax
    I agree that learning to speak proper English is sometimes a challenge to kids. Of course, it’s a whole new world of words – but beyond that – speaking “correctly” depends on dialect.
    I live in the Caribbean. It is a constant challenge to get my friends’ daughter to say “thing” and not “ting”. To say “what?” And not “wha?”

    That said, there is proper sentence structure, vs dialect. So we’ll give her that. 🙂 (and keep working on correct pronunciation)

    The US is a HUGE country, and there are several dialects. I can take “warshed my clothes” over “He done that hisself.”

    But, as much as I love the English language, predicate adjectives, gerunds, and the likes, I still have to tip my hat to Mark Twain who nailed dialect better than any other American author I know. 🙂

    (Okay, so I just reread Huck Finn for the sixth time…

  • Henry

    Is this the British example:”I want to publish my book I have wrote”. It may be a deliberate use of a joke from the Morecombe & Wise tv programme.

  • venqax

    @Your Bartender:…speaking “correctly” depends on dialect. Only to the extent that you are referring to national/standard dialects. Pretty much every English-speaking country has version or “dialect” that is considered to be the standard—the one taught in schools and expected in educated speech and in most of the non-parochial professional world. That is the assumption behind the whole idea of “mispronunciation”, which most people—if they want to be taken seriously—don’t want to do.

    I live in the Caribbean. It is a constant challenge to get my friends’ daughter to say “thing” and not “ting”. To say “what?” And not “wha?”I don’t know what the standard is in the Caribbean or its parts. For all I know, ting and wha ARE standard in, say Jamaican English (??). But no, in SAE neither would be acceptable and would be considered sub-standard, marking the speaker accordingly.

    That said, there is proper sentence structure, vs dialect.Well, even sentence structure can vary among dialects. So we’ll give her that. (and keep working on correct pronunciation)

    The US is a HUGE country, and there are several dialects. But only one STANDARD dialect. SAE (Standard American English) or GA (General American). So in the case of an American, dialect is no excuse for improper pronunciation in a formal context. I can take “Warshed” and “He done that hisself” are uneducated, not simply dialectical, and accepting it is really patronizing to those who undoubtedly are capable of learning.

  • venqax

    Wouldn’t the British be, ”I want to publish my book WHAT I have wrote”? 😉

  • D.A.W.

    There is a prominent radio station in Washington. D.C., with the FCC call letters WASH.
    The announcers on that station say “WARSHINGTON” every time. By that, I mean with great consistency.

    WASH was one of the 50 kilowatt “clear channel” radio stations that broadcast 24 hours a day at full power – the only station on its assigned carrier frequency. Maybe it still is.

  • D.A.W.

    Venqax, the verb form “have written” dosen’t have anything to do with passive voice. This verb form is active voice, present perfect tense.
    In general, the present perfect tense refers to actions that began in the past, and they continue to the present, or very close to it. These actions can even continue into the future.

    “NASA has launched thousands of satellites.” This is a series of actions that began in the past, it continues into the present, and it shall continue into the future.”
    It doesn’t have anything to do with passive voice.
    The subject is “NASA”, and the direct object is “satellites”.
    D.A.W.

  • venqax

    …the verb form “have written” dosen’t have anything to do with passive voice.
    I didn’t say it did. I said the subject at hand was like— similar, or analogous to– using the passive voice in that it is not “wrong”, but it is awkward and stilted.

  • D.A.W.

    Well, I think that the use of the passive voice is 100 percent fine in many, many cases. Take that, you argumentative b*****n.

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