Let’s Keep Some of the Old Verb Forms

By Maeve Maddox

When it comes to some irregular verbs, I really hate to see the old past participle forms “regularized” to the dominant “-ed” ending.

Here’s an odd “regularization” of split:

Data is splitted between the protocols HTTP and FTP.

To be fair, I found this example on a site belonging to a company based in Germany. It’s a logical mistake for a non-native English speaker.

Split is one of those rare verbs that never changes its form:

Today they split the data.
Yesterday they split the data.
The data is split between protocols.
The data has been split.

This next example is from an online chat:

… the Rabbi of Bardichev…always seeked to judge Jews favorably…

As far as I can tell, the site is based in the U.S. The person who typed this sentence is well-educated. I have no way of knowing if he’s a native English speaker, but I’m pretty sure that he is. It may be that seek is undergoing the same change as slay.

I’ve often expressed my aversion to slayed as the simple past of slay, “to kill.” I much prefer the forms slay, slew, (have) slain. I’ll continue to use the old forms in my own writing, but I realize that many other writers are going with the “-ed” forms.

Unlike “slayed,” I’ve never seen “seeked” before. I hope this is just a personal aberration.

The “-ed” change has already taken place with seek’s cousin, beseech: “to beg urgently.” Both words derive from Old English secan, “visit, inquire, pursue.”
He beseeched her to change her mind raises no hackles for me, although I might still find a use for besought in my writing.

What do readers think? Should all English verbs be regularized to “-ed” forms? Or do you have old-fashioned favorites you’d hate to see make the change?

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31 Responses to “Let’s Keep Some of the Old Verb Forms”

  • Vanessa

    Loved this post! It reminded me of a time about a year ago when I read an article that was from a reputable site (CNN.com or something like that) that said someone had “pleaded guilty” to the crime he/she was accused of. Sounded like nails on a chalkboard to me. I had a discussion with one of my co-workers about the correctness of this usage and she thought it was okay while I didn’t. We couldn’t agree and so I looked it up. It is apparently one of the verbs that has become regularized and the reference I used said both are equally correct. I still prefer “pled” to “pleaded”.

  • Bo

    Never “seeked,” please. I may suffer “slayed” and “beseeched,” but “seeked” is just plain wrong.

  • Penny

    Oh! Now, it is soooo ON! I’m on another verb tangent today. I’d much rather write about the deserted cabin near a sparkling stream that I dreamed up yesterday. (I really prefer to use dreamt here, but this is my feeble attempt at being politically correct. Don’t worry, I’ll be over it in a couple of nanoseconds.) I don’t think the cabin story will surface today. My brain cells are rebelling against me again, and I surely shouldn’t have perused the DWT site before I committed those thoughts to a page.

    Apparently, some grammarians are trying to standardize past tense verbs to all end with “ed”. I’m beginning to think that the grammarians are running amuck. Do they actually think that it’s a good idea to use beseeched in the stead of besought? Can they possibly justify supporting the group that slayed the monsters. Everyone knows that we slew the monsters and that the monsters slain bodies rotted where they lay. What evil purpose could possibly lie behind a plot to make us go around sounding like preschool dropouts?

    So now what happens, when one of these days, I say to one of my children for the gazillionth time, “Eated is not proper. We will eat dinner in a while. If you had eaten your lunch when I ate lunch, you wouldn’t be starving now.”? Are the grammar police going to jump right up and issue me a summons to appear before a jury of peers because my time honored correction is no longer correct? I think the grammarians are stepping over the line when they begin to interfere with one’s ability to parent. Parenting is hard enough without their “assistance”.

    Some things apply to the KISS concept. (Again for the acronymically challenged among us, Keep It Simple Stupid.) For instance, put the laundry soap next to the washer; don’t walk to the pantry at the other end of the house each time you wash your clothing. English, beyond grammar school application, isn’t one of those KISSy things. English is complicated, there are rules, there are exceptions to the rules. Learning English and how to properly apply it is an involved process. It’s fascinating; and just when you think you have all of the rules committed to memory, they go and change them. Okay, evolution keeps it fresh. But, there are some things that just shouldn’t be messed with.

    Americans are not simple people. They don’t need a simple language. The average person on this continent is perfectly capable of learning advanced manners of speaking and writing. Albeit, some are just too lazy to make the attempt, the vast majority is capable. Our country is full of unique people with histories and heritages from all over the planet, plus a few blends that spice things up. We take prefixes here and suffixes there, twist up a few root words, and concoct the filling for the dictionary. And someone, maybe a grammarian, keeps track of where those words came from and who’s original word we spiced up to create it. That’s a fitting role for a grammarian. Help us blend and evolve while still maintaining a sense of where we came from. A fitting role is not to devalue our language, making it fit only for simpletons.

  • Olivia Vigdora

    English is the most hideously irregular language, it is also the most prevalent second language in the world and is becoming the default language for conducting business internationally.
    Languages have always changed and evolved with changes in culture and society. The English language’s next big change is towards being an international language. It would not surprise me if there are more people who speak it as a second language than there are people who speak it as their first language.
    I know from learning foreign languages that learning irregular verbs by rote is a nightmare and that extrapolating verb forms from standard rules is a natural human way to learn.
    Given all this it seems only sensible that regularised verbs become as correct as their archaic equivalents.

    O

  • Charity

    I’m so glad I’m not the only one left!!!

    I get particularly crazy when told that someone has “wreaked havoc” upon someone or something. Ugh.

  • Eric Novak

    Nouns and verbs must still agree in number. Data is the plural of datum.
    The data are split between protocols.
    The data have been split.

  • JD

    I think the old verb form is stronger. To me, it’s almost as though we’re retrogressing toward Newspeak from Orson Welles’ 1984. Good, plusgood, doubleplusgood, ungood, plusungood, doubleplusungood…ugh.

    What’s wrong with people?

  • JD

    Oops. I put Orson Welles…what was I thinking? George Orwell wrote 1984…doubleplusstupid of me.

  • Maeve

    JD,
    We live in degenerate times.

  • Charity

    I’m now feeling somewhat doubleplussilly…. I just realized that in my extreme excitement earlier, I used triple exclamation points!

    I swear I’m not a teenaged blogger; the subject matter just got me all fired up. It happens all too often these days.

  • Kathy Parsons

    I am far more upset about the use of “i” instead of “I” in the e-mail world.

  • David in San Antonio

    I like the old verbs forms, too, but I cringe just as much at the current use of “data” as singular. Ungood. “Datum,” we hardly know ye!

  • Trevor

    While I can understand “standardizing” English would help foreigners learn the language, it is actually all the rule-breaking that gives our tongue its character. The language named for the Angles will never be a simple, rule-following one; it draws upon not only German (from where the Angles and Saxons came), but also Greek, Latin, French, and even a bit of Norse and Hindi from time to time.

    There will be rules for the Romance languages; they all derive from a common source, Latin. But for jolly old English, it will always be a naughty rule-breaker. May it never be slain by the stingy grammarians, and may it be sought by those who wish to learn it.

  • Benjamin Baxter

    Static rules double-plus ungood.

  • Mark

    Wait…what’s wrong with “wreaked havoc”? I know that “wrought havoc” is commonly used, but the past participle of “wreak” is “wreaked.” “Wrought” is the past participle of “work.”

  • Maeve

    Wow! I struck a nerve with this one!

    Thanks for all the great feedback.

    One of the reasons that English has become a convenient international language is that English grammar is already much easier for non-native speakers to learn than that of other major languages.

    I don’t see why native speakers and writers can’t use and preserve a richer form of the language at the same time that simpler forms are adopted by non-native speakers for non-literary purposes.

  • Maeve

    Eric and David,
    I fear that we must sound the knell for datum.

  • Dan

    Isn’t English strewn with words that are merely simplifications and normalizations of their predecessors? I think both of the examples given in the article are worthy of scorn. I feel this way because they just don’t sound right.

    I know that how a word sounds is more subjective than whether its usage is correct, but that’s part of the normalization process. Languages evolve culturally, so the same influences that cause me to form my subjective opinion will influence everyone with similar culture. The key is to keep enough pressure on the culture to maintain the integrity of the language, lest we seek to formalize all misconceptions and slang.

  • Alex

    Maintaining the integrity of a language is sort of a double-edged sword. I think that forcing something, be it by keeping the old, or by changing everything are both extremes to be avoided. All languages develop naturally over time, and it normally leads to a greater richness of the language, regardless of what language-purists say. And it happens not only with English, but with any language.

    A general shift of grammar or spelling doesn’t make someone using new forms automatically less educated. At the same time, someone using older, more classical forms is not automatically obsolete or archaic. The context of usage goes a long way to define its ‘rightness’.

    This is not to be confused with real mistakes like the infamous it’s vs. its, there vs. they’re, etc.

    And let’s not forget, that while English is currently a ‘lingua franca’ in most parts of the world, this may change. For example, Mandarin is getting more and more important, and the number of Mandarin students is increasing rapidly worldwide.

  • Maeve

    Alex,
    Excellent commentary. Thanks.

  • Maeve

    Re: past tense of wreak

    I guess I should have said somethng about the past tense of wreak in my recent article.

    Wreak comes from Old English wrecan. OE had two past forms for it: wraec and wraecon.

    Had the past form wraec survived into modern English, we might have wreak, wrack, along the lines of shrink, shrank. I suppose wreaked will have to do.

  • Bill

    I realize that foreigners and illiterates can’t be expected to write fluent English, but it doesn’t follow that the rest of us should write like foreigners or illiterates. It’s besought, not beseeched; slew, not slayed; pled, not pleaded; sped, not speeded; wove, not weaved; and so on. I see that my Firefox spellchecker disagrees with me about pled (as well as “spellchecker”) and has no opinion on wove vs. weaved, but I don’t need approval from my web browser. 🙂

  • Vismay

    Wreaked surely will have to do because, there is no proper past tense for wreak. also also all English words should be “regularized” to end with -ed to spare us of the confusion.

  • Shakirah

    Hi,
    I am a Malay, Malaysian and English isn’t my mother tongue. However I have spoken the language since I was 5 when my parents sent me to a Kindy where kids don’t speak anything else but English. I love the language too..my confusion is in the use of “Learnt” and “Learned”. I have been taught that the past tense of Learn is “learnt” where as Learned is an adjective describing a man/woman who is wise and full of knowledge. I hate to think that my English teacher was wrong all these while..but i see the word “learned” being used as the past tense of “learn” a lot…

  • Carol

    Two more changes recently noted:

    1. “Awe…” for “Awwww…,” (usually seen online).

    2. “Pull up his boot straps” for “Pull himself up by his bootstraps,”
    (heard on CNN twice in the last week).

    Tell me it isn’t so.

  • Tony Hearn

    Allow a native speaker from across the Pond to weigh in.

    Rule 1. in English is that there are no rules in the prescriptive sense Grammarians and lexicographers are, despite what they may claim or avow, essentially descriptive.

    What is clear is that English is not static, and that it has a range of local variation. Even American Standard is not completely coincident with Standard English in England, or with Standard Scots for that matter! And those standards themselves are areas of slowly changing social agreement and nowhere legislated for. That said, there are broad areas of agreement. In addition many institutions and publishers choose to make their own house rules. This, of course, does not make them any more ‘right’.

    In the context of the present discussion of verb forms I would say that ‘pled’ is virtually unknown here in England ‘Sped’ and ‘speeded’ are both allowed here. ‘Beseeched’ is around, but sounds odd to my ear and is the only form in the Oxford English Dictionary. Nonetheless it is given as the alternative to ‘besought’ in our Collins dictionary. Not that it is a word uttered on a daily basis by most people! On the other hand ‘teached’ for’ taught’ and digged for ‘dug’ are still common in several English dialects, including the one where I live in Bristol, though not standard. These were common forms in Elizabethan English, occur in the Bible and Shakespeare and bid (not ‘bidded’ of course!) fair to become standard for a while
    .
    Mind you, in my native dialect of Suffolk in the East of England we also use ‘mew’ for ‘mowed’, ‘snew’ for ‘snowed’, and ‘shew’ for showed’! ‘Dove’, however, for the British Standard (and everywhere usual) ‘dived’ is a sure marker of a transatlantic traveller! ‘Weaved’ versus ‘wove’? ‘The drunk weaved his way home’, but ‘the weaver wove fine linen’ sound right to my ears; one for literal, one for metaphorical; but I bet you could find plenty of exceptions, even over here.

    The truth is that English has been subject for all its history, as most languages are, to the twin and contradictory forces of regularization and differentiation.

    It is also true that many people are at least irked by change in their mother tongue, while others, and not exclusively the young, delight in cultivating novelty. It was ever thus!

    And while we’re complaining, the next person I hear using the pleonastic ‘overly’ I will cheerfiully throttle! It was unknown here in England 10 -15 years ago. Such is the power of the media.

  • Jacqui B.

    I agree with some earlier posters here. As long as we can keep the old, strong forms, and they don’t become “incorrect”, I don’t mind if the new, weak forms become “correct”.

  • AnWulf

    I like the strong forms but sometimes it’s better to let them change. Who uses help, holp, holpen?

    Occasionally we see a verb go the other way. Proven is common as a past participle even tho it started out as weak Latinate … proved, proved, proved can now be prove, proved, proven.

    And how about get, got, gotten? I still use gotten … Do you?

  • Sally

    Sorry, folks (I won’t use ‘guys’), but Tony Hearn has the right of it.

    As a teacher of English, I love my funny old language too, with all its idiosyncracies and its variations, but as a linguist I must point out that regularization is remorseless and unexorable throughout the human speech community.

  • AnWulf

    @Sally … I think you meant inexorable but I’m not against putting an Anglo-forefast on a Latinate! lol

    However, plead and prove show that weak Latinates can become semi-strong verbs as well.

    @Vanessa … While I like pled, etymologically speaking, it should be pleaded. Why? Because it is yet another Latinate from French and, typically, imported verbs or verbs made from imported nouns are weak verbs. However, this was made to fit a strong verb pattern likely do to the sound such as bleed/bled. So, both past tenses are valid and correct. I like pled and will stick to it.

    @Eric and David … Let me consult my medium circa materiam … Hmmmm, she’s says that treating media as a collective noun has been around since the 1920s and that it and data both can take a singular verb.

    The general rule of thumb is that once a loanword is taken into a language then that language can, and usually does, treat it according to its own grammar rules and usage. It may be plural in Latin but it can be used as a collective noun in English. We do the opposite with information. In English it is a singular noun with no plural (we don’t say informations) … We took it from French … and there is a plural in French!

  • Rocco

    English was my favorite subject in school, i (just kidding Kathy) ….. I love our language.

    I have always felt though, that some of our rules are for calrity and precision while others seemed intentionally complex. If a large percentage of people all use the same incorrect form, it is usually a convenience issue. I guess when enough people do it it becomes ok?

    I have to admit, professional teachers, writers and speakers are held to a higher standard than the average Joe. We count on you to keep the rest of us in the know, so thank you for your tireless efforts at learning our beautifully complex language and being masters of it.

    PS If I butchered our beautiful language with bad spelling and poor grammer please consider it tolerence therapy. 🙂 I was one of the few lucky students that was taught ITA in the 70’s. I loved it, but being so beautifully simple, it fostered some neglect at mastering the real deal.

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