Problematic Pasts

Not things you did as a teenager that you’d rather forget about, but past tenses of verbs that continue to cause people trouble.

The past tense of this verb is not dove. That’s a bird, mispronounced. The past tense is dived (or should be – the Yanks differ on this one).

Lay and lie
A confusing pair. From last time:


As in lead me astray. The past tense (and past participle) is led. Similarly, mislead and misled.

Confusion may arise because these two don’t follow the same pattern as read, which is the same in the past and present tenses: I read the last chapter of the book last night; I always read in bed before I go to sleep.

American usage to the contrary, the past tense is not pled or plead: it’s pleaded. Always.

Honey, you shrank the kids! Now that they have shrunk they will need new clothes in smaller sizes for their shrunken bodies.

And it’s drink, drank, drunk(en); sink, sank, sunk(en); spring, sprang, sprung; stink, stank, stunk (although in colloquial speech one hears stunk as the past tense as well as the past participle; there’s that song about the Grinch).

It isn’t think, thank, thunk, though – except in the jocular Who’d have thunk?

The past tense is not snuck but sneaked.

The past isn’t spit – it’s spat. Same deal if you replace the p with an h.

Up next: comma conundrums

Neil Guthrie (@guthrieneil)

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