back to article Preterite peter-out: How the end beginned

Those of you who like your English as God intended - complete with the inexplicable spellings and irregular verbs which cause such woe to students of our beloved mother tongue - will doubtless be alarmed at the news that the irregular preterite is heading for possible extinction as the forces of regularisation bring the errant …


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  1. tim chubb Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    but is there a chance for smoken?

    smoken like spoken....

    'bill have you spoken to ben yet?'

    'bill have you smoken with ben yet?'

    smoken when you have a chat and a cig.

    the smoken word, the bollox spoken whilst smoking

  2. Tim Greenwood

    Fight back!

    We must launch new irregular verbs to replace the dying ones! If we are not careful the English language could become simplified and easy to learn and that would never do.

  3. breakfast

    I can has regularised verbz?

    Damn those Lolcats! Our beautiful language will be ruinded forever at this rate!

  4. Hollerith

    Neil Diamond, as usual, leads the way

    I remember the immortal word 'brang' being rhymed to 'sang' -- why have 'brung' or 'brought' when we can reduce complexity and have a great rhyme?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "such as 'shrive' and 'smite',"

    Smote surely.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    IT Angle


    They can get stuffed and should get real jobs.

    Anon is not amused.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm not a mathematician let alone a linguist. But to predict the evolving of verbs based on its frequency of use seems to be a bit odd to the layman. Even worse to conclude a half-life of ten thousands of years with a proven track of much less than 2,000.

    Well, at least the beloved English evolves. Over here, on the continent, it is more like language regresses to what it used to be in stone age.


  8. Anonymous Coward

    I made you a regularised verbz...

    ... but I ated it!

  9. Ross


    I can agree with "slayed" and "wedded" as you hear those use now. However "slit" and "stung" will probably remain the same, and "bade" will probably end up changing to another irregular form "bid".

    I mean come on - "he slitted his wrists" is just ridiculous.

    And surely the verb to be *can't* be regularised can it? Does anyone know of a language where it is?

    Still, it's nice to see how our language changes.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    whats important is being understood

    Going by todays standard of apawling spelin its anybodys guess what these verbs wilt event ually morf into nevermind apostrofes or punktuacion and using bring instead of take and other atroshities on the brite side to make up for the loss theres a new tense in common use made by adding gotten liberally

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bring me complexity

    Surely to reduce complexity the past participle of "Bring" should be "bringed"; ditto "sing" and "singed".

    Making it brang just changes which irregularity it uses.

    Wonder how many different syn/homo/nym/phones will be created via this evolution: "singed" would have a double meaning.

  12. Andrew Bolton

    Rapidly going breaked

    Dunno about "broke" resisting - it's the one my kids (4&5) have the hardest time with. "Breaked" seems a lot more natural to them. And they use it a lot; "Daddy, you know your playstation?"..."yes"..."I breaked it"..."BROKE IT, please ...... YOU DID WHATTT!!!!??"


  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    "Even worse to conclude a half-life of ten thousands of years with a proven track of much less than 2,000."

    Presumably you don't believe in any radioactive isotope having a half-life over over a century or so, since clearly nobody can have ever measured it.

    Sounds like the "intelligent (sic) design" view of carbon dating.

  14. Ted Treen
    Gates Horns

    Veritable Hogwash!

    'Tis but poppycock and piffle.

    Methinks these rebel colonial academics have too much time on their hands, forsooth!

  15. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
    Anonymous Coward

    A slap on the aorist

    Shrive is about as low-frequency as you can get. Except in the phrase "short shrift" it has about dropped out of the language. No doubt the Reformation helped.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    History has gone tits up as well

    >ditto "sing" and "singed".

    So we serenaded the King of Spain's beard?

  17. Geoff Spick

    Don't worry...

    As long as Brian Sewell and Stephen Fry are alive - our language is safe in their moist hands!

  18. Edward Rose


    How about teaching them the word 'broken'.

    "Broken it, please ....... You did what? Now I'm going to be broke."

    Not sure how long 'broke' has been accepted for broken, but it's one of my pet hates. (nowt personally, and I guess I seem pretty sad here as it is does seem to be accepted, but grrr! I hate that word in that context).


  19. Steven Pemberton

    How many verbs??

    "the current lingo boasts just 98 [irregular verbs] - a paltry three per cent of all verbs."

    So English only has 3267 verbs? Surely some mistake.

  20. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    What are you on about?

    I think, in your righteous indignation, you have completely missed the concept behind the statement

    "Even worse to conclude a half-life of ten thousands of years with a proven track of much less than 2,000."

    Think about the difference between language and radioactive decay and get back to us with your apology for shooting your stoopid mouth off.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    @another anon coward

    "Sounds like the "intelligent (sic) design" view of carbon dating."

    Lopsided comparison? Please do not compare apples and oranges. There is no need to believe in the half-life of nuclear disintegration. It is a fact. It is measurable and reproducible, etc. It is science. And it is quite straight forward to extrapolate its real half-life no matter whether mankind will be extinct before it is reached.

    Unlike nuclear disintegration languages is not a natural science; it is humanities. Need to explain the difference? In short, one bases mainly on empirical approaches and the other on speculative methods.


    (It's time to knock off - beautiful sunshine out there)

  22. Ian McNee

    Future shock...

    I wonder when academics look back at this analysis from the future they will have eated their words...

    /fetch coat(1)

    p.s. My dear Chris W: 'punktuacion'? Please! It's 'punkcherashun' as any fule nose.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    I'm no grammar expert, but surely Andrew can't fault his boy (on grammar) for saying "I broke it", can he?

    "I broke it" or "I have broken it" would both be OK, but "I broken it" would not.

    I can't see how you can have a personal pet hate for the simple past tense of a verb, used in the correct context.

    Unless someone has just broken your Playstation, in which case you might well go fucking mental.

  24. Mike Richards Silver badge


    'And surely the verb to be *can't* be regularised can it? Does anyone know of a language where it is?'

    I believe the Swedish 'vara' is a completely regular form of 'to be'- 'är' in the present, 'var' in the past.

    The remainder of Swedish is of course completely random.

    I'm sure our Viking friends will be along shortly with a shed-load of corrections.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    @ the half life arguement

    If the value of alpha changes over time then yes, radioactive half lives would need some revision.

    Its a fascinating place people. If you think you have a handle on it, you are probably wrong.

  26. J



    Linguistics is a science. It's based on empirical methods, just as this study was. It is based around concrete measurements of observable things. That fact that languages are created by humans is neither here nor there. It's as scientific as archeology or psychology.

  27. Sceptical Bastard

    Spare me...

    ... from moronic wankers in academia producing meaningless drivel. WTF is all that bollocks about half-life, for a start? And why are mathmeticians suddenly linguistics experts. Tosspots.

    They are simply wrong. Neologisms will replenish the language's stock of irregularity - for example, 'snuck' is widely used for what used to be 'sneaked'.

    Anyway, the researchers are 'Murcans who speak a different language from us British. For example, we've lost the participle 'gotten' whereas it is correct US usage.

  28. Warren


    As usual, this is an example of so called "US-English"

    Given that Bill Gates et al have already inflicted a general acceptance that this phenomenom is acceptable through the MS-Word doctrine of spell-checking, I don't see why any Englishman, from whom the name of the Language originates, should pay any heed to their churlishness.

    It has already been proven that the US and UK variations are many, so why should I care if they drift further from the path of righteousness?

  29. Ben Gordon


    Administer => Administrate?

    Used by mindless HR slugs everywhere.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Academie Ingles?

    Los spaniards and their equivalent of the l'academie francaise react with the times. Indeed the 'v' and 'b' sounds used (usen?) to be different, but because it was (woze?) impossible for the kindy-winks to learn it that way, they changed (chonge?) the official pronunciation. The official pronunciation of the double 'l' will no doubt follow as it is pronounced (pronouncen?) in a very similar way to 'y' (cue dago flaming).

    So why shouldn't language be changed to suit the times? I reckon it should be allowed to evolve naturally (rather than the Spanish way) but still allowed to evolve (unlike the French way); after all, it's language - its primary function is communication.

    (somehow that last bit felt a bit like a rant - wasn't intended!)

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Speaking in tongues

    Language: by the people for the people.

    "Dyslexia rules ya bsass"

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The daftest thing

    This is the daftest thing I have readed all week.

  33. Snafu

    ".. regularised"?

    That looks almost as horrible to my eyes as something like

    'When I wedded my wife, I bidded her never to look at Jack in that way. I slayed her. I slitted her throat from ear to there. I shedded my blood-covered clothing, but was stinged by the credit card company who refused to honour my purchase of new apparel.'

    Interesting that your (?) spelling-checker highlights 'slayed', 'bidded', 'shedded' & 'stinged', but not the other two..

  34. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Verb "to be" regularised

    "Does anyone know of a language where it is?"

    Well in Spanish "to be" is regular in the preterite

    ser => sido

    estar => estado

  35. Pablo Barboza

    @Academie Ingles?

    That's why I love the Spanish way!

    nothing like a medieval institution to decide what is and what isn't part of our language (and that is NOT sarcasm)

    Somehow for me the Royal Academy of the Language, the FIFA and the Catholic Church are very similar one another

  36. Wilm

    Pity the poor foreigner

    I'm still smarting from the unmitigated ridicule I got from the natives when I (correctly!) used the phrase "molten lava" 10 years ago.

    I'm sorry, but "melted lava" still sounds wrong to my continental ears.

  37. Chris Simmons
    Thumb Down

    @ Bring me complexity

    May I setteth fire to you to maketh you slightly singed?

  38. Jon Tocker



    Molten is an ADJECTIVE, melted is a conjugated VERB.

    I melted the steel and poured the molten steel into a mold. "Molten" lava is a descriptive state of the lava - hot and liquid rather than cold and solid.

    The steel has BEEN melted, it IS molten.

    Wilm, "melted lava" is wrong - blame those bloody illerate cooks and their "pour the melted chocolate..." for fucking up the language.

  39. Put it away
    Gates Horns

    Clunky consonant clusters

    This doesn't seem to take into account that some irregulars are easier to pronounce. "Drank" will probably last a while since the alternative is "drinked"

  40. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Parolu esperanton

    Where there be no irregular verbs at all, never have beed.

    Havu belan tagon :)

  41. P. Bowden

    But whose irregular is it anyway?

    Note to Americans: it's "Honey, I SHRANK the kids"! Shrank! SHRANK!!! Aaaarrrggghhhhh!!!!!!

  42. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I don't mind language change

    What really irks me is that, as I advance in age, I find that language only changes because of all the morons and illiterate youfs who can't be arsed to learn to speak correctly. Thus, they use moronic spelling and don't know their irregulars, and we find ourselves with abominations like "breaked", or nonsense like "persons".

    Actually, that is a brilliant argument why democracy can only be a failure as long as there are more idiots voting than people who know what the issue is. In language, it appears to be the same thing. The more idiots you have who speak wrongly, the more the wrong structures will take precedence.

    Text messaging and the Internet will achieve what years of advocating Esperanto will not : we will soon all be talking the same abominable gunk language, probably comprised of no more than 12 verbs (can't remember more), two adjectives (good or baad), and names to make you cringe (all derived from online pseudos).

    I will retire to an ivory tower somewhere with my cat, my collection of Shakespeare plays (original version) and a copy of the Internet circa 1998.

  43. foxyshadis

    All the world can talk like alabama now.

    I like how southern white trash are already way ahead of these guys. When they can get the tenses right in the first place, that is.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Re: I don't mind language change

    And the more idiots we have who vote wrongly, the more the most stupid morons will run our country. But finally, we will have the government we deserve which, basically, reflects the mixture of all the plonkers who make up the population. Sadly.

    Some have a prime minister who defers its election because he would win it and others have a broad choice of (some quite sensible) parties to choose from and the certainty that the populist wings (brownshirts and left slobs) will win.

    I might build my own ivory tower or move to Scotland.


  45. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Re: Half life

    English didn't exist 1000 years ago. To postulate that any of its elements might have a half-life in excess of that time-scale seems rather brave.

    Of course, the linguistic scene has changed rather a lot in the past millenium. The widespread dissemination of written matter in the last few centuries has largely fossilised spellings. It is possible that the similar growth in "spoken matter" over the past few decades may eventually lead to a similar fossilisation of pronunciation and grammar. Conversely, the fact that almost everyone on the planet has an incentive to "embrace and extend" the language might have precisely the opposite effect.

    But then, inspired leaps in the dark are what mathematics is all about.

  46. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton


    @J: "Linguistics is a science. ... It's as scientific as archeology or psychology."

    So that makes it pretty much guess-work then?

  47. andy

    language evolving ?

    mi seh mi cyaan believe it

  48. Peter Mellor

    Re: Half life and other linguistic things

    Edward Rose

    Posted Thursday 11th October 2007 13:57 GMT


    Not sure how long 'broke' has been accepted for broken, but it's one of my pet hates.


    I agree, but I still think that "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." packs more punch than the grammatically correct version.


    Re: Half life

    By Ken HaganPosted Friday 12th October 2007 10:52 GMT English didn't exist 1000 years ago. To postulate that any of its elements might have a half-life in excess of that time-scale seems rather brave.


    Yes, it did, but it was Anglo-Saxon, aka "Old English". It had at least four major dialects (Mercian, Northumbrian, and a couple of others), each sufficiently different to be almost a separate language. It had three genders of nouns (masculine, feminine, neuter: like modern German), more cases than Latin with which to decline nouns, and THREE numbers (I - singular, we two - dual, and we - plural: more than two of us) with correspondingly different verb forms. (I fancied learning Anglo-Saxon in my youth, but gave up in horror on page 5 of the grammar.)

    After the Norman invasion in 1066 (and all that), the conquerors spoke Norman French, and the oppressed Anglo-Saxon peasants were second-class citizens in their own country. What eventually became English developed as a pidgin, then a creole, of Anglo-Saxon and Norman French, with an admixture of Latin from the priestly class. Much of the Anglo-Saxon grammar was ditched (pidgins tend to simplify grammar) and the language moved away from being highly inflected (like Latin) to being more dependent on prepositions and word order. (The terms "pidgin" and "creole" have precise definitions used by linguists who specialise in the evolution of language.)

    Anglo-Saxon classic: Beowulf

    By the mid-14th Century, after the great vowel shift (which changed the pronunciation completely, and whose cause is very imperfectly understood), we see what is called "Middle English".

    Middle English classic: Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

    Shakespeare is the best-known early author in "Modern English", but most modern readers (and audiences) have no problem with Ben Jonson, Andrew Marvell, etc.

    Linguists know quite a lot about how languages develop, and to use a measurement such as a half-life for the persistence of a grammatical form seems to me to be interesting and quite reasonable.

  49. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @spell checkers

    Will the idiots who keep complaining about El Reg's spell checker please get a clue.

    The spell checker is a part of YOUR BROWSER.

    I don't know which browser you're using but if it's firefox, you can right click the underlined word and ADD it to the dictionary - it won't bug you again (about that word). You can even add a British dictionary to it.

    I can't comment on Internet Explorer as I haven't used it for years.

    And yes, firefox is developed in the USA.

    Good grief !

  50. the Jim bloke

    Evolution of English

    I kind if wonder what basis the academics used to calculate the 'half life' - but not to the point of reading their work - given that China is supposedly the largest English speaking nation today.

    China, India, other emerging powerhouses, may adopt English as a convenient 'common language', but they will treat it with even less care and reverance than the damn septics have.

    Someday, people wont even understand why 'engrish' was funny.

  51. Jan van Oort


    Computing a "half-life" ranging into the thousands of years from a 1000-year set of data doesnot necessarily pertain to unsound scientific methods... The method used here was not observation of decay, but extrapolation and induction on a limited set of data. Just the same thing as was done to compute half-lives of decaying elements. Which last thing nobody surrounds with question marks, to my knowledge.

  52. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    One is shriven

    One is.

  53. Jan van Oort

    Proposal for the regularization of the verb "to are"

    I am - I ammed

    you are - you ared

    ( thou art ) - thou arted

    he/she is - he/she issed

    we are - we ared

    you are - you ared

    they are - they ared

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