#8 Verb strength

Verbs are the strongest when used in simple past or present tense. These tenses let you reveal the action and the doer without using many words.

Harry sleeps late




Irregular verbs in danger of extinction

Today, many English verbs form their past tense by adding ‘ed’ at the end. For example, walked, expressed, turned, etc. It’s the same ending – the ‘ed’ form – that defines both the past tense and the past participle.

abode, abideHowever, in earlier times, the language exhibited more variety in how the past tense and the past participle of a verb were formed. For example, sing – sang – sung, write – wrote – written, etc. Many such verbs that are used even today are called irregular verbs, i.e., verbs that don’t form their past tense or past participle by simply adding ‘ed’ at the end.

The language also calls such verbs ‘strong’ verbs. Why? Because there is an art, a trick, involved when you form past tense of such verbs (not simply adding ‘ed’ as for regular/weak verbs). This art involves many ways, but the most common is to change the vowel in the present tense of the verb. For example, give becomes gave and stick becomes stuck. Another reason why they’re called strong is because such verbs are capable of forming other forms by using their own resources and not calling an ending – ‘ed’ – to their help.

The hard fact; however, is no matter how much we appreciate strong (irregular) verbs, they are soon vanishing from the vocabulary. Only as less as 70 irregular verbs (while the list once had numerous entries) survive today and are in the change process. Many modern dictionaries have changed woke (the past form of wake) to waked. In fact, how many of us know the past tense of help was holp?

Grammar researchers say this change can be compared to evolution because it follows the same theory—things less used tend to change for betterment. However, I feel this change should be restricted to those irregular verbs that people use today, not for old-fashioned verbs that people no longer use. For example, slay. This old-fashioned verb definitely deserves the old-fashioned past tense, slew.

Whatever be the case, I’m definitely not happy seeing irregular verbs die. Are you?