Sometimes you know a word has two forms, but you're not sure which one is appropriate to use in the situation at hand. This happens a lot with verbs, where past-tense forms can compete for acceptance and supremacy with language users. From our friends at Vocabulary.com, here are 10 verbs whose past tense can be confusing, along with some tidbits about their history and related linguistic phenomena.
move slowly; in the case of people or animals with the body near the ground
Creeped or crept? Crept is the past tense, but creeped is popping up because of its presence in the phrasal verb creep out the past tense of which is indeed creeped out. Exceptions like this can often be accepted in certain contexts — the past tense of fly is flew, but a baseball player who hit a fly ball that was caught a few innings ago flied out. With time, these specific instances can slowly reach the mainstream.
inhabit or live in; be an inhabitant of
Dwelt or dwelled? Unlike several entries on the list, in the case of dwelt the unusual form predates the one ending in -ed. Dwelled is popular in the United States, while dwelt is dominant in Britain.
raise or haul up with or as if with mechanical help
Hoist or hoisted? Hoist as a past tense form is what linguists would call a zero-derived form: nothing changes on the surface, but on some level it has to be marked as "past." There was a verb hoise used primarily in nautical context, and it is thought that its past tense, hoist, was mistaken for a root.
appeal or request earnestly
Pleaded or pled? The grammar guides geared towards lawyers were once insistent that pleaded was the correct form, but the persistence of pled has caused the usually adamant attorneys to accept both. There may be more going on here, because "he pled guilty" sounds much better than "he pleaded guilty," but "she pled with the judge" sounds awful to many ears, while pleaded sounds fine there.
make by needlework with interlacing yarn
Knit or knitted? Like plead, these two forms are both accepted nowadays and are in a virtual statistical dead heat in terms of usage. Knitted is more popular in its adjectival use. In other words, people more often say "a knitted hat" than a "knit hat."
wither, as with a loss of moisture
Shrunk or shrank ? A grammar maven's least favorite movie? Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The movie title gets the past tenses confused: shrunk is past participle and shrank is simple past. Technically, it should be Honey, I Shrank the Kids.
reduce to small pieces or particles by pounding or abrading
Ground or grinded ? Like creeped above, grinded is gaining acceptance over the traditional past tense ground because of the other uses of grinded. Grinded has become a hard nosed sports term: it is often said of football players, particularly running backs, that "they grinded it out today."
experience while sleeping
Dreamed or Dreamt? Dreamt is more popular in Britain, but both of these forms can function as the past tense. Some sources claim that dreamt is correct for "had a dream while asleep" while dreamed concerns only "hopes and aspirations while awake", but there is no solid evidence for this.
destroy by fire
Burnt or burned? Each variant is acceptable in the simple past-tense form. The preference for one over the other seems influenced by cultural concerns, as the British prefer burnt. Idiomatic uses also come into play. Someone who has ruined all his relationships on purpose is said to have burned his bridges. Burnt might sound strange there.
a headlong plunge into water
Dived or dove? This is probably the most often cited instance of two past-tense forms. In this case, it is interesting to note that dove arose as a form much later than dived, another case of the regular, -ed form coming before the "unusual" form.
To see more verbs with two past-tense forms, and to add them to your vocabulary-learning program, see the full list at Vocabulary.com.
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