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I know this isn't a grammar site, but I sneaked this in anyway
January 20, 2014 11:45 AM   Subscribe

Is English changing to use simpler past versions of verbs now? Recently I've been seeing a lot of sneaked, dived etc., when back at school I had to learn that irregular verbs have past forms like snuck and dove. (Disclaimer: I'm not a native speaker of English.)

Also, can someone please explain to me the form "Did you used to..."? Why the D in used when did already covers the past tense?

Sorry for odd/stupid questions.
posted by LoonyLovegood to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
i'll grant you "dove". i am ambivalent about "snuck". "used to" doesn't make any sense as the sum of its two subunits, but native speakers are used to it.
posted by bruce at 11:58 AM on January 20


The particular verbs you mention (sneak and dive) have two past tense forms in common use -- check the "usage discussion" on Merriam-Webster's: sneak and dive.

But anecdotally, as a native English speaker from the midwestern US, both "dived" and "sneaked" sound wrong to me. I don't remember anyone using those past tense forms when I was growing up, but I occasionally hear them now that I interact more with people from the coasts.
posted by RandallStanhope at 12:07 PM on January 20


Did you used to... is a regional colloquialism.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:12 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


I learned that both "dove" and "dived" were equally acceptable. My sense is that UK English favors irregular past participles, while US English favors what you're calling "simplified" versions.

"Did you used to..."?

It's just a grammatical mistake, and it's probably common because it sounds the same as "Did you use to" when spoken.
posted by jaguar at 12:12 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


I'm no expert, but I am a native speaker. Commonwealth, not USA, though I live in the USA. My impression is that it's not so much a case of the language shifting, but that there is a range of speakers and educational backgrounds and classes and cultures. These kinds of words suggest to me either a less educated speaker or possibly an educated speaker who is code-switching to match a scene, though probably not. (Possibly a regional thing via regional education norms?)

If that usage ("dived" etc) seems to dominate, then you could go along with it, or not, I doubt it matters, but when in a job interview or somewhere where you're expected to be smart or educated, you're better served by using the irregular past forms as you were taught.
Basically, this isn't something I would worry about or code-switch, I'd just use "dove" etc, and that's just how I speak. (Part of my privilege is that I don't have to hide my background.)
posted by anonymisc at 12:13 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Both dove and snuck are actually modern (say, last 500 years) irregular verbs formed on analogy with similar sounding verbs. So ironically the regular forms are older and original, and in ongoing competition with the irregular forms, which is what you're witnessing.

Maybe a surprising answer.
posted by Thing at 12:16 PM on January 20 [3 favorites]


"Did you used to...?" is a colloquialism, and like other colloquialisms it doesn't really correspond to "correct" prescriptive use. Similar to things like "ain't", "they have" as opposed to "there are", "needs washed", etc.

Re "dived", I remember bristling at it in books I read as a child, but it doesn't bother me as much anymore. If there was a shift, it happened ~30 years ago if not more.

Re "snuck" vs. "sneaked", sneaked sounds totally wrong to me. If it's gaining currency, it has to be relatively recent. I'm more OK with "get your hair did" as grammatically normal than "sneaked around". It's snuck, as far as I'm concerned.
posted by Sara C. at 12:19 PM on January 20


I think that most of the ones that are more unfamiliar to you are probably British English (vs US, NA or other regional/national English usage). See the Oxford Dictionary for past tense of Sneak or Dive. It shows "North American" for "snuck," and "US" for "dove," for example.
posted by taz at 12:23 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


This is a phenomenon known in linguistics as "regularization", the use of a regular vs. irregular verb form. That's what the simpler forms you're referring to are: the application of the internalized "rule" that a verb gains the -ed suffix when rendered as a past participle. For the vast majority of English verbs in use, regularization isn't possible because they are already regular; it's only verbs with irregular forms where this can happen.

A couple key things here:

- irregular verbs tend to be older words, formed at a time when (among other differences) the regular forms of verbs were different from those of contemporary English. They are irregular now because the general structure of verb formation in English has changed over the centuries.

- regularization has been happening steadily over time; it is not a recent phenomenon. Generally, the likelihood of a regularization becoming standard for a given verb (making the often-bumpy transition from the regularization being treated as an error to being treated as acceptable) is inversely proportional to its frequency of use. Many, many verbs have already become regularized over time; some are on the border already but both regular and irregular forms are still in use. Very common irregular verbs like "be" (is, am, are) and "have" (had) are not likely to go anywhere because they're so constantly reinforced, but even at that you can see variations that have cropped up over time as in e.g. be-forms in African American Vernacular English.

- regularization as a speech/writing error (often called overregularization in this context) is a common phenomenon among new learners of a language, both children and adult second-language learners. You see these errors show up specifically because irregular verb forms end up clashing with the regular verb formation rules; we only learn "snuck" vs. "sneaked" by exposure to the variation in the process of failing to get it right. This is why new language learners often use apparently stilted forms: they're actually correctly applying the lower-level structural rules of the language, just failing to account for oddball exceptions that remain part of English in its current state.
posted by cortex at 12:27 PM on January 20 [14 favorites]


Also, in answer to your broad question, there is always an overall tendency in all languages to move from irregular to regular. This is because irregular forms need to be remembered, sometimes individually, whereas regular forms are built on simple rules. When you don't know an irregular form your best bet is to try the regular form; thus there is always pressure on the irregular. However, as with snuck and dove, this obviously isn't always a one-way street.

On preview, what cortex said.
posted by Thing at 12:27 PM on January 20


Here's Language Log on "didn't used to" vs. "didn't use to." There doesn't seem to be any consensus at all among native speakers about which form is the "proper" one — many of us intuitively treat modal "used to" as if it were a fixed form, not a conjugated "verb." The prescriptive grammarians seem to lean toward "didn't use to" far more strongly than most native speakers of English.
posted by RogerB at 12:30 PM on January 20 [7 favorites]


In the UK we have always used sneaked and dived. Dove is a type of bird, while snuck is snack misspelled. If you are seeing sneaked and dived, maybe you are seeing more UK stuff.
posted by TheRaven at 12:33 PM on January 20


Yes, snuck and dove are not the original forms. The correct is indeed "sneaked" and "dived". Usage also differentiates between countries - I know that in Great Britain they tend to use "dived", where here in the US we use "dove".
posted by chainsofreedom at 12:34 PM on January 20 [2 favorites]


I have also noticed this trend towards regularization and I have to say I'm not a fan of it. I'll keeping using dove, pled, lit and dreamt and cringe whenever I hear someone using the regular alternative.
posted by alms at 12:34 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


It is an odd question, maybe, but it's not stupid. Non-native speakers ask some of the best language questions, IMO, because you when you're learning a language, you think about how things work.

Unfortunately, the answers to those questions are usually not all that easy to articulate. The natural rules of language are discovered, not prescribed.

One of the best places to get good, authoritative answers to usage questions like this is Language Log. So I checked and they've addressed both of your issues.

Here is a discussion of use to vs. used to. The conclusion there is that 'used to' is probably the correct form, but because it doesn't really make sense in any other context, some people correct it to 'use to' in writing. (On preview, RogerB beat me to it, but I'll just leave this in to second his recommendation.)

And here is a well-respected native English speaking linguist being confused about irregular verbs. Which doesn't answer your question directly, but at least proves pretty conclusively that it's not stupid. This stuff is HARD. The language is in a constant state of flux, so if you notice people regularizing irregular verbs on the regular, it's probably a sign that the irregular forms are falling out of use because they are weird and confusing for everyone.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:37 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


"gifted" is the one that has become much more common since I was a child.

I wonder if it is because we write more than we used to.
I know I tend to notice errors in writing that I wouldn't necessarily notice in speech.
So maybe it's a form of Baader-Meinhof, where you notice a grammatical error and then can't stop noticing it
posted by madajb at 12:46 PM on January 20


English* used to have 10 -12 declensions for its nouns; it now has 2.

Nothing you learned in your English classes is invariant throughout all time, and some of it will change within our lifetime.

*OK, Old English, but my point is about the progression of a living tongue.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:52 PM on January 20


I think a lot of this is regional differences. Also, interestingly, it isn't always a transition from irregular to regular. For example, I've been hearing "drug" a lot as both past tense and past participle for "drag," instead of "dragged." Often from people I would have guessed to be big readers. It's an interesting thing.
posted by egg drop at 12:53 PM on January 20


[Folks, do not get in side arguments about grammar/syntax peeves in here.]
posted by cortex at 1:02 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Thank you, everyone! I didn't know who else to ask because I don't go to my linguistic grad school programme anymore.

Aunt Google also told (or telled? XD) me that sneaked and dived are more prevalent in Britain, but oddly enough, I encountered them in a Harry Potter fanfic written by an American. Sure she could have been trying to adjust her language to the HP universe, but she also says Sorcerer's Stone... /off topic
posted by LoonyLovegood at 1:07 PM on January 20


there is always an overall tendency in all languages to move from irregular to regular

This is not a universally correct rule of thumb, on the macro scale.
posted by threeants at 1:33 PM on January 20 [1 favorite]


Some discussion of the history of "snuck" can be found in these LLOG posts: "Snuckward Ho!", 11/29/2014; "Snuck-gate", 6/18/2010; "Graphically snuckward", 6/19/2010; and "Replicating the snuckward trend", 10/17/2011. Shorter version: "snuck" is sneaking in to replace "sneaked", and some people are freaked out.
posted by myl at 10:02 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


> Yes, snuck and dove are not the original forms. The correct is indeed "sneaked" and "dived".

Just to make an important point about this: "not original" does not equal "incorrect." Whatever a large group of native speakers says is correct for that group.

Otherwise, what cortex and myl said; note that myl is a professional linguist (and founder of Language Log).
posted by languagehat at 11:02 AM on January 21 [2 favorites]


Thing: "Also, in answer to your broad question, there is always an overall tendency in all languages to move from irregular to regular. "

There is also an overall tendency for languages to move from regular to irregular, at the very same time, as foreign words are introduced.

The path is jagged, and I don't know if its overall vector has a known direction.
posted by IAmBroom at 3:34 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]


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