English, like most Germanic languages, has many regular ("weak") verbs, like work, worked, worked (in standard dictionary format, listing present, past, and past participle), and a bewildering collection of irregular ("strong") verbs, which follow many different patterns, or no pattern but their own. This column will focus on two related patterns.
The verb drink, drank, drunk has a short i in the present, replaced by a in the past, and by u in the past participle. At least nine common English verbs follow this pattern (not counting variants obtained from these by prepending such prefixes as re-, un-, etc.). How many of these common verbs can you list?
1. begin, began, begun
2. drink, drank, drunk
3. ring, rang, rung
4. shrink, shrank, shrunk
5. sing, sang, sung
6. sink, sank, sunk
7. spring, sprang, sprung
8. stink, stank, stunk
9. swim, swam, swum
Notes: My Cassell Concise Dictionary (from the U.K.) has "usage notes" warning that using shrunk, sunk, and sprung as past tenses, instead of shrank, sank, and sprang, should be avoided in "standard English." (The movie title Honey, I Shrunk the Kids ignored this advice.) The same dictionary still allows span as an alternate past tense of spin. My U.S. dictionaries are more tolerant of alternative past tense forms.
The verb swing, swung, swung replaces the i of the present with u in both the past and the past participle. At least 10 common English verbs follow this pattern. (Many of these, in their earlier history, followed pattern A, but there is an evolutionary trend, still ongoing, for less frequently used verbs to leave pattern A for pattern B.) How many of these pattern B verbs can you find?
1. cling, clung, clung
2. fling, flung, flung
3. sling, slung, slung
4. slink, slunk, slunk
5. spin, spun, spun
6. stick, stuck, stuck
7. sting, stung, stung
8. string, strung, strung
9. swing, swung, swung
10. wring, wrung, wrung
Notes: Over two-thirds of pattern A plus pattern B verbs begin with the letter s, and all except stick have a nasal sound (m, n, ng, nk) after the i of the present tense.
1. A common verb with i in the present replaces this with o (but pronounced like u) in the past and past participle. Can you identify this "almost pattern B" verb?
win, won, won (Compare pronunciation with spin, spun, spun.)
Another common verb with i in the present replaces this with a in both the past and past participle. What is it?
sit, sat, sat
A very common verb with a in the past and u in the past participle has u in the present. Can you think of it?
run, ran, run
Another i,u,u verb has a long i in the present (lengthened by a silent final e, which disappears in the other tenses). Can you identify it?
strike, struck, struck
Incorrect conjugation of English verbs has been the despair of English teachers and an unending source of humor when used either deliberately or inadvertently. (A former baseball announcer was famous for such coinages as "The runner slud into third base.")
There are two common verbs that, properly used, follow neither pattern A nor pattern B, but are often treated as if they do, for comic effect. Can you identify these verbs, with an example for each of how they are misused?
1. bring, brang (or brung), brung ("I'll leave with the one who brung me.")
2. think, thunk, thunk ("Who'da thunk it?")