Hey, y’all! Grammar Guru here, and I am back this month with a perplexing new error I can’t escape. We’re talking about the simple past tense of common verbs. Not to be confused with the past participle, which is what comes after had/has/have. In some of these examples, it is the past participle that causes confusion, so I’ll mention a few of them.
The past tense of TEXT = TEXTED (not TEXT!)
So many people are dropping the -ed at the end of the past tense texted. When on earth did this begin?! Well, I found this infuriating Reddit post from 11 years ago where someone says that texted makes her cringe and that it has to be text. Nope. It MUST be texted. But I am seeing and hearing this everywhere. I cannot even understand dropping the –ed when you’re speaking this word, let alone writing it. Unlike many irregular verbs that are tricky in the past tense, text is a plain and simple regular verb. Its past tense is texted.
CORRECT: My crush texted me last night.
INCORRECT: My crush text me last night.
The past tense of DRAG = DRAGGED (not DRUG!)
CORRECT: Look what the cat dragged in!
INCORRECT: Look what the cat drug in!
The past tense of DRINK = DRANK
CORRECT: I drank too much coffee this morning.
INCORRECT: I drunk too much coffee this morning.
Drunk is the past participle of drink.
CORRECT: I had drunk too much to drive home last night.
INCORRECT: I has drunken too much to drive last night. (Anyone saying this should definitely not be driving.)
The past tense of SHRINK = SHRANK (not SHRUNK!)
CORRECT: My shirt shrank in the wash.
INCORRECT: My shirt shrunk in the wash.
So many people want to use the past participle, shrunk, instead of shrank. The movie Honey, I Shrunk The Kids is actually incorrect. It should be Honey, I Shrank The Kids. Shrunk will only come after have.
CORRECT: Honey, I have shrunk the kids.
The past tense of LIE = LAY
As a quick reminder, if you are talking about reclining, it’s lie NOT lay!
CORRECT PRESENT TENSE: I need to lie down.
INCORRECT PRESENT TENSE: I need to lay down.
CORRECT PAST TENSE: I lay by the pool all day yesterday.
INCORRECT PAST TENSE: I laid by the pool all day yesterday.
The past tense of LAY = LAID
If you are talking about placing something down, it’s lay.
CORRECT PRESENT TENSE: Lay your mat down on the floor.
CORRECT PAST TENSE: Have you seen my book? I laid it here yesterday.
The past tense of SING = SANG
CORRECT: I sang in my college’s choir.
INCORRECT: I sung in my college’s choir.
Sung is the past participle of sing.
CORRECT: Harry Styles has sung in 35* countries.
*This stat is made up.
The past tense of SHINE = SHONE or SHINED
Depending on how you’re using shine, either can be correct.
CORRECT: I shined my shoes yesterday.
CORRECT: The stars shone bright last night.
The past tense of LIGHT = LIGHTED or LIT
Depending on how you’re using light, either can be correct. Lighted used to be preferred, but now lit is favored.
CORRECT: Lanterns lighted our path through the woods.
CORRECT: He lit a match so we could see.
The past tense of SNEAK = SNEAKED (but yes, SNUCK too)
This is one of the most hotly debated past tense issues in the English language. Most grammar purists believe sneaked is the only proper past-tense form of sneak. But few people will bat an eye if you use snuck. Snuck has nearly overtaken sneaked in popularity.
CORRECT: The robber sneaked around the back.
CORRECT: We snuck candy into the theater.
The past tense of HANG = (almost always) HUNG
CORRECT: We hung the clothes to dry overnight.
NOTE: The only time to use hanged is when referencing a past death by hanging.
Sometimes the past tense ends in -T instead of -ED
These are sweepingly non-negotiable examples that end in t.
- Deal → Dealt
- Weep → Wept
- Keep → Kept
- Sweep → Swept
- Spend → Spent
- Sleep → Slept
Sometimes the past tense can end in either -T or -ED
Brits and Australians differ from Americans and Canadians in some of the following past-tense instances. Typically, the former group of English speakers prefers the -t spelling, and the latter, the –ed.
- Smell → Smelt/Smelled
- Learn → Learnt/Learned
- Kneel → Knelt/Kneeled (NOTE: knelt is widely preferred, but kneeled is still used in some places.)
- Spell → Spelt/Spelled
- Burn → Burnt/Burned (NOTE: We use burnt as an adjective, like burnt orange or burnt toast.)
- Spill → Spilt/Spilled (NOTE: We use spilt in certain phrases like spilt milk.)
- Dream → Dreamt/Dreamed
Many words are the SAME in the present and past tense!
- Quit → Quit
- Cast → Cast
- Cost → Cost
- Beat → Beat
- Bet → Bet
- Burst → Burst
- Cut → Cut
- Hit → Hit
- Hid → Hid
- Hurt → Hurt
- Put → Put
- Set → Set
- Split → Split
- Shut → Shut
Do you still have questions about past tenses? Do you have ideas for future episodes? Email [email protected]!
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