Posts Tagged ‘Indo-European’

Incredible Shrinking Verb Forms

December 20, 2008

A reminder of how far beyond the Zeitgeist I have grown: my ear remains offended by a movie title: “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.”

“Honey, I Shrank the Kids” would sound right, as would “Honey, I’ve Shrunk the Kids.”  Maybe the second was what was meant, a careless elision eliminating the contraction of “have”.

The movie was made in 1987, and reincarnated as a TV program in 1997.  I’m still offended. I hear endless similar locutions: “He sung three new songs”; “I stunk”; even, once, “He’d swam with the sharks.”

All this with a group of irregular verbs whose past tense is—or used to be—formed by changing the vowel in the present tense—usually a short “i” as in “drink”—to an “a” (drank). To form the past participle the vowel changed again, to “u”, as in “drunk”. Used with “have” and “had”, the past participle forms the present perfect and pluperfect—“I’ve swum with the sharks, he’d swum with the sharks.” (“Swim, swam, swum”.)

According to Wikipedia, these verb forms go back a long way, and are actually fairly regular. They come to us directly from Old English—sturdy, one-syllable verbs that do yeoman service in daily use. No wonder that in linguistics they’re called “strong verbs”. Read on….