Thursday, 9 June 2016

Stop! Grammar time. Past participles

You all know what a past participle is, even if you don't know that that is what it's called. For many English verbs, it ends in -ed, like walked and talked and chewed gum.  Any neologisms, or verbified nouns, will take -ed as the past participle form.

There's another large set of verbs that taken -en, like eaten and taken and given or variants on the theme, like blown, drawn and sewn. And some more that end in -t, like bent and gilt and kept and meant.

And then, because this is the English language we're talking about, there a whole heap of irregular verbs that do a whole heap of weird shit. Some of it is because, at heart, English is a Germanic language, and so we still have some strong verbs, where the past tense is marked by changing the vowel sound, like sing → sung; bind bound; fly → flown; hold → held, and win → won



There are some English verbs that used to be strong, but have gradually become weak, like laugh → laught/laughen (now laughed), and work → wrought (now worked). Note that 'wrought' is the past participle of work, not wreak.

There are the 'ought' verbs, like seek → sought, think → thought, and fight → fought. By the way there is absolutely no excuse for mixing up bought and brought. If you buy something, you bought it, but if you bring something, you brought it.

Finally, there's suppletion, where two different Old English verbs get mooshed into one. The two classic examples are go/went and be/was. We still see 'went' in 'wend', as in, 'to wend one's way home along the winding road'. For both of those, the past participles are semi-regular: go → gone, and be → been. But the past participle of clothe can be clad or clothed, coming respectively from two similar, but nevertheless distinct, OE verbs

Where there are two endings, the Americans tend to go for the more regular (the -ed) version, while the Brits stick with the irregular one. So gilded vs gilt, spoiled vs spoilt, dreamed vs dreamt. Sometimes, a verb might have two or more alternatives, with different nuances or usages like swollen and swelled, pleaded and pled, and hanged and hung (note that, in general, a picture is hung, a person is hanged).


All of which is a very long winded way of making you understand why I was so chuffed with a recent discovery. The Latin verb adolesco means "I grow up", so an 'adolescent' is one who is growing up. The past participle of adolesco is adultus, whence 'adult', or one who has grown up.

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