Irregular Verbs Must Be Drilled

It is not only ESL learners who need to drill English verbs. The native-born need verb drill as well.
It is not only ESL learners who need to drill English verbs. The native-born need verb drill as well.

No question about it, language changes from generation to generation.

When public expression is dominated by speakers and writers who have been instructed in standard forms of the language, linguistic change is gradual.

In a society such as ours, in which public expression is now open to everyone, whether they are educated in a standard form of the language or not, change is inconveniently rapid.

Linguistic change is inevitable. People move around, cultures collide, technology advances. Old words die or acquire new applications; new words are invented to describe new ideas. For example, my mother attached very different concepts to the words boot, mouse, and disk than I do. She managed quite nicely without ever using the words Google, cyberspace, or “friend” as a verb.

However, just because linguistic change is inevitable, the fact remains that, in the interest of a universal standard that can be understood by the largest number of speakers, gradual change is to be preferred over rapid change.

As the result of historical change, the greater number of English verbs have become regularized. That means that most English verbs now form their simple pasts and past participles by adding -ed:

walk | walked | (have) walked
try | tried | (have) tried
love | loved | (have) loved

However, a few verbs remain that form the past tense with vowel changes:

sing | sang | (have) sung
write | wrote | (have) written
slide | slid | (have) slid
think | thought | (have) thought
go | went | (have) gone
come | came | (have) come

I regret to say that I have heard our local television news announcers say such things has “have went” and “have came.”

When it comes to the remaining irregular English verbs, classroom drilling is called for.

English teachers, drill your students!

Math teachers make use of “mad minute” math drills. Children are still expected (I think) to memorize the multiplication tables. English teachers need to drill their students in the irregular verb forms.

Parents, if the teachers aren’t drilling your children in the irregular verbs, you need to do it at home. Here they are:

23 verbs like cut/cut/(have) cut

61 verbs like find/found/(have) found

65 verbs like begin/began/(have) begun

28 verbs that defy categorization

One Response

  1. Maeve,

    It was refreshing to see an American English grammar or usage literacy article here once again this morning. Sometimes such articles serve as reminders of things learned and long since forgotten or misplaced in our memory palaces. Then again, sometimes these articles break new ground some of us missed altogether or were not offered as a part of our basic education.

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