Why Avoid the Forms of Irregular Verbs?

I’ve written on this subject before, even spending some time discussing a quite recent book, the subject of which was, believe it or not, the irregular verb.

“Regular” verbs of course behave in phonologically and structurally similar fashion, and any verb in the several classes of these has many siblings.   Start with “learn/learned/learned” and see how many more English verbs you can cite that have the same pattern.  Verbs that belong to the other two main classes of regular verbs are different primarily in phonology (which is apparent also in the spelling of some of the forms).   The principal parts of the verbs “dread” (or “start”) and “sleep” (or “keep”) would offer starts to two other classes.

One reason one might give for appreciating Esperanto over English or other established languages is that there are, as I recall, no irregular verbs.

And that is why I would be somewhat concerned about giving up English for this invented language:  I have a sort of “crush” on “irregular verbs” because they add the spice of change and even a kind of “color” to our shared language.

This is why I would admonish the editors of our local newspaper (in which this blog also appears)  to give up their casual shrugging of shoulders in the face of a campaign to keep irregular English verb forms alive.

For one thing, at this time of reduction of page sizes and shrinking of some features of the newspaper,  using an irregular verb form could save some space, quite a bit of it perhaps over a year’s time!  Inflections are money, no?

I grate my teeth every time I see (and this often seems to be a daily thing) the past tense “pleaded ” used when an accused is brought before the judge or the court.  Why not “pled” instead?  All contemporary dictionaries sanction its use.

And just now, on April 29, in the “InBrief” column, this sentence appeared:  “Although Duke turned into the path of the Acura,  a witness reported that Hillen speeded up in an effort to get through the traffic signal at the intersection.”  Mercy sakes alive, can’t we speed up the report by using “sped” (both are sanctioned in the dictionary) instead of the laborious and somewhat juvenile-sounding  “speeded.”  For goodness sake,  we don’t write and we shouldn’t say “bleeded,”  should we?  Webster, then and now,  says “Nay!” And indeed so say I.



24 Responses to “Why Avoid the Forms of Irregular Verbs?”

  1. Jeff Thompson Says:

    Dr. Rundus, journalists have their own language. News stories trigger certain useages that you’ll never read or hear otherwise. Example: A public figure involved in an affair had a “tryst.” I’m afraid there’s no convincing writers and editors that they could be a bit more casual while at the same time being gramatically (or is it grammerically) correct. But frankly, I’m more concerned about proper use of the language by the media. For example, you don’t “bring” things there. You “take” them there and “bring” them here.

  2. Scott Says:

    Although Esperanto is a beautiful language, its aesthetic appeal isn’t really the main reason the people who learn it do so. They want to simply be able to quickly learn a language they can use (and yes, those who learn Esperanto can use it quite a lot; while you may not find many nearby speakers, there is a very large and active community on the internet). The fact that it is very, very regular lends itself to rapid learning. For example, you can learn to conjugate ALL verbs in ALL tenses in literally just a few minutes, and can fully master conjugation (where you don’t even have to think about it any longer) in under an hour. THAT is the benefit of regularity.

    Irregularities do give a language variety and color. But the cost of that variety and color is extremely steep for non-native speakers learning the language. For example, I defy any native English speaker to learn to conjugate all French verbs in JUST the present tense, given an entire month to do so. I doubt it could be accomplished by most people.

    Esperanto’s regularity is one of the main reasons that it is so easy to learn. I learned it to the point of fluency in just a few months of part-time study. I was nowhere near that level with French after three years of daily classes, or with German after four and a half.

  3. pen Says:

    Any idea where irregular verbs come from? Seems like every language has them, and they are usually the most common verbs. Seems like they were invented by a sick and twisted foreign language instructor. I’ve also wondered why the past tense of “hang” is “hung”, unless you are talking about hanging a person, then it’s “hanged”. If you can’t answer those, maybe you can tell me what the correct past tense of “sneak” is.

  4. pen Says:

    Ugh, I didn’t mean to start two consecutive sentences with “Seems”.

  5. russ Says:

    There are plenty of ways to have “spice” and “color” in a language without forcing people to waste untold amounts of time (and frustration and money!) learning a lot of arbitrary conjugations or declinations. Esperanto certainly manages without irregular verbs.

    And if you’re worried about saving ink and paper, think of all the textbooks that wouldn’t be needed to teach people all the irregular forms if English only had regular verbs. 🙂

    But yeah, the horse is long out of the barn in the case of English. I can’t imagine it becoming regular any time soon.

  6. William Says:

    Esperanto would never ask you to give up your own language, but only to include it (Esperanto) as a clear and logical secondary language. I, too, am opposed to the simplification of English, or any other “planned” revisions. The character of each natural language stems from its long and colourful evolution, and there’s so much more to it than just getting the message out in the least amount of space. In a perfect world we’d all speak our own language, in all its rich and complex glory, and Esperanto (also glorious in its own way) to communicate across the bariers of language without eroding their place in the world mosaic.

  7. Detlef Karthaus Says:

    Some English teachers are teaching Esperanto to instill a notion of grammar, since in Esperanto nouns, adjectives, adverbs and tenses are easily identified by their endings. There is no question of giving up English. And if you like irregular verbs a quick perusal of an irregular verb list will show that English irregular verbs are all of germanic origin and have their cognates in modern German, a language you might like to put on your “to do” list. I’ve had my fill with irregular verbs from French and Spanish.

  8. Philip Brewer Says:

    I think you’ll find Esperanto (and Esperantists) to be an ally here.

    The biggest pressure against irregular verbs comes from less experienced speakers. Native speakers tend to say drove and driven (if perhaps even they have about given up on throve and thriven), because that’s the way people around them talk.

    Non-native speakers, though, tend to apply the regular forms because they’re easier (and they’re understandable, even if they’re wrong)–nobody is confused when someone says, “I drived to the store.”

    But what keeps the irregular forms in common use is hearing them. If people start hearing the regular forms all the time, they tend to adopt them.

    If we all spoke Esperanto when we wanted to communicate with non-native speakers, they wouldn’t be speaking ungrammatical English in an effort to communicate. Then the English that everyone hears would be the English of native speakers–in all its irregular glory.

  9. inga johanson Says:

    Imagine a see-saw. You have learned French and you sit on the see-saw with a native Frenchspeaking man and you try to speak French.
    like this: http://download-anime.org/images/seesaw.jpg

  10. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    My favorite: The group was ‘lead’ by a thin, balding fellow of 75.

  11. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Were you the one leading the group? 😆

  12. Phil Dorcas Says:

    We are on the same page with Esperanto. Esperanto is not intended to replace any language. Esperanto speakers and advocates would never expect anybody to sacrifice their mother tongue, their dear native language. If anything, Esperanto helps protect endangered languages by providing an easier auxiliary language to help cross the barriers of country, class, and culture.

  13. Forest Crump Says:

    She sneaked up behind him, she’s a super sneak not to be confused with a super freak, you know, the kind you won’t take home to mother.

    She’s a very sneaky girl,
    the kind you can take home
    to mother.

  14. Tammy Stephens Says:

    Time to take you back to the ward, lol! 8)

  15. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    My bad Tammy! Forest is a sneaky boy and don’t get him mixed up with the rest of us super freaks!! He found out how to get out of that straight jacket!! He never has liked anything with straight associated with him!!

  16. Forest Crump Says:

    I love you guys too 🙂

  17. Raymond Rundus Says:

    Hey, Bloggers! To coin a phrase: “Ain’t we got fun?”

    Tell me, how do you conjugate that verb? “Haven’t” = “Hain’t” = “Ain’t? Or what do you think? As the level of literate speakers increases and awareness of linguistic faux pas increases, I suspect that we seldom even hear “ain’t” anymore, except when used playfully by those who “know better.”
    * * * * * * * Back to more immediate matters:
    It seems as if this “Blog” is currently going international. The Esperantists seem to welcome the challenge to describe their experiences with their first language and then their second: Esperanto. But all seem to agree that it is important to honor and value the irregularities of Language # 1. I liked Inga’s cartoon of the French-speaking native vs. the “newbie” with the language on the seesaw. And I did listen to the Pete Seeger lyrics of one song and followed along nicely with the written text in Esperanto.

    One correction to Russ’s comment: I think the correction name for form changes in nouns, pronouns, and adjectives is “declensions,” not “declinations.” And to Jeff T., it is “grammatically,” not “grammerically.”
    We also seemingly have brought to the blog our first German blogger, who mentions the relationship of English irregular verbs to irregular Modern German verbs. Detlef K. challenges us/me to put modern German on our “to do” list. Well, I have studied college German (primarily reading/translation) for three semesters, did serve in the Seventy Army in Germany for two years and married a native from Stuttgart. But I will confess that I never got much mastery either over verb conjugations or the declensions of pronouns and nouns. At least I have a “native speaker” at hand to straighten me out.

    Re the challenge from “Pen” to offer a conjugation of the verb “sneak.” Forest Crump did try, but only one of his examples is a verb. I venture to say that your dictionary, if published in the UK, will record “sneak” as a regular verb: “sneak,” “sneaked,” “sneaked.” But “snuck” (refer to Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”) is listed in the current “AHD” as an “Americanism” and acceptable as the past tense form of “sneak.” Keep in mind also that it can be either a transitive or intransitive verb: “I wanted some drinkability, so I sneaked/snuck some Bud Light up into my room.” Or, as an intransitive verb, “He sneaked away from the house at the first light of morning.”

    I will post later this evening a syllogism in response to the encroaching movements to declare the legal/cultural validity of “gay marriage.”


  18. Tammy Stephens Says:

    We love you so much, we keep ya locked up, lol!

  19. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Tammy: I am a thick, bushy headed person of 39. 😉

    Perfessor: ‘Ain’t’ don’t need no conjugating:

    I, you, he,she,it, we, y’all, they……..AIN’T!!!

    Do you need to know anything else? Just callme.

  20. Frank B Maness,Jr. Says:

    Marshall I need to call you out on the 39!! There has to be a bunch of folks 39 but you need to come back to the ward!!! You are a math guy as well!!

  21. Marshall Faircloth Says:

    Frank, you didn’t say nothin’ about my conjugatin’ skills, just my cypherin’.

  22. Tammy Stephens Says:

    That would leave me around 11yrs. Something like that. But don’t reveal my age. Too fun to joke with. I’m just about ready to dye my grey, lol. I’ll leave it at that.
    “you need to come back to the ward”
    Do we have enough strait jackets?
    I think I am ready for one, so I can get some sleep, lol.

  23. Toño Says:

    Learn Spanish! We have plenty of irregular verbs waiting for you 🙂
    Even better, try Basque!

  24. Raymond Rundus Says:

    In an E-mail to me directly Tonio del Barrio (of Castille, Spain) brought forth some more interesting points about the “Basque” language:
    (1) He agreed with my observation that that language has no distinctive relationship with any of its neighbor languages;
    (2) He pointed out that Basque is now protected by the Spanish government as an official language of that nation (there has been in recent decades much persecution toward, and often violence against, the Basque-speaking population); and
    (3) He reported that the Basque-speaking population has actually been increasing in recent years, and thus the culture is also strengthened.
    (3) He also seems to agree with others that have written that Esperanto is a viable organ of communication which ought to be encouraged to spread, at least as a second language.


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