How the irregular verb is being 'drived' to extinction
By DAVID DERBYSHIRE — More by this author Last updated at 01:25am on 11th October 2007
The process beginned hundreds of years ago and bringed a huge change in our use of the language.
Now researchers believe more of the irregular verbs that make English such a rich and varied experience are heading for extinction.
In future, 'stank' will evolve into 'stinked', 'drove' will become 'drived' and 'slew' will turn into 'slayed', a team of linguists and mathematicians say. And if the simplification becomes really serious, 'begun' could change to 'beginned', 'brought' to 'bringed' and 'fell' to 'falled'.
The prediction comes from the first study of its kind into how irregular verbs have evolved in literature over the last 1,200 years.
Around 97 per cent of verbs in English are regular. That means in the past tense they simply take an '-ed' ending — so 'talk' becomes 'talked', and 'jump' becomes 'jumped'.
Irregular verbs, however, do their own thing. Some like 'wed' stay the same in the past tense while others like 'begin' take a different ending to become 'begun'.
The study, carried out at Harvard University, found that irregular verbs are under intense pressure to change into regular verbs as language develops.
The team identified 177 irregular verbs used in Old English and tracked their use over the centuries from the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf to the latest Harry Potter novel.
By the 14th century, only 145 were still irregular and by modern times, just 98 remained.
The less commonly used they are, the more they are likely to change, the team reports today in the journal Nature. The scientists predict that 15 of the 98 irregular verbs in the study will have evolved into regular verbs within the next 500 years. Verbs that they say are very likely to change are: bade to bidded; shed — shedded; slew — slayed; slit — slitted; stung — stinged; wed — wedded.
Verbs that are less likely to change are: broke — breaked; bought — buyed; chose — choosed; drew — drawed; drunk — drinked; ate — eated."