Feeds

Preterite peter-out: How the end beginned

Dark forces of regularisation smite irregular verbs

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

Those of you who like your English as God intended - complete with the inexplicable spellings and irregular verbs which cause such woe to students of our beloved mother tongue - will doubtless be alarmed at the news that the irregular preterite is heading for possible extinction as the forces of regularisation bring the errant past tense back into line.

That's according to a study by Harvard University mathematicians, which says that delights such as "began", "brought" and "stank" may in future be replaced by "beginned", "bringed" and "stinked".

To back their case, the researchers identified 177 irregular verbs used in Old English and tracked their use over the centuries from Beowulf to Harry Potter via The Canterbury Tales.

They found that the figure had been reduced to 145 by the 14th century, and the current lingo boasts just 98 - a paltry three per cent of all verbs.

The team says that of the 98, 15 will have evolved into regular verbs within the next 500 years. The preterites "very likely" to suffer the ignominious fate are "bade" (bidded) "shed" (shedded), "slew" (slayed), "slit" (slitted), "stung" (stinged) and "wed" (wedded).

Among those most likely to resist are "ate", "broke", "bought", "chose", "drew" and "drank".

The reason for some preterites' comparative robustness is because "verbs evolve and homogenise at a rate inversely proportional to their prevalence in the English language", as the Harvard blurb explains.

The team "computed the 'half-lives' of the surviving irregular verbs to predict how long they will take to regularise", and concluded: "The most common ones, such as 'be' and 'think', have such long half-lives (38,800 years and 14,400 years, respectively) that they will effectively never become regular. Irregular verbs with lower frequencies of use - such as 'shrive' and 'smite', with half-lives of 300 and 700 years, respectively - are much more likely to succumb to regularisation."

The researchers' findings are published in this week's Nature. ®

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Forget the beach 'n' boardwalk, check out the Santa Cruz STEVE JOBS FOUNTAIN
Reg reader snaps shot of touching tribute to Apple icon
Oz bank in comedy Heartbleed blog FAIL
Bank: 'We are now safely patched.' Customers: 'You were using OpenSSL?'
Happy 40th Playmobil: Reg looks back at small, rude world of our favourite tiny toys
Little men straddle LOHAN, attend tiny G20 Summit... ah, sweet memories...
Spanish village called 'Kill the Jews' mulls rebranding exercise
Not exactly attractive to the Israeli tourist demographic
Lego is the TOOL OF SATAN, thunders Polish priest
New minifigs like Monster Fighters are turning kids to the dark side
Dark SITH LORD 'Darth Vader' joins battle to rule, er, Ukraine
Only I can 'make an empire out of a republic' intones presidential candidate
Chinese company counters pollution by importing fresh air
Citizens line up for bags of that sweet, sweet mountain air
Google asks April Fools: Want a job? Be our 'Pokemon Master'
Mountain View is prankin' like it's 1999...
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a defence for mobile apps
In this whitepaper learn the various considerations for defending mobile applications; from the mobile application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies needed to properly assess mobile applications risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
Five 3D headsets to be won!
We were so impressed by the Durovis Dive headset we’ve asked the company to give some away to Reg readers.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.