Feeds

Preterite peter-out: How the end beginned

Dark forces of regularisation smite irregular verbs

Intelligent flash storage arrays

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. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
Boffins who stare at goats: I do believe they’re SHRINKING
Alpine chamois being squashed by global warming
Not a loyal follower of @BritishMonarchy? You missed The QUEEN*'s first Tweet
Her Maj opens 'Information Age' at the Science Museum
Space exploration is just so lame. NEW APPS are mankind's future
We feel obliged to point out the headline statement is total, utter cobblers
Down-under record: Australian gets $140k for pussy
'Tiffany' closes deal - 'it's more common to offer your wife', says agent
Internet finally ready to replace answering machine cassette tape
It's a simple message and I'm leaving out the whistles and bells
FedEx helps deliver THOUSANDS of spam messages DIRECT to its Blighty customers
Don't worry Wilson, I'll do all the paddling. You just hang on
The iPAD launch BEFORE it happened: SPECULATIVE GUFF ahead of actual event
Nerve-shattering run-up to the pre-planned known event
Win a year’s supply of chocolate (no tech knowledge required)
Over £200 worth of the good stuff up for grabs
STONER SHEEP get the MUNCHIES after feasting on £4k worth of cannabis plants
Baaaaaa! Fanny's Farm's woolly flock is high, maaaaaan
Adorkable overshare of words like photobomb in this year's dictionaries
And hipsters are finally defined as self-loathing. Sort of
prev story

Whitepapers

Why cloud backup?
Combining the latest advancements in disk-based backup with secure, integrated, cloud technologies offer organizations fast and assured recovery of their critical enterprise data.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.