Episode 56: The Weak vs The Strong

Do you say ‘dived’ or ‘dove’? How about ‘shrank’ or ‘shrunk’? And when do you say ‘hanged’ instead of ‘hung’? We’ll explore the answers to these questions in this episode. The answers lie in the history of the English language – and specifically the distinction between so-called ‘weak’ verbs and ‘strong’ verbs.

17 thoughts on “Episode 56: The Weak vs The Strong

  1. I can say both dived and dove, but dived, like hanged, has a much more specific semantic context. I would say “he dived (or went diving) last weekend” in he context of scuba diving, or I might say “he dived/dove for the ring at the bottom of the pool.” Basically, if a person is already in the water and going deeper, it’s dived. All other contexts (including aquatic animals), it’s dove.

  2. I have never heard an Australian seriously use “dove” as the past tense of “dive”. I tend to use “dreamed” and “learned” rather than dreamt and learnt, but that is a question of spelling rather than pronunciation. I heard of the podcast just a month ago and am obsessed by it. I have just caught up with the comment by Veronica

    • Many of these variations are indeed regional, being found more in some dialects than others. I suspect that the US media influence will cause some of these more American variations to spread far and wide over the next few decades. If so, you will probably hear someone saying ‘dove’ pretty soon (and they won’t be referring to a bird).

  3. I hear Grimms Law being repeatedly illustrated by Kevin
    who invariably speaks of “Ladin” used in the “Lade Roman period” Time here is 0745 on 7 April 2016 as I listen to Episode 57

  4. Nowadays, Germans are still confused if they have hanged or hung a picture on the wall. “ich habe gehangen”/ I have hung, or “ich habe gehängt”/ I have hanged. Please note that the a is prounced like your u and the ä like your a, so even the sounf of german and English is the same here. People get even more confused, when you do this to people. They think, the “Henker” is a hang-man, who hangs people. But he’s actually an executioner, who could also use a sword, for example. If somebody was “gehenkt”, he was killed by the “Henker”, not necessarily hanged.

  5. i’d always assumed that hanged was only used when someone was executed. Which makes sense gieven the legal background. But if someone fell off a cliff I would say they hung on for dear life … Or could I say he hanged on for dear life? It doesn’t actually sound completely wrong …

    • I think the correct form would be “hung on for dear life.” (Though some grammarians may disagree.) “Hanged” is usually reserved for the literal hanging of a person by the neck.

    • I personally would love to see the return of “snew” as a possible past tense. It sounds like something from Dr. Seuss.

  6. I have always pronounced the past tense of “burn,” “learn,” “spill,” etc with an “ed” sound, because my tongue is in the back when I say those words and therefore closer to the “d” sound; when I noticed that that form was spelled with a “t” in British past tenses, I figured it was because if you say those words in BBC-type English, with the non-rhotic R, as in “buhnt”, it’s more natural for the tongue, positioned closer to the front teeth, to hit a “t” sound than “d.” // Thanks for your continued exploration of all this!

    • I think those ‘-t’ forms pre-date the loss of the ‘r’ in most cases, but it is an interesting theory. I’m glad you’re enjoying the podcast.

  7. A couple of episodes ago I mentioned the Lancashire dialect which is heavily influenced by Norse. Generally in Lanky all past tense endings of -ed in Standard English are pronounced -t. The past tense of “burn” is interesting: in Lanky it is both strong AND weak as the past tense is “brunt”.

    • Oh yes, I remember that from when I was a kid. The ending has always reminded me of Winnie the Pooh’s conundrum – a fly can’t bird, but a bird can fly.

  8. I always use the -t forms like learnt (I tend to think of learned as two syllables) and knelt. I’d say they’re still pretty common in the UK, though the -ed forms are also used.

    There’s another class of verbs that are half strong and half weak – catch/caught, teach/taught, buy/bought. Although they don’t particularly look like it now, they’re essentially verbs where the vowel mutates and a -t is also added. I don’t know if that’s a compromise, or if they descend from an original in-between class.

  9. I discovered this podcast earlier this year and am enjoying it immensely. Thank you for such an interesting program. The verb that has always puzzled me is the word “said”. As a child the spelling of it always confused me. I eventually worked out that if sounded phonetically it sounded like ‘sayed’, which makes sense as a past tense verb. Was said actually pronounced as sayed at some time in the past?

    • The ‘d’ at the end of ‘said’ was certainly derived from the common ‘-ed’, ‘-d’ and ‘-t’ suffixes that we use to express past tense. However, the past tense form of the word was usually rendered as a single syllable in Old English – often with a separate inflectional ending attached to that root depending on how it was used in the sentence. The main point is that ‘said’ is very old and basically goes back to Old English.

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