Why Stem-Changing Verbs Are On The Outs

english stem-changing verbsI was on the phone with my mom the other day and she was telling me about an angry wasp that stinged her when the thought occurred to me that many Americans prefer to simplify stem-changing English verbs. I was working off little sleep, and I felt a little crazy, so I didn’t mind telling her what I’m about to tell you.

Instead of saying ‘stung,’ which she recognized she should have, she succumbed to her regional dialect. Granted, this is an assumption, but most Oregonians say ‘dranken’ instead of drunk (the past participle and simple past being too confusing to keep separate). Plenty of people, me included, would rather say ‘stinged.’ It’s easier. It may be a regional thing for now, but when American dialects conform to a standard Americanese (sometime in post postmodernism), the more prevalent, largely Southern, ‘waked’ will take preference over ‘woke,’ the Northeastern phrasing.

Learning French or Spanish is one thing, when the stem-changing verbs follow a pattern and you only have to remember which are stem-changers; but in English when the past tense of ‘wake’ is ‘woke’ and the past tense of ‘hang’ is ‘hung,’ unless you’re talking about a noose (and then it’s hanged) it’s just harder. Too hard, especially for the millions of Spanish speakers trying to learn our language, as well as the millions of children growing up in middle America where proper grammar is often forgotten. But hey, that’s language changing, baby.

By Daniel Ryan Adler

Daniel Adler writes fiction and nonfiction and is finishing his MFA at University of South Carolina.

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