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Conjugation American style

Posted by R. Berg on January 11, 2002

In Reply to: Pause for thought... irregularity. posted by The Fallen on January 11, 2002

: Elsewhere on this forum, someone worries that US spoken english is becoming less rich in vocabulary. Being from the UK and therefore prone to a "holier than thou" attitude when it comes to the English language, my natural tendency is to agree and view American english as evolving into a more simplified form - hence the loss of the diphthongs "ae-" and "oe-" (as in anaesthesia/anesthesia or diarrhoea/diarrhea) and the dropping of the silent "u" (as in colour/color and many others).

: It is indeed a given with the evolution of language that things tend to progress towards regularity as time moves on, with exceptions to generic standards slowly falling into disuse. However, whereas US english seems to have adopted a more simplified spelling structure, when it comes to verb declensions, it's the UK that seems to have moved towards simplification more quickly.

: I'll cite the two examples that come to mind.

: To get - I get, I got, I have got (UK)
: I get, I got, I have gotten (US)

: (And yet, "to beget" and "to forget" in UK English follow the above US route in declension)

: To dive - I dive, I dived, I have dived (UK)
: - I dive, I dove, I have ????? (US)

: (I can't think of another example that follows the above US declension)

: It's interesting to me that the US has preserved irregular (or "strong") verb structures longer than the UK. It just goes to show how diversified a common language can become, given only 200 or so years of separation.

In the U.S., "dived" is standard for past and for past participle. "Dove" is colloquial. "Gotten" now appears without a cautionary note (i.e., status label) in the American Heritage Dictionary. However, at the small publisher's where I worked 30 years ago, the house style book said of "gotten": "We do not recognize this word. Say 'got.'"

If we in the U.S. exported as much academic writing as we export pop culture, the rest of the world might have a higher opinion of our mastery of English.