… at least in some parts of the country. In other parts, it sprang some time ago. Or is it “sprung some time ago”?
Spring the verb behaves in much the same way as spring the season — irregularly. Regular verbs march in lockstep, all forming their simple past tense by tacking on the easily remembered “ed” at the end. Some examples are laugh (laughed), cough (coughed) and shovel (shoveled).
But irregular verbs are misfits. They march to the beat of their own drum, using whatever past-tense form they feel like. Examples include drink (drank), begin (began) and choose (chose). The lack of any rhyme or reason for their behavior makes application of a rule difficult. That’s why we get questions like “Is it sprang or sprung?”
Two of the most common errors we see with irregular verbs are when writers incorrectly add “ed” at the end or inadvertently mix up the forms for the simple past and past participle.
|STOP RIGHT THERE!
Did “participle” make your eyes glaze over? We get it. It’s one of those words thrown around by grammarians and acknowledged by others with a knowing nod — though many have no idea what a participle really is. Here’s a quick lesson.
It might help to focus on the word “part” at the beginning of the word, because you can think of a participle as part verb and part adjective. In other words, it can be used to indicate present or past action or serve as a descriptor. For example, in “grown man” and “growing problem,” grown and growing are participles (past and present, respectively) formed from the verb grow.
The present-participle form is formed by adding “ing” to the verb. This rule applies across the board to regular and irregular verbs alike. Hurray! Why can’t all English grammar rules be that way?
(The “ing” ending causes confusion for many because gerunds — another grammar gremlin — also end in “ing.” We’ll talk in a future post about the difference between gerunds and participles, and why you should even care.)
The past-participle form for regular verbs is the same as the past-tense form. For irregular verbs, you guessed it … there’s no pattern whatsoever. The past and past participle may be the same, or they may be entirely different. If that’s not confusing enough, in some cases, the present, past and past participle are all the same (e.g., bet, bid, put).
The table below shows some examples of the different tenses for both regular and irregular verbs (now you know why it’s called verb “tense”):
What’s the Big Deal About Participles Anyway?
Regardless of the form the past participle takes, you can distinguish it from the past tense with this easy rule: Past participles ALWAYS follow one or more auxiliary verbs (e.g., be, do, have).
Why does that matter?
Because knowing whether you’re dealing with simple past tense or a past participle will help you figure out whether you’re using the correct verb form. We’ll talk more about auxiliary verbs in a future post. But for now, if your verb is part of a verb phrase rather than standing alone, it’s likely a participle.
Once you know that, you can refer to a handy-dandy list, like this one that lists common irregular verb forms, to determine whether you’ve used the correct form.
Spring Back …
… to see if you can now answer the question we posed at the beginning of this article. Unless you live in the Northeast or Midwest. Spring never sprang there. It never sprung either. (Both are acceptable past-tense forms.)
Other irregular verb forms got your brain in a deep freeze? Let us know in the comments how we can help. Oh, and … happy spring!