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An online magazine for alumni and friends of U-M.
February 18, 2013
This video originally appeared in LSA Today, where you can find more videos, including an archive of Anne Curzan's discussions of language.
Why do some speakers say, "have drank" or "have went" instead of "have drunk" or "have gone"?
You can hear "have drank" or "have went" in regions across the U.S., including the south and midwest. So what's happening here?
What appears to be happening is that speakers are creating regularity with irregular verbs.
Let me explain what I mean.
Let's start with a regular verb like "talk." This verb has the following forms in the first person:
• present tense: "I talk"
• past tense: "I talked"
• present perfect: "I have talked"
You'll notice that with "talk," as is true of all regular verbs, the past tense and past participle are exactly the same: "I talked" and "I have talked."
Irregular verbs work differently. With some irregular verbs, there are three different forms. Let's take a verb like "drink," as an example. This verb has the following forms in the first person:
• present tense: "I drink"
• past tense: "I drank"
• present perfect: "I have drunk"
Here, the past tense ("drank") and the past participle ("drunk") are different. The verb "go" works similarly in terms of having three different forms:
• present tense: "I go"
• past tense: "I went"
• present perfect: "I have gone"
The Quest for Regularity
Some speakers are are trying to make these irregular verbs act a little more like regular verbs. That said, they are not making them completely regular by giving them an –ed past tense and past participle. They're not saying "I drink," "I drinked," "I have drinked." But they are making the past tense and past participle match: "I drank," "I have drank." It's exactly the same way speakers use the past tense "talked" with the past participle "I have talked." This helps explain the attempt at the regularization of the verb "go" when people turn its past tense, "I went," into the past participle "I have went."
Now you suddenly may be wondering, "Wait a minute. Why is 'went' the past tense of 'go'?" That is a very good question.
"Go" has long been a highly irregular verb in English—sometimes called a defective verb—where it has a past tense that doesn't match its present tense.
How did this happen? During the Renaissance, the verb "go" took on the past tense of the verb "wend," so in modern English the present tense with "go" is paired with the past tense of "wend" (thus "went"). Then "wend," which had lost its past tense to "go," took on a new past tense, as in "I wended my way."
Because "go" is such a common verb in English, it can maintain a highly irregular past tense. Kids learn the irregular past tense "went" early on and may well never think about it again—unless, of course, they take a history of English course or read this column.
is Professor of English Language and Literature and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor. She also has faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.