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Let's say I say / write catched instead of caught or buyed instead of bought, etc.

I know this is grammatically incorrect, but is it incorrect or perfectly fine to use it in every-day life ? English is not my first language so I am a little bit curious about this. Some people say it is correct and understandable, while others say it is incorrect and ridiculous.

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Perhaps in some local/rural areas somewhere, but I would find it very childish if a native speaker would use catched instead of caught – mplungjan Aug 27 '13 at 13:28
This is an interesting history of the word catched. It concludes, though, that catched has receded into dialectal use only. – JLG Aug 27 '13 at 13:45
I always think the past tense of 'draw' is 'drew'. But a couple days ago I heard a little white boy says 'I drawed this'. – Giswin Aug 27 '13 at 16:37
up vote 10 down vote accepted

You answered your own question when you said it was grammatically incorrect. It is usually understandable but is considered wrong.

That said, there are some verbs which have multiple forms. An interesting one is sneak which has both sneaked and snuck as past participles. Many people consider "snuck" to be incorrect. Indeed my spell check doesn't even recognize it. Yet for many others it is correct, if perhaps informal.

There used to be many more irregular verbs in English and over time a good number of them have become regularized. However, the most commonly used verbs are the most resistant to regularization because everyone already knows the irregular forms and they use them often.

As a non-native speaker you will probably be forgiven if you slip up and use a regularized form of an irregular verb. But, like my three-year-old son who also uses regular forms of plurals and past participles where fluent speakers would use an irregular form, you will be expected to correct them, especially if writing/speaking formally.

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"Snuck" is never acceptable and is not a word. – Abraxas Aug 27 '13 at 18:50
I think it's worth separating out "wrong" in the sense of 'it would never even occur to normally developed adult native speakers to utter that' and "wrong" in other prescriptive/aesthetic terms. (This is why I prefer to avoid using words like "wrong", "incorrect" in the first place.) – Neil Coffey Aug 27 '13 at 19:36
@Abraxas: Tell that to Webster's: 'snuck: usage: First recorded in writing near the end of the 19th century in the U.S., snuck has become in recent decades a standard variant past tense and past participle: Bored by the lecture, we snuck out the side door. snuck occurs frequently in fiction, in journalism, and on radio and television, whereas sneaked is more likely in highly formal or belletristic writing... It has occasionally been considered nonstandard but is so widely used by professional writers and educated speakers that it can no longer be so regarded.' – Edwin Ashworth Aug 27 '13 at 22:38
@Abraxas Language Log has examined the trend towards increasing usage of "snuck" in great detail. It is definitely a word and is increasing in acceptance. It is the past participle that I and many of my friends use and we are literate speakers. Sorry if this bothers you :) – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Aug 28 '13 at 0:27

As with many things, "it depends". It depends on what you mean by "incorrect" and it depends on the specific verb.

To generalise hugely, there is a phenomenon whereby children acquiring the language overgeneralise regular patterns while in the fairly stages of acquisition. So a 4 year old child may well say "He catched it". But a normally developed adult native speaker would probably never in their wildest dreams of a slip of the tongue use the form "catched" (unless they were deliberately mimicking child language, or for some other humoristic effect). The same generally goes for common irregular verbs. So in these cases, by pretty much any useful definition of the word, you would say that "catched" and "buyed" are "incorrect".

However, this doesn't hold for all irregular verbs. There are a few verbs 'on the fringe' where for a variety of reasons even in the adult language, there will be variation. This includes regional or ideolectal variation: e.g. "treat" can be irregular in Yorkshire English, whereas it is regular in standard English; "sneak" is generally regular in British English, but typically irregular in US English. You can even get cases where a verb is considered irregular, but there is uncertainty about the actual irregular form (e.g. "He span" vs "He spun"; "He rode it" vs "He rid it", though the latter would generally be considered non-standard). In these cases, whether e.g. "he treat [trEt] them well", "he snuck in", "He rid it fast" are "incorrect" or "correct" depends on what you decide your measure of "correctness" is.

In the case of some relatively rare verbs, it may be that many adult native speakers are simply never explicitly exposed to the 'standard' irregular form, so that they will tend to regularise. The most common past tense of "broadcast" is irregular, but there are a number of tangible instances with the regular form (e.g. "They never broadcast[ed] it"). Indeed, you're unlikely to get much of a consensus about the precise cases where "cast" is regular vs irregular ("They cast[ed] him as the hero"). These are all cases where the variants are probably all used sufficiently in adult, educated usage that you'd be generally hard pushed to say that one is "incorrect" by most definitions.

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Definitely not acceptable. It would attract immediate attention. Most irregular verbs are among the oldest verbs in English, and they are ones that are used commonly in everyday speech. Their frequent use is one reason that they stayed so stable even when large changes were taking place elsewhere in the language. In other words, these words owe their relative stability to the fact that they are used so often, and that means that people who speak English have an expectation that they will be used as they are so often heard, correctly.

Using regular verb forms with irregular, everyday speech would make you sound like a poorly-programmed cyborg ("It" got the rules down, but doesn't know how to apply them.). Many of these verbs actually predate the existence of any regular verb declensions whatever. There were irregular verbs before there were any regular ones.

So, avoid it. It would call into question your knowledge of English, would definitely attract attention, and some would even question your intelligence (with no justification, of course). The more common the words, the less acceptable mistakes in their usage are (to the general population).

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