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The violence pit pro-Russian separatists against Ukrainian forces and those who support the government in Kiev.

A friend of mine says pit is used as a past tense verb in this sentence. What is the present tense form of pit?

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up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is an example of usage differing in Britain and the USA. For some reason, most Americans don't change the verb form for the past tense of certain short verbs ending in -it. So fit, spit, shit, slit and pit are thus formed both in the present and the past tense as far as Americans are concerned, whereas people from Britain would almost always use fitted, spat, shat, slitted and pitted for the past tense. However, even in Britain hit, split and quit follow the American pattern (though quitted is also used); and Americans do say sat rather than sit.

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Fitted and pitted have their uses in American English; for example, The suit fit him last year but The tailor fitted him for a suit last year, and if making a pie, I will have pitted cherries all afternoon. As for spit and shit, you'll often hear spat and shat as past forms. – choster May 5 '14 at 15:54

Your friend is correct that pit is being used as a past tense in the example, but by most standards it is being used incorrectly. Dictionaries (e.g. Collins) mostly say that the verb is pit, and the past tense is pitted. It is clear that the past tense is intended, (the present tense would be pits), and there certainly are those who think pit, used transitively, retains its irregular past pit; but the word itself is so rare that it is being regularized by sheer unfamiliarity.

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Was pit ever the irregular past tense of pit, or is it just an infrequently-used past tense formed by analogy with hit, quit, spit, split and so forth? I'd guess the latter. The OED says nothing about pit having an irregular past tense, and the past tense citations it gives all have pitted. It's a verb being unregularized by sheer unfamiliarity. – Peter Shor May 5 '14 at 11:44

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