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The past tense of to occur is occurred (not occured), but the past tense of to listen is listened (not listenned).

Why? What is the general rule that is applied to make the past tense of a verb?

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As opposed to? What should it be instead? –  Timwi Aug 28 '10 at 14:32
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Just a side note: this is not limited to verbs. Note that the consonant is doubled in bigger, hipper, thinner, but not in neater, weirder, broader. –  RegDwigнt Aug 30 '10 at 2:38
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English spelling is so inconsistent that any answer is going to be pretty useless, because you can't really predict anything reliably. I think the best answer is that it has to do with vowel quality (particularly short v. long), but doubling is often not applied. There is coming and homing and bombing and combing, living and diving, etc. (I am not saying the observation isn't interesting.) –  Kosmonaut Aug 30 '10 at 15:50
    
@Kosmonaut: In the specific case, there is a reason because you write occurred, barred, and listened. On English Grammar I found a "rule" described with words that are different from the ones used by Shinto Serlock; if I apply one or the other "rule", I obtain the same result. Come is an irregular verb; live is a regular verb, but it doesn't follow the schema CVC (or, following the rule I read, it's a single syllable word, and its last two letters are not a vowel and a consonant). –  kiamlaluno Aug 30 '10 at 19:40
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2 Answers

Occur has its stress on the final syllable (o-CUR) but listen (LIS-en) has its stress on the first syllable. If the verb ends in the pattern consonant-vowel-consonant, the final consonant is doubled in the case of verbs like refer and occur and begin where the stress is on the final syllable (referrer, referring, referred, occurrence, occurred, beginning), or one syllable words (big -> bigger, sin -> sinner) but not in the case of verbs like listen or broker (listened, listener, brokered, etc.), where the stress is non-final.

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... except in barred, stirred, spurred... –  Timwi Aug 28 '10 at 14:37
    
@Timwi you are right. –  delete Aug 28 '10 at 14:37
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It’s a shame you edited this out of your answer because I think it is an interesting question. Why do barred etc. double the r, but cleared, poured and roared don’t? My guess is that it probably has something to do with vowel length in Middle English, or these words used to be bisyllabic (as indicated by the use of two vowel letters), but I would only be speculating. –  Timwi Aug 28 '10 at 14:44
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Bar, and clear contain a single syllable, while occur is a two syllables word. It seems there are two rules that are applied depending on the number of syllables. –  kiamlaluno Aug 28 '10 at 16:09
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@Timwi: in German, the consonant letter is doubled if the preceding vowel sound is short, suggesting that your guess is not far off. –  RegDwigнt Aug 28 '10 at 16:16
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I guess it's to retain pronunciation. If you don't double the ending consonant, it will be ok-cured (occured) instead of occur-ed (occurred), buy-ger (biger) instead of big-er (bigger), bay-red (bared) instead of bar-ed (barred), etc.

Seems intuitive and natural to me, though I can't confirm. If I'm right, the general rule would be not to double unless pronunciation changes.

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