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Rarely do we hear "should have gone" in common speech.

Some background: My father immigrated to the US in the late 60s. He learned English first overseas, British English. Then he studied extensively in America.

He always corrected me and my brothers on us saying "you/I/they should have went". And after the 2,762nd time, finally I say "should have gone"

The reason I think it's a valid question is that go/gone/went are pretty ABC words. My guess is that the contraction "should've" is partly to blame - i.e. we speak so fast that we pick the more natural-sounding thing.

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Lawks! I voted to close, but on a whim I checked NGrams afterwards (us UK speakers can sometimes seriously underestimate the power of US speakers to bend grammar). Astonishingly, @Adel has identified an appalling grammatical error that does in fact occur. It's not 'so widely used', admittedly. In fact quite a few references in print seem to be either pointing out the bad grammar, or deliberately affecting 'uneducated speech'. Nevertheless, there are obviously people who actually say it in earnest - which I would never have believed before now. –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 3:17
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@FumbleFingers: Googling: "have went", 5 million hits; "have came", 6 million; "have ate", 1 million (including a song by Green Day: azlyrics.com/lyrics/greenday/wordsimighthaveate.html); "have beat", 4 million; "have threw", an amazing, 0.1 million. –  Neil G Jun 23 '11 at 4:31
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What examples those Ngrams and Googlings should have went awry when it was interpreted incorrectly. It is possible that the words they have came from other contexts. (But yeah I'll admit this construction is quite common.) –  Cerberus Jun 24 '11 at 5:02
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You make me think of time-traveller's grammar: I should went there yesterday tomorrow, but if I was will be busy, I might have to postpone. Ask me earlier. –  Jon Purdy Jun 24 '11 at 20:20
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This is not a new phenomenon at all; consider this Ngram. Apparently "would have went" was quite common in the 18th century. –  Peter Shor Dec 19 '11 at 2:45
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

That is confusion of the past tense with the past participle, and it's unfortunately really common in the US.

My guess it's because the speaker is interpreting "should have" as a particle indicating expedience and trying to combine it with the past indicative.

It should instead be that "should" is that particle, and "have" forms the perfect aspect. You always want the perfect aspect in this case because if you "should have done something" it's because it would have had some effect on the present. The perfect aspect indicates a causal relationship.

Also, for most verbs the past participle and past tense are homonyms, so the error rarely allows itself to be corrected.

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Kind of on the technical side, but once parsed, very plausible. (To be clear, I'm not complaining about this answer being overly technical.) –  John Y Jun 23 '11 at 3:36
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@FumbleFingers: I've definitely heard it from native speakers. Did you try googling the phrase? –  Neil G Jun 23 '11 at 4:16
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@Neil ngrams.googlelabs.com/… –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 4:20
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I think it would be helpful if all EL&U members included at least 'location' on their 'info' screen. What 'native speakers' are we talking about here? –  FumbleFingers Jun 23 '11 at 4:23
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@Neil G: 24 hours later I find I'm with you and Kosmonaut. I still consider went to be poor grammar, obviously. But as usual, sleeping on it changes my opinion. Now I'm quite happy to accept there's a significant minority for whom the usage is nothing exceptional. You can get used to anything, apparently. –  FumbleFingers Jun 25 '11 at 2:45
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Here's "have gone" and "have went" discussed on Linguist List, where the conclusion is that neither is exactly incorrect:

With that in mind, if you belong to a dialect community in which people consistently say "I have went..." instead of "I have gone...", then among your friends and community, there is nothing wrong with "It seems to have went well." If writing to someone outside the community, or a formal document or school assignment, it were better to use "It seems to have gone well." If your community of English generally says "I have gone..", then "to have went..." in that case is in fact "incorrect", that is, ungrammatical -- contrary to the patterns of that dialect.

This discussion about "would have went" also suggests that speakers who do use the phrase might switch to "would have gone" in a setting that demands a formal register, like the classroom or in writing.

Also discussing the need to switch dialects is this paper, Responding to African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in Written Assignments [PDF, see page 13] - the author suggests that "have went" is common in spoken AAVE but may not be common in writing even when other features of AAVE are present:

Constructions as that in the first sentence [I had did report cards for my student teaching...], although common in AAVE (the use of the past tense rather than past participle in irregular verbs: “I should have went”) are very rare in these papers. Almost all AAVE usages involve dropped endings.

(The writer is discussing a small sample of graduate student work selected for analysis)


I don't know enough to explain exactly why some dialects of English use the past participle and some use the past tense, or whether the use is appreciably changing in recent years.

I've found plenty of half-formed theories for why past tense is used, but the only idea I see that doesn't totally rely on putting down speakers of one dialect or another is that "gone" is 'a past participle which is not formed by the simple addition of -ED' and so perhaps a regularization is occurring. This idea is a little more obvious if you look at some examples of regular and irregular past tense and past participles:

present | past | pp
move moved moved
go went gone

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+1. Thank you for looking at this phenomenon without prejudgment. On Long Island, "shoulda went" is the most common phrasing among all locals. It is a dialectal variation, not a mistake (if it were, it would have to be one that people repeatedly happen to make in certain large, localized groups — very strange). Certainly, it is clear which one is standard, should be taught in school, and should be used in all formal situations. But by characterizing this pattern as a simple error, we miss out on an opportunity to understand language change. –  Kosmonaut Jun 24 '11 at 20:33
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+1 because I now like this answer better than the others. Partly sincee I now realise the usage is 'dialectal' rather than 'ignorant' in many/most cases. I think there is yet more to uncover regarding why it occurs, but it's obviously to do with the fact that the 'meta-verb' we're talking about here is a weird hybrid of to go and to wend, which we ordinarily identify using just the first form. Both past participles are logically/historically valid - it's just that the vast majority of us happen to use only gone after the conditionals would/should/could. –  FumbleFingers Jun 25 '11 at 3:06
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@FumbleFingers: You would probably be interested to know that it's not just for went that this occurs. It's a widespread replacement of the simple past for the past participle in should've/would've/could've constructions. For example: "could've swam", "should've drank", etc. It doesn't happen with every single irregular verb, but a large number of them. –  Kosmonaut Jun 28 '11 at 1:59
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@Kosmonaut: Interested? And then some! Look at these Google hits: should've drank:126k; should have drank:1050k; should've drunk:49.5k; should have drunk:2110k. Why on earth should contracted "have" be so massively associated with the (to me, gratingly ungrammatical) choice of past tense form? Is it really the same as gone/went, which are essentially two different verbs that got tangled up? –  FumbleFingers Jun 28 '11 at 2:15
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...by which I mean that the 'non-standard' drank is only half as common as drunk when it follows have. But it's three times more common when it follows the contraction 've. –  FumbleFingers Jun 28 '11 at 2:20
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protected by Jasper Loy Apr 7 '12 at 23:43

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