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The past tense of a number of verbs changes from -end to -ent:

  • bendbent
  • lendlent
  • rendrent
  • sendsent
  • spendspent
  • wendwent

However, most do not, notably end. Granted, I say “I ent up” (facetiously?), but how did this sound change come to happen to some verbs but not others? Of the examples above, all but spend come to us from non-Latin origins; but end and blend and trend and many others are all non-Latin as well, and don’t exhibit this change.

I gather that this happened some time in the transition from Old English, because (if I’m up on my Old English conjugation, which is questionable) these verbs all used to have regular past forms:

  • bend: bendan(ge)bended
  • lend: lænan(ge)læned(?)
  • rend: rendon(ge)rended
  • send: sendan(ge)sended
  • -spend: forspendan(ge)forspended(?)
  • wend: wendan(ge)wended

Can anyone offer some insight? Is this related to learned/learnt, dreamed/dreamt, &c.?

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Maybe it went from "to bend" -> bended -> bent. Probably related to how other "old" verbs irregularly change from spelled -> spelt. Your common -end suffix is probably a red herring. –  Hugo Oct 9 '11 at 9:45
    
@Hugo: I dunno, I guess I just have a hunch there’s something to it. I was going to use the example of pent (pen, not pend), but it doesn’t seem to have any kin. –  Jon Purdy Oct 11 '11 at 17:44
    
This is pure speculation on my part, but I have a hunch it ties in with the overwhelming tendency in Germanic for verbs roots ending in nasal + plosive to be strong verbs and thereby always of a monosyllable structure (sometimes obscured by sound changes, like in ‘bring/brought’. Roots ending in b/p or g/k are easily adapted to this, because the regular past tense is asyllabic for them, but dental-final roots are more troublesome. A desire to make them fit the pattern could well be what sparked a change like this. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 1 '13 at 17:02

2 Answers 2

up vote 13 down vote accepted

The absence of any immediate answer to this interesting question confirms my belief that it is not a subject which lends itself well to a Q&A site such as this. The history of English verb forms is a complex subject and each of the verbs you mention would merit a reply in itself. To give an idea of what might be involved, the OED records the past tense of send as appearing in the following forms between its first appearance in Old English and the 15th century: sende, seonde, sænde, sænte, sennde, sente, seende, send, sont, sent, sendet, sendyd, seended and sended. In addition, Bruce Mitchell points out in his ‘An Invitation to Old English and Anglo-Saxon England’, that in Old English it could also have past tense sendede. He notes that ‘the d of the ending –d(e) is not absorbed into the root’. Such a feature may be one of the clues to understanding how similar verbs, if not necessarily this one, developed the forms they have today.

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Shakespeare used both "blent" and "blended" as the past tense of "blend". For example, from Twelfth Night,

Where every something, being blent together,
Turns to a wild of nothing, save of joy,
Express'd and not express'd.

and from Troilus and Cressida,

This blended knight, half Trojan and half Greek.

From Barrie England's citation of the OED, the past tense of "send" wasn't fixed until the 15th century. And people still say "on bended knee". I'm not sure that there's any reason other than pure chance why some of these verbs ended up regular and others didn't. For many of these verbs, it certainly seems to have happened much later than the transition from Old English to Middle English (circa 1100).

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Would the "blent" in your first example have anything to do with metre? Or because it is in the passive? I admit I am a total ignoramus where Early Modern English (i.e. Shakespeare) is concerned. –  Mari-Lou A Oct 12 at 7:35
    
I don't think the passive would affect it; these are both past participles (although I'm not an expert in Early Modern English). But clearly Shakespeare is choosing the one- or two-syllable past participle according to the demands of the meter. –  Peter Shor Oct 12 at 12:18
    
Are there other instances of blent in EME or did Shakespeare "invent" this version. –  Mari-Lou A Oct 12 at 12:21
1  
@Mari-Lou A The OED says that the Middle English past tenses/past participles were blent and blended. So Shakespeare didn't invent it. But it may have been uncommon when Shakespeare used it to fit the meter; I can't tell. –  Peter Shor Oct 12 at 12:34

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