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Dictionary sources tell me that the past tense of grit is gritted rather than grit. Why does that sound weird to me? Am I delusional, or is this one of those words changing in current usage? Pet is a similar case - I rarely hear petted used as a past tense.

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You're not the only one. It appears that these past tenses are in flux. –  Peter Shor Dec 6 '11 at 21:48
    
@PeterShor That's one of the sources I found while googling that made me think to ask at all; I'd earlier just accepted that I must be crazy and changed my manuscript, only now I'm considering changing it back if it's really in flux. –  Yamikuronue Dec 6 '11 at 21:50
    
@PeterShor: I don't know if by "in flux" you mean it's transitioning from a regular to an irregular verb, but this NGram doesn't seem to support that. It looks more like there's a fairly constant number of instances of the irregular form, even while the number of regular usages has steadily increased. Effectively, the low but steady irregular version is being gradually outnumbered. –  FumbleFingers Dec 6 '11 at 23:42
    
Is there perhaps a difference between the two meanings of ‘grit’? ‘He grit his teeth’, but ‘Because of the heavy snowfall overnight, they gritted the road early the following morning.’ –  Barrie England Dec 7 '11 at 15:59
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This usage of grit in the past tense is definitely US only. To my ear it sounds as weird as "writing someone" as opposed to "writing to someone". –  sml Dec 7 '11 at 23:50

1 Answer 1

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Why does that sound weird to you?

Because there is a small group of irregular monosyllabic English verbs ending in -t (e.g, hit, spit, shit, knit, fit, pet, let) that share the peculiarity of having Zero as their past tense and past participle form, too. So it's

  • Present: He lets her in. She hits him in the face.
  • Past: He let her in. She hit him in the face.
  • Perfect He has let her in. She has hit him in the face.

Now, this is a small class, and the verbs in it are pretty common -- this is how they stay irregular, of course; verbs that aren't often encountered rapidly become regular. And with a verb like grit, there's a natural tendency to conjugate it like hit, spit, knit, fit; but grit is rare enough that maybe it ought to be regular. One can't know everything, after all; so pick whatever sounds good to you and stick with it.

I was surprised to hear petted, too; but I don't know how recent it is. Note that it's transitive, though. One thing to watch out for is differential regularity -- transitive usages, especially causative transitive usages, of irregular verbs may well become regular independently of the irregular corresponding intransitive.

  • He shined his shoes ~ Those shoes shone brilliantly -- but not the reverse.
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I'm surprised to see spit, shit, knit, pet, and to a lesser extent fit, in your list. AFAIC their past tense forms are spat, shat, knitted, petted, and either fit or fitted, although I couldn't say what the criteria are for choosing between those two. –  Peter Taylor Dec 7 '11 at 15:43
    
Typically it's the transitive ones that get regularized. They're derived from the original intransitive, and as a new verb, there's a tendency to use regular endings. –  John Lawler Dec 7 '11 at 15:52

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