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As far as I know, there are four verbs (swear, bear, tear, and wear) whose simple past forms used to be (archaically) sware, bare, tare, and ware; but are now exclusively swore, bore, tore, and wore. There seems to be a pattern here — the simple past of -ear used to be -are, and is now -ore — but I've never heard an explanation of why that change occurred.

I tried graphing sware and swore together (since bare, tare, and ware are all ambiguous) on Ngrams. According to this chart, the two forms were once coexistent, and swore has always been dominant; however, Ngrams has proven to be a less-than-satisfactory authority on issues such as this.

Why did -are switch to -ore?

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Nice question. Because of the long s, you get better Ngram results if you also search for fwore and fware. It appears from the Ngram that swore has been dominant since the end of the Great Vowel Shift. The page on the shift says that swear and bear were two words that did not shift, for some reason (otherwise they'd rhyme with fear). I'd guess their past tenses also behaved strangely in the shift. –  Peter Shor Jan 13 '12 at 3:07
    
I sware I don't know. I'll try to bare with the pain of not knowing the answer , let's hope I don't tare my pants. –  ApprenticeHacker Jan 13 '12 at 5:38
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Something I noticed while I was reading this was that all four of those words sound identical to their archaic past-tenses in modern tongue. Maybe they didn't used to? –  Andrew Latham Jan 13 '12 at 6:17
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1 Answer 1

A full explanation would take more than this site allows, and would no doubt try the patience of many. To give just a flavour of what might be involved, here’s part of the the OED’s etymological note on swear:

The conjugation of this verb has been influenced from early times by that of bear (Old English beran ). The regular past tense swore (Old English swór ) has never ceased to be extensively current, but from the 15th to the 17th cent. sware , formed on the analogy of bare (Old English bær , bǽron ), was widespread; swar occurs as early as the first text of Layamon; suar(e) is the prevailing form in the Cotton MS. of Cursor Mundi; sware and swore are both used in Malory's Morte Darthur; sware is the only form in the Bible of 1611 (exc. in the Apocrypha), but is rare in the 1st Folio of Shakespeare. In the 14th and 15th cent. a by-form swere occurs, after bere .

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