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How is the causative form of fall used in English? In the present tense, often enough,

A tree falls in the woods, but a logger falls trees as well.

but in the past tense,

A tree fell in the woods, but the logger felled a tree.

However, if it's not a tree, or if it's not a person's normal course of work to fall trees, then fell is used to mean "cause [some structure, regime, etc.] to fall."

Someone will fell that evil dynasty one day.

As far as I know "falled" is not a word, and "fell" is not a past-tense form in the causative sense.

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2 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Your only error is that the causative form is fell in the present tense: A logger fells trees today. Otherwise you've got it right.

causative: fell, felled, has/be felled, as opposed to
intransitive: fall, fell, has fallen

However, felling a dynasty or regime, or anything except a man, animal, or tree, is pretty rare today; OED 1 was already marking it as obsolete in 1895. Topple (in the transitive use) is more common.

EDIT -- taking a healthy bite of my words.
On review I find that falling a tree is in fact still in use. The usage appears, on a quick Google scan, to be confined to the western US, and to non-formal usage; but it's something more than rare.

As for declension: Google reports 5 (non-duplicate) instances of falled a tree, 17 of he fell a tree, 13 of has fallen a tree, and none of has falled a tree. So the regular strong form seems to prevail.

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I found a photo on the net of a use of "fall" meaning "cause a tree to fall": justinshull.net/2009/07/24/… (different justin--I am not affiliated). Are you saying this is a grammatical error? –  justin-- Oct 16 '12 at 1:25
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@justin-- Not quite. I'm saying it's a lexical error. –  StoneyB Oct 16 '12 at 1:28
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Surely the sign "SEED TREE / DO NOT FALL" is not to be interpreted as ordering the tree not to fall? –  justin-- Oct 16 '12 at 1:30
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@justin-- See my edit. I'd stick with fell for transitive in formal use, but I can't fault DoI for employing the dialect of the folks they're addressing. Thanks!--I've learned something. –  StoneyB Oct 16 '12 at 2:16
    
Okay, now, "falled a tree" and "he fell a tree" are baby-talk. –  justin-- Oct 16 '12 at 2:48
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These are two completely different verbs. There's

fall | fell | fallen

which is intransitive. Also, there's

fell | felled | felled

which is transitive.

So a tree can fall. A tree fell. Ten trees have fallen today.

John can fell a tree. John felled a tree. John has felled ten trees today.

Your sentence fragment "a logger falls trees" is incorrect, as far as I know.

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Many people say it's incorrect, but it is very common usage at least in the Pacific NW. I remember when I was a small child and a logger came to fall a tree in our backyard. The next day, I said "He fell that tree." I was corrected, "No, he felled that tree." "Why didn't he say he was going to fell it, then?" "No, no, no. Loggers fall trees." "Well, then he falled it." "No. He felled the tree." That's just the way it is, and it comes across as somewhat archaic or foreign when someone says that "a logger fells trees." –  justin-- Oct 16 '12 at 19:11
    
Right. Which is exactly why I said "as far as I know". I have never heard this usage, but I have no reason to disbelieve you. It seems that no matter what we say about English, there'll be some dialect somewhere where it doesn't apply. –  user16269 Oct 16 '12 at 23:26
    
Only loggers fall trees, though. Storms fell trees. –  justin-- Oct 17 '12 at 6:47
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