My posts are often questions for further knowledge about reasons for language change. In this extract from 1750, there are three variations on the past tense form. Once again, I am grateful if anyone can assist with explaining why or when contemporary use became standard practice.

It appeared that the Priſoner went to the Proſecutors Shop and cheapen’d ſome Handkerchiefs, that he carry’d one to the Door to ſhew to a Woman who was there, and asked her if ſhe liked it; and as ſoon as he was gone they miſt the Handkerchiefs off the Compter.


In simple terms, even verbs are subject to Darwin's idea of "survival of the fittest". Some highly irregular forms simply couldn't compete with simpler, newer forms. For example: dreamt and dreamed.

The form "dreamt" doesn't only require a spelling change--it also necessitates a pronunciation shift in the stem of the word--that's one change too many, and in evolutionary terms, this is expensive. "Dreamed" is simply a much more practical and more convenient choice. we simple just "ed", and We don't have to change the pronunciation of the stem. This explains the waning popularity of "dreamt" (and similar verbs like leant).

You can read this article for more ideas: http://notexactlyrocketscience.wordpress.com/2007/10/10/the-evolution-of-the-past-tense-%E2%80%93-how-verbs-change-over-time/

  • Leant may be out of the picture, but I'm still perfectly happy to write dreamt and learnt. They reflect what I normally say, and I see no reason why orthography should be "standardised" where it doesn't reflect pronunciation. And I certainly don't expect lent and spent to fall into line any time soon. – FumbleFingers Feb 3 '14 at 21:29
  • And yet the record shows that the use of "dreamt" is fading out of the language. grammarist.com/usage/dreamed-dreamt I, too, like using "dreamt"--but people like ourselves have always been in the minority since 1800, and, I'm afraid, we've recently become an endangered species. – Louel Feb 3 '14 at 21:40
  • @ Louel: No question but that we're in a declining minority with dreamt/learnt. Personally, unless I was singing along with Joan Baez to "I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night" I wouldn't be likely to have a /d/ at the end. And the only context where I'd reflect the spelling of learned would be in, say, a learned professor, where there' be two syllables anyway. But I'm not a complete reactionary - I'm quite happy with forms like dialog, epilog, even if AmE still clings to the -ogue versions (but even I can't accept prolog, monolog yet :) – FumbleFingers Feb 3 '14 at 22:01
  • @FumbleFingers could a "complete reactionary" sing along to a song about Joe Hill? (or am I reactionary to bristle at your not citing Earl Robinson's version, since it was he who first put Alfred Hayes' poem to music?). – Jon Hanna Feb 4 '14 at 0:40

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