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A friend informed me recently that in some areas of England (he named Suffolk) it is relatively common to find 'incorrect' past tenses being used. His examples were:

  • 'I shew him', instead of 'I showed him'
  • 'It glew in the dark', instead of 'It glowed in the dark'

So, can anyone corroborate this or was he pulling my leg? And if this is true are there any other common 'incorrect' past tenses being used out there?

What if, for example, in Suffolk some think the past tense of wink follows the same rules as drink and sink? It could be rather embarrassing.

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    FYI I have heard wunk/wank being used instead of winked. Also, see this page for more info on suffolk dialect.
    – Zzyrk
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:43
  • I realise I may have asked something only answerable by someone from Suffolk. I'm hoping for an "I'm from Suffolk and I can categorically say X" :)
    – ED-209
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:59
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    I'm from Norfolk and I regularly use the word 'shew' instead of 'showed', as do many of the people around me - it's part of the East Anglian dialect and is in common usage here.
    – user90001
    Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 19:53
  • In the US, Ed Sullivan was famous for pronouncing 'show' as 'shew'. That's probably where you will hear that the most here.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 21:02

9 Answers 9

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Shew was once the most common past participle of show, with shewn also appearing and shew or shewed for the past tense.

It also has a long use as the present tense.

For added confusion, shew seems to have changed pronunciation before it changed spelling, so if you come across shew in an older text you can't be sure whether it would be pronounced /ʃuː/ or pronounced /ʃəʊ/.

It remained very common for a long time especially in Scotland, north England, and Ulster but also various other places throughout the English-speaking world, particularly rural.

The Ulster part has an interesting example, there were propaganda posters around the time of the Treaty by those who wanted to remain in the United Kingdom and who were mostly in North East Ulster—the partition that created Northern Ireland having come about as a compromise between their concerns and that of the rest of the island—which would use "we'll shew 'em" precisely because it was a form more likely to be found among Ulstermen than among other Irishmen. (Though it would still have been common enough south of the future border then, as well).

It's increasingly rare as more standardised education increasingly deems it "wrong", but it's certainly not surprising to find.

Glew I have only heard of being used as a present-tense verb (now obsolete) or as the past of glow meaning "to stare" (now mostly obsolete). I wouldn't be amazed to hear that some dialect that had shew instead of showed or shown had a from glew instead of glowed modelled after it.

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    It was, and remains relatively common in Norfolk, for snew to be used as the past tense of snow. And shew is certainly alive and well.
    – WS2
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 22:34
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Those aren’t “incorrect”. They’re now regional rather than standard.

Outside of Scotland, they mostly haven’t been seen nor heard since the American Revolution. There are some 19th century examples from Scots writers, however.

On shew

Regarding shew (past of show), the OED in particular states that:

The spelling shew, prevalent in the 18th c. and not uncommon in the first half of the 19th c., is now obs. exc. in legal documents. It represents the obsolete pronunciation (indicated by rhymes like view, true down to c 1700) normally descending from the OE. scéaw- with falling diphthong. The present pronunciation, to which the present spelling corresponds, represents an OE. (? dialectal) sceāw- with a rising diphthong.

The latest citation I could find for that sort of spelling antedates the American Revolution, albeit by a scant two years from when it was written (although not when it was published):

  • 1774 Goldsm. Nat. Hist. (1776) V. 210 — A partridge is shewn him, and he is then ordered to lie down.

From Guy Mannering or The Astrologer, Scotsman Sir Walter Scott writes in 1815:

  • 1815 Scott Guy M. x, — The chase then shewed Hamburgh colours, and returned the fire.

Scott also used that spelling for the noun:

  • 1789 Scott in J. Haggard Rep. Consist. Crt. (1822) I. 13 — It often happens that on a shew of hands, the person has the majority, who on a poll is lost in a minority.

Shakespeare normally used show, but in one noun instance he used shew:

  • 1611 Shaks. Cymb. v. v. 428 - As I slept, me thought Great Iupiter vpon his Eagle back’d Appear’d to me, with other sprightly shewes Of mine owne Kindred.

And no one less that Charles Dickens wrote in 1840:

1840 Dickens Old C. Shop xvi, — ‘Good!’ said the old man, venturing to touch one of the puppets,.. ‘Are you going to shew ’em to-night?’

It has an old-timey feel to it.

On glew

Saying glew is something else altogether. It is either much older and in Middle not Modern English, where it showed clear derivation from its Old English ancestor:

  • C. 1000 Ælfric Saints’ Lives vii. 240 — Þæt fyr wearð þa acwenced þæt þær an col ne gleow.

  • A. 1400 Isumbras 394 — Smethymene thore herde he blawe, And fyres thore bryne and glewe [rime ploghe].

Notice the mention of the rhyme with plow/plough in 1400.

So your glew is either pre-Modern English, or else it is a different verb altogether, and in the present tense. There’s one from glee:

  • 1. intr. To make merry; to jest; to play on musical instruments.
  • 2. To call loudly on.
  • 3. trans. To afford entertainment or pleasure to; to make happy.

And another that appears pseudo-archaic from glow with the sense:

  • 1. intr. To gaze, stare.

Both those glew verbs are now considered obsolete in Standard English.


On hypotheticals

Your what-if is immaterial and unanswerable. These things happen all the time. Just because two different regions have two different ways of inflecting a verb doesn’t make one of those regions “wrong”. One or both — or even neither — may simply not be Standard English.

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  • Hence my apostrophes around the word 'incorrect'. So you think 'shew' and 'glew' aren't in regional usage?
    – ED-209
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:42
  • @Tokn I would not bet against it.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:45
  • ...and while in English dialects it is not quite as common, such collisions between similar languages are rather common. Slovenian 'cipka' means a fine hand-crafted round lace. In Polish, another slavic language, it's a diminutive for vulva.
    – SF.
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:46
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I'm also from Norfolk and regularly use 'shew' as the past tense of 'show', it is certainly still in common use. I have heard my stepdad say 'I mew the lawn' - 'mew' as past tense for 'mow'. Not heard that elsewhere though.

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G.B. Shaw had a "textual peculiarity" in which he would spell the verb "show" as "shew." (See GB Shaw Monologue instructions.) Although it was spelled differently, it was nevertheless pronounced, "show." (Shaw was born in Dublin, Ireland.)

I do not know about "glew," but "shew" was used by Shaw for present tense.

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    I disagree that that can be fairly described as a "textual peculiarity", shew for show wasn't particularly unusual for his time. In terms of dialect, Shaw was indeed a Dublin man, though from an Anglo-Irish background (someone who an Irishman would call English and an Englishman would call Irish is one summary of that background from the time) so his dialect would have a mix of Irish and English features along with some peculiar to that set.
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 15:54
  • No disparagement of his orthography was intended, Jon. I was quoting the author of the GB Shaw Monologue instructions.
    – rajah9
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 20:04
  • None perceived; I think that author's description unhistorical and inaccurate, in a way that is relevant to the topic, so worth commenting on, but not disparaging. Not least because he did have some textual peculiarities too, such as his hatred of apostrophes ("uncouth bacilli" was his description).
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 7, 2014 at 20:16
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My mother (and most of my ancestors) are from Suffolk and they regularly say "shew". The other day Mum said "I 'ew' her some money" instead of 'owed' (but I don't know if she'd have written it and if so how she'd have spelt it).

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I have in my possession a medal from the great war, posted to my great-uncle in 1921. The envelope is in reasonably good condition and has printed across the bottom, left-hand corner the legend:- "IF UNDELIVERED TO BE RETURNED TO THE OFFICER I/C OF RECORDS AT THE PLACE SHEWN IN THE POSTMARK OF ORIGIN." The text is in block capitals and the only punctuation is the final full-stop. The original postmark ("Nottingham") slid off the top corner of the envelope, but because it was mis-delivered, there is a second, clearly legible postmark dated "Fe 11 21" (February 11th 1921). The envelope is printed with [On His] "Majesty's Service" and an "Offi[cial] Paid" stamp. It seems obvious from this that the word "shewn" was still in use on official documents in England in the 1920's.

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    Does this actually answer the OP's question? I have my doubts. Please take the site tour and visit the help center for guidance on how to use this site. Commented Jan 13, 2015 at 9:04
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HP Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" uses shew exclusively, so it was in use in the 20th century as well. As for "glew", I've accidentally used it as the past tense of glow once or twice (as an American), so I wouldn't be surprised if it was common in some other dialects.

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I have a book containing the original plans for HMS Warspite (by Robert Brown). The Admiralty plans/drawings (drawrings?) are from the early 1910’s and often have prominent labels/subtitles (as opposed to handwritten remarks) that say things like “Sections Shewing Construction at Fore End” - so it seems to be a present tense (gerund?) phenomenon as well…

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Using ew for the past tense of a word ending ow (grow/grew, throw/threw) is from Anglo Saxon. With the Angles coming from East Anglia (East Angles - split into two areas, the North Folk (Norfolk) and the South Folk (Suffolk) where Ipswich is the longest continually inhabited town in England (Colchester is the oldest town in England but Budicca raised it to the ground). Therefore shew was an acceptable past tense to show although now no longer in use except for in legal terms.

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    Your answer could be improved with additional supporting information. Please edit to add further details, such as citations or documentation, so that others can confirm that your answer is correct. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 22:00
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    Budicca razed it to the ground.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Feb 19, 2022 at 22:09

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