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Origin of different past tenses for verbs with the same endings?

Spring has sprung, the bell we had to ring was rung, the sting was stung but when I had to ping a computer it was pinged and the thing I had to bring was brought.

What is the difference between a word that shifts in the past tense from "ing" to "ung" and those that shift to "inged" or something else? Where does it come from?

  • Interesting, I had searched around for anything pertaining to this but not found that question.
    – glenatron
    Mar 18 '11 at 13:51

Changing the vowel of a verb (called ablaut) used to be the most common way to put it in the past tense in prehistoric times. That is where our irregular verbs come from. In modern times, the regular way is by adding the suffix -ed instead; that's why various verbs have various past forms now: we never decided to get rid of the old forms in one swoop (things are rarely "decided" in the natural development of language). The same applies to past participles like "I sink, I have sunk".

  • 2
    English didn't exist in prehistoric times...
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 18 '11 at 13:23
  • @Kosmonaut: True, but I do think the same system of ablaut was active in its ancestors? I deliberately left out "intermediate" development to avoid hav... to keep things simple. Oh well, the question was closed anyway (18 seconds before I posted my answer). Mar 18 '11 at 13:39
  • 2
    Well, since you put it that way, I think ablaut has been traced all the way back to Proto-Indo-European. Though, I don't know if it was the "most common way" or just "common".
    – Kosmonaut
    Mar 18 '11 at 14:39
  • @Kosmonaut: Hmm.. I have always assumed that weak verbs in PIE and PG (I am using abbreviations in spite of earlier discussions on meta because comments must be short. Oh shi...) were relatively new; the article on the PIE verb says that only secondary verbs (verbs derived from other verbs/nouns) were weak verbs; the article on the PG weak verb suggests that PG weak verbs were all formed after PG split off from PIE. The origin of our -ed suffix is unclear acc. to Wiki. It has been very interesting to read up on these topics; especially the article "PIE Ablaut" is very well written imo. Mar 19 '11 at 12:45

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