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Personally, I pronounce the past tense of "beat" (to win at a game) as /biːt/, to sound identical to the infinitive. However, I have heard a few people under the age of 30 and from either the west or outer south of Melbourne pronounce it as /bet/. Does this phenomenon happen in other places? In Melbourne it seems to be socio-economic as the west and outer south are the currently developing regions. Is there any documented information about this? Has it happened recently paralleling "to read" /ɹiːd/ "have read" /ɹed/ or is it a long-standing alternate pronunciation?

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    I'm much older than 30 and English and I would say I beat (/bet/) him fair and square but I would also say Chelsea beat (/biːt/) Arsenal last night . Obviously when written it's up to the reader to apply their own pronunciation. Thinking about it a little I might only use /bet/ when talking about myself. (I copied the IPA - mine sounds like bet as in betting shop bet.) – Frank May 12 '14 at 2:54
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    @tchrist I'm Australian so /e/ is correct for me. I don't even know how to say /ɛ/. Indians and Sri Lankans would say bait as /beːt/, Australians /bæɪt/. I think you pronounce it /beɪt/. – CJ Dennis May 12 '14 at 2:59
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    @Frank That is good information. Do you have any references? Do you know other English people who always say /biːt/ in both cases? If so is there any pattern you can distinguish? – CJ Dennis May 12 '14 at 3:06
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    I'm English too (mainly Yorkshire and London), and would consider /biːt/ the normal pronunciation for both cases. However, I've lived abroad for 20 years, and have noticed that the Australian influence is becoming more noticeable in some younger English speakers... – DavidR May 12 '14 at 9:31
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    +1, simply because this is something I have never, ever heard in my life, but which has now been corroborated by no less than three different people from different dialectal areas. Interesting! – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jun 25 '14 at 15:06
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The pronunciation /bet/ for the past-tense form of beat seems to be fairly old—it goes back at least two centuries. It seems it was associated with Irish English at one point.

Walker's Critical Pronouncing Dictionary (1791) says the following in the entry for the verb "to beat":

The past tense of this verb is by the English uniformly pronounced like the present. Nay, except in solemn language, the present preterit and participle are exactly the same; while the Irish, more agreeably to analogy, as well as utility, pronounce the preterit as the noun bet, a wager: and this pronunciation, though contrary to English usage, is quite conformable to that general tendency observable in the preterits of irregular verbs, which is to shorten the vowel that is long in the present, as eat, ate (often pronounced et); hear, heard; deal, dealt; mean, meant; dream, dreamt; &c.

An article "Some Notes on Pronunciation" in The Irish Monthly, Vol. 23, No. 261 (Mar., 1895), pp. 145-156, which consists of excerpts from a lecture on pronunciation by the English professor George R. Kingdon, contains a criticism of the prevalence of this pronunciation:

The verb to beat has its perfect tense pronounced exactly as the present; it is absolutely wrong to say, "We bet them by three wickets:" you must say, "We beat them."

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This word is also pronounced /bet/ in the US South. It's not new. I can't trace its origins, but I've heard it among certain dialects there. It's reminiscent of a similar pronunciation problem in that region -- pen vs. pin. Again, because the vowels are drawled in those dialects, the words can sound identical.

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    Is it the same for the present and past tense, or different? If it's different, then it wouldn't just be the result of drawling a vowel, since it actually makes a grammatical difference which way you say it. As the original poster mentions, it might have happened by analogy to other words with vowel changes between the past and present. – herisson Nov 25 '15 at 9:52
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Using 'bet' instead of 'beat' (e.g. I just beat him last night) is very common in New Zealand, to the extent that if you correct them they will look disapprovingly at you.

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I'm also Australian and because we speak so quickly and drawl slightly at the same time, the phrase "I beat him" can sound like "Ibeadim" to outsiders. A similar thing can happen with "I bet it's bad" "I beddits bad".

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    To beat and to bet have very different meanings. I would never say "I bet him at cards". To me "I bet him..." should be followed by "...that something would happen". When people say "I bet him at cards" it causes a en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraprosdokian for me. – CJ Dennis May 13 '14 at 23:21
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    This sounds plausible, but the question was actually not about the pronunciation of consonants or word boundaries, but about the vowel in the word beat in the past tense (and if it contrasts with the present tense/infinitive). Since you respell the vowel identically to the normal spelling ("ea") your post doesn't seem to actually tell us what vowel you use! Is it a homophone of bet, or beet (or neither)? – herisson Nov 25 '15 at 9:56

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