Since moving to small-town northern Minnesota (USA) two dozen years back to teach English, I have noticed a lot of instances in spoken language where the simple past is used in lieu of the past participle, as in the examples listed above. Of course this is only noticeable or an issue for such irregular verbs as have two different forms for simple past and past participle. As a SCUBA diver, I encounter the perfect formation “have dove” with particular frequency.

Since I had no previous experience of living in northern Minnesota before 1990, and not much experience of living anywhere else since (except Greece), I cannot tell whether this usage is more a function of where I am as an observer of spoken English, or when, though I tend to suspect the former.

For those who are curious, my adopted small city was recently used as a fictional location for the TV miniseries spinoff of the Coen brothers’ film Fargo, but as with the film, the dialect in the miniseries is rather a caricature. (The show was not filmed here, and in representing Bemidji as a town with a strip club and without a library it was wrong on both counts.) The local dialect does show at least one notable Germanic influence: upon sighting a pretty infant, locals will exclaim “Oh for cute!”—which for I am pretty sure is more closely cognate with the German intensifying prefix ver- than with the English preposition. Other historically likely other-language influences, besides the Germanic Scandinavian languages, would include Finnish (Finno-Ugric), Ojibwe (Algonquian), and French.

N.B. Ngram is hard to read on this, since hits for “was did” might well be such as “What exactly it was, did not matter in the least,” and similarly for other word sequences.

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    Probly that's the case. Most areas of the US have special local usages like might could, shoudn't oughta, so didn't I, he's a-lookin for you, that needs washed, etc. Especially in rural areas, and especially in areas with large swathes of non-English-speaking immigrants a century or so ago. That fits Minnesota just right. Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 22:53
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    @JohnLawler, yah, yewbetcha. Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 22:58
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    @BrianDonovan "have dove" is an interesting example. Dictionaries seem to list "dove" as a valid, if unusual, past participle. Being from Ireland, "dove" just sounds wrong to me altogether - we use "dived" in both cases - but while I knew "dove" was used in the US I hadn't realized that "have dived" was still kept as the usual participle. Interesting.
    – CupawnTae
    Commented Jul 17, 2014 at 19:41
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    @CupawnTae, the verb gives trouble in that people tend to think a regular past participle cannot be right for a verb that has an irregular, vowel-shifted simple past. I recall once in conversation someone I know ventured diven (short i), knowing and admitting that was wrong, but I had to admit it was a great try. Commented Jul 18, 2014 at 0:45
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    @JohnLawler: Then there was Julia, an 80+-year-old roommate of mine in New York City. (I was in my early 20s, so there was no hanky panky going on.) When I thanked her for something, she would say, "No mench" (or mentch). I don't know how long I took to realize she was saying, "Don't mention it"! Don Commented Sep 1, 2014 at 17:07

2 Answers 2


The expression of perfect aspect by combining a form of have with the simple past tense is not standard English usage. They have been attested for centuries, however: they were noted and proscribed in some very early usage guides (e.g. Reflections on the English Language by Robert Baker, 1770; A Grammatical Corrector by Seth T. Hurd. 1847).

It is probably incorrect to label their usage illiterate, since they are widespread in the UK and the US as regional variants. They should be avoided, however, in formal speech or writing.


You should study the dialect of that region in detail. Perhaps there are already studies. It seems an interesting object of study. The grammar seems simplified and the vocabulary seems to be strongly influenced by various other languages.

As to "Oh for cute" I am German, but "Oh for" doesn't remind me of anything in German. We would say something like "Oh wie schön/ niedlich" (Oh how cute).

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