For an idiom like duck and cover, what are appropriate options for past tense? Three obvious possibilities:

  1. I ducked and covered for that event.
  2. I duck and covered for that event.
  3. I duck-and-covered for that event.

Are any or all of these acceptable?

  • 2
    #2 definitely doesn't seem right to me. It makes it look like a mismatch of tenses in two parallel verbs. If you're going to treat the whole idiom as a single unit and only conjugate the whole thing (which would be reflected in speech in the speed and stress distribution among the individual parts of the idiom in relation to the rest of the sentence), I'd consider the hyphens essential to indicating that in writing. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 2 '16 at 15:15
  • Collocations of verbs with and usually retain separate inflection for each verb. The ones that cause problems are serial verb constructions without and. There is no past tense for They go help push the car, for instance. – John Lawler Sep 2 '16 at 15:47
  • I bent over and kissed my ass goodbye. – Hot Licks Sep 4 '16 at 2:04

Despite "duck and cover" qualifying as an idiomatic phrase, it's still a very basic phrase at heart. Idiomatic phrases don't generally ignore the basic rules of grammar, except in that their meanings differ from the literal meanings of the words.

The past tense for "duck and cover" should be "ducked and covered", assuming you did both things in the past.

"When the gunfire started, we ducked and covered for protection."


'Duck and cover' has not become a hyphenated word in the dictionaries I checked, remaining simply as two verbs with the conjunction 'and'. Accordingly, we should use 'ducked and covered' for the past tense.


This is working class kind of language. The sophisticated "ducked and covered" sounds correct but completely unnatural to my ear.

"Duck and covered" -- I can imagine someone saying this. I can also imagine someone reworking the construction to make it more comfortable, such as "It was time for duck and cover."

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