A defective verb is one that doesn't have all the usual forms, e.g. "give", "gives", "giving", "gave", "given" are forms of a non-defective verb.

I had thought the only defective verbs in English are modal auxiliary verbs; thus:

Today he can do that. (simple present)
Yesterday he could do that. (simple past)
Often he *has been able to do that.

English doesn't allow "He has could" or the like.
We speak of "being able" and not "canning", and we say

"He will be able"
instead of
"He will can." (In the Carolinas however, it is perfectly standard to say "He might can do that.")

The words "spellbinding", "spellbound", and "spellbinder" appear to be standard but does one ever see the simple present form "spellbind", or the future "will spellbind", or even "spellbinding" as a part of a compound verb rather than as an adjective?

Should this be considered a defective verb or maybe not even a verb at all?

It seems odd that one of the missing verb forms is the one that would presumably be lemmatic.

  • spellbind is usually used in the passive voice: to be spellbound by something. The movie is spellbinding [on the audience]. He was spellbound by the speaker's words. Or adjectivally: The spellbinding words had a huge impact on him.
    – Lambie
    Nov 29, 2016 at 20:01
  • will spellbind ... spellbinds, which can only be simple present. Nov 29, 2016 at 20:30
  • 1
    @Lambie: I'm not sure: in sentences like the one you gave, is it really the passive voice, or is the copula and a predicative adjective?
    – herisson
    Nov 29, 2016 at 20:36
  • @sumelic 'was spellbound.' is probably better treated as using the adjective, but 'was spellbound by N' seems far more verby. Nov 29, 2016 at 20:42
  • Spellbind appears in present simple, past simple, past participle, gerund-participle and plain forms. It isn't defective. Nov 29, 2016 at 23:55

3 Answers 3


"There was a class of men regularly set apart to bless and curse, to spellbind the winds and foretell events." Sermons Preached at Trinity Chapel 25 January 1852

"But, nevertheless, we have idols that hold the people captive — entrance and spellbind them with the witchery of their charms, and wrap them" American States, Churches, and the War 1865

"A superlative Hebrew Conjuror, spellbinding all the great Lords, great Parties, great Interests of England, to his hand in this manner, and leading them by the nose, like helpless mesmerised somnambulant cattle..." Critical and miscellaneous essays 1888

"But if they are not careful he will spell-bind and trance-chain them as completely when he shall thunder..." A Speech on the Present Duties and Future Destiny of the Negro Race 2 September 1872

"As an orator he will spellbind where Phillips or Prentiss would have bored." Watson's Magazine, Volume 2 July 1905

Rare, but definitely examples out there of all the forms.


Interestingly, some writers have used spellbounded as a past tense form, suggesting that they view spellbound (not spellbind) as the present-tense form. For example, from The Postal Record (1985):

First District Congressman Charlie Hayes spellbounded the convention with his wit, poise and knowledge of letter carrier concerns.

From Mary Ann Harrell, Surprising Lands Down Under (1989):

I asked a veteran coach driver there what single spot the tourists liked best. "Ah, Mount Cook," he replied, "she spellbounded them when she came out!" Much of the time she stays in, in the long white cloud that often cloaks the highlands..

From Bill Pemstein, A Stone's Throw (2011):

On March 20, Stone again took on the Texas Rangers and spellbounded them for four innings. A six-run fifth inning drove him out. A two-run wind-blown homer from Bump Wills was the key blow.

From Stefan Dumitrescu, You'll Be Ether, Too, Beyond the World (2015):

The one who spellbounded the heart of famaous Iancu Delamare, merchant and lawyer who was proverbial for being a Casanova and a man with mysterious powers, was the daughter of a chief governor of Moldova, who had the home in Braila, because, having large estates, he was dealing with the grain, fur and fish trade.

From S. Vijay Palaniappan, Chocolate Sundae Fudge: The Embrace of the Entwined Game (2016):

She aid, 'To be kissed in the middle of the street in the pouring rain,' she amazed me by uttering this. I was spellbounded and was speechless for a while. Then I ardently said, 'I'll make that alive for you, my dear Rishita'.

Likewise, some authors have used spellbounds as the third-person singular form of "to spellbound." For example, from Joseph Kelner, Personal Injury: Successful Litifgation Techniques (1964):

The summation concludes with a lyrical story which spellbounds the jurors. Counsel impresses the jury with the importance of their task, while at the same time employing a subtle analogy. It is not difficult to equate the parties in this case with the people in the story.

From The East, volumes 18–19 (1982) [combined snippets]:

This passage from his writing on aesthetics shows how strongly he was attracted to Tokushima: "It's easy to find artwork that spellbounds. Just walk through Tokushima city and the surrounding countryside. The tools in a gentle line at the shop, a ceramic teapot, a winding country road, a working farmer—everything is a work of art."

From Herbert Loebl, Government Factories and the Origins of British Regional Policy, 1934–1948 (1988) [text not shown in snippet window]:

The leading article in The Times of 20 March 1934 - the issue which opened the series - saw 'a background of bare justice behind the unyielding Socialism which spellbounds Durham Man today, because he thinks he can see no proof of ...

From Aśoka Jeratha, The Splendour of Himalayan Art and Culture (1995):

The scene spellbounds the viewers capturing the lure of nature of the medieval times perpetuating with that of today. Its inner walls are the epitomes of the miraculous power of the beauty of line and colour, unfolding several chapters of history with manyfold sequences altercating with the modern times.

From India. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Publications Division, Freedom Fighters Remember (1997) [combined snippets]:

Shri Datta Mazumdar, still walks straight at the ripe age of 93, attends court and spellbounds all and sundry with his oration delivered in a stentorian voice. With a memory so sharp that would put any young man to shame, he still vividly recalls his days during the freedom movement and blasts off - "we have been cheated out of independence of undivided India!"

And similarly for spellbounding, from Adrian Jasper, "Deadwood," in Lady Muslim with a Pen: Poetry and Essays (2012):

Face like a sculpture, designed to a chisel./ A frame that wows, spellbounding with a sizzle:/ But “wow” turned to “whoa!” when he spoke, expounding the Ugliest sounds:/ From “spellbound” to “hellhound”...

And for the future form "will spellbound," from Ed Rosenthal, The Big Book of Buds: Marijuana Varieties from the World's Great (2011):

Named for the heroic woman in the Arabian legend, The Thousand and One Nights, Paradise's She[h]erazade will take considerably less time than the title implies, finishing in about 56 nights. In the legend, the character Sheherazade saves her own life using her exceptional storytelling skills that awe the King into sparing her life and eventually taking her as his Queen. The variety bearing her name will spellbound you with the promise of her potent, musky-sweet flowers, possibly making her the queen of your crop.

And for the infinitive "to spellbound," from Black Business Digest (1973):

We have covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. My attempt here was not to try to spellbound you with some highly sophisticated financial lecture; but to try and get down to some of the nuts and bolts or the nitty gritty of what makes bankers tick, and what you have to do, to turn your banker on ...

Many of these instances are not the work of great literary stylists—although the excerpt that speaks of "chapters of history with manyfold sequences altercating with the modern times" is pretty hard to beat—but they do suggest a parallel (and rival) series of forms based on "to spellbound" in opposition to "to spellbind." Whether that indicates a double layer of verbal defectiveness or the linguistic equivalent of a largely uninhabited house is unclear to me.


It's probably best not to analyze spellbound and spellbinding as forms of a defective verb.

People have used other forms of a verb spellbind. The verb is less common and less established than the forms "spellbinding", "spellbound", and "spellbinder" because "incorporation" in English occurs most commonly in agent nouns (like "babysitter") or departicipial adjectives (like "breastfed"); Wikipedia says that verbs with incorporation "are usually back-formations".

Aside from object and instrument incorporation, there are words like "downtrodden" that look like participles but don't have corresponding verbs (*"downtread" does not exist). These should probably be analyzed as departicipial adjectives, not as defective verbs.

There are some verbs that maybe have "defective" conjugations relating to past-participle forms, but very few, and it's not clear how best to analyze them. I wrote an answer the the question "What are the defective verbs?" where I talk about stride, strode, ?strode/stridden and be reputed and be rumo(u)red.

  • 1
    As a counter-example to breastfeeding (which in itself is interesting in that the verb is now far more common than the adjective), spoon-feed is attested from the 1600s while spoon-fed seems to come much later. (Also, downtread does occur – and has occurred since the 1500s – but is of course quite rare. I was about to say that heartbreak would be a better option, but apparently that gets used too. Still, I find downtread fairly unremarkable, whereas I would definitely do a double-take at to heartbreak someone.) Jan 20, 2019 at 12:46

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