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Recently, I overhead a former professor of mine use the word shined, a word that makes me grammatically uncomfortable. She used it as following: "Then, after we shined a light on the other ball, what happened?..." My first question is: Is using shined mainstream, over what sounds better to my ear, shone? If so, is there any historical flip-flopping between the two usages? Secondly, if shined is in fact legit, can it be used transitively? Saying something like,

The light shined all throughout the night.

while odd, doesn't sound as bad to my ear as,

He shined the light on the ball throughout the night.

The latter sounds quite bad to my ear. Indeed, à propos the original question, can shone — the better sounding alternative to my ear — be used transitively?

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    I agree that "shone" sounds better for these examples, but what about other meanings, such as "shined my shoes"? In that case "shone my shoes" sounds wrong to my ear. Also, "I shone at linguistics"? That sounds wrong, too.
    – JeffSahol
    Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 0:21
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    This seems to be an American/British split. Looking at Google Ngrams, a small fraction of American usage is shined (maybe 15%), but it seems to be very rarely used in Britain. My guess, from a small sample, is that in Britain the only time the past tense of shine is shined is when it means polish (e.g., he shined my shoes). Can anybody from the U.K. confirm this? Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 0:54
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    Even stranger, it appears that in the U.K., the past tense of shine his shoes is polished his shoes. See this Ngram, which seems to show that in the U.K., people use both shine and polish with shoes in the present tense, but only say polished his shoes in the past tense (presumably to avoid using the execrable Americanism shined). Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 1:48
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    Should it be pointed out that in the U.K., shone rhymes with gone, while in the U.S., shone rhymes with bone? Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 15:24
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    @GEdgar In Britain, yes, I believe so: there all three of Sean, Shawn, and shone are identical homophones pronounced with the CLOTH vowel, so /ʃɒn/. Most Americans do not have that vowel (well, not as a distinct phoneme) and so would pronouns Sean and Shawn as either /ʃɑn/ or /ʃɔːn/, depending on where they sit along the cot–caught merger continuum, and would pronounce shone the same as they (we) do shown, so both of those are /ʃoʊn/ with a diphthong. So in North America, shone and shown are the same, and Sean and Shawn are the same, but those two pairs are different.
    – tchrist
    Commented Feb 18, 2013 at 1:07

5 Answers 5

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The Grammarist has an opinion on this issue, writing that the difference between the two is as follows:

The verb shine has two main definitions: (1) to emit light (intransitive), and (2) to cause to gleam by polishing (transitive). As an intransitive verb (definition 1), shine makes shone in its past-tense, perfect-tense, and past-participle forms. As a transitive verb (definition 2), it makes shined.

He says that the following are incorrect uses:

  • But the one that shined the brightest was simply topped with a perfect beurre blanc and a touch of caviar. [The Atlantic]
  • What’s more, one of the numbers reflected light differently when Smith’s headlights shined on it. [Winnipeg Free Press]

The following are correct uses:

  • A 13-year-old boy needed hospital treatment after a laser pen was shone in his eyes in Eastwood. [BBC News]

  • A return trip to the store shone the light on what I needed: Leeks. [Denver Post]

  • Shearer doesn’t look like he belongs ensconced in dark-green leather and spit-shined oak . . . [Washington Post]

  • They shined the marble. [National Post]

So if the verb is intransitive, you should use shone. If it is transitive, you should use shined. In your examples:

The light shined all throughout the night.

Here, shine is intransitive, since you're not talking about shining the light on something. So it may actually be better to say "the light shone all throughout the night".

In your second example, "He shined the light on the ball throughout the night" this is actually correct because the verb is transitive.

Prescriptivists like the Grammarist would say that no, you can't use shone transitively. However, in the argument that people could still understand a transitive shone, you could use it. It is up to you which side you'd want to take on this.

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    One of your examples is a transitive use of shone: "A return trip to the store shone the light on what I needed: Leeks." (and perfectly correct). Commented Mar 22, 2012 at 5:01
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Merriam-Webster's dictionary of English Usage says that in England, in the 16th century, shined and shone were competing past tenses for shine. It also explains that since then, the British and the American usages have diverged. In the rest of the post, I summarize the usage explained in this text (using some of their examples). I have estimated the frequency of these usages myself using Google Ngrams.

In the U.K., shined appears to be used only for the sense of polish, mainly for shoes, and even then only occasionally. See this Ngram for evidence that even for shoes, while Brits are willing to use shine in the present tense, they avoid using shined in the past tense, preferring polished.

In America, for the sun, shone is almost always used. For other sources of light, when shine is used as an intransitive verb, the past tense is shone maybe 90% of the time:

That hard fierce light of publicity that everybody hates shone on everything he did.

But when it is used transitively (somebody shined something), Google Ngrams shows that somewhere around 40% of Americans use shined. This usage started somewhere around 1940, and has been growing in frequency since.

Elated researchers shined their lights around the hilly prairie dog towns.

And finally, when the the word shine has the meaning polish, Americans almost always use shined.

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The OED reports that the past participle of shine is "shone, (now especially in sense 8) shined."

The sense 8 to which the dictionary is referring is the following one:

verb transitive. Put a polish on or give a shine to (shoes etc.).

M. French: They…sold newspapers, shined shoes, ran errands.

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  • Judging from Google Ngrams (which show shined is used much less often in the U.K.), this is the British rule (exactly what you want from the OED). Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 1:00
  • The NOAD reports the following example: "His shoes were shined to perfection."
    – apaderno
    Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 1:04
  • Agreed. In the U.S., you never use shone for the meaning polished. (And in the U.K., it appears that you use polished instead of shined for shoes. See the Ngram in my comment on the original post.) From Google Ngrams, I would guess that roughly half of Americans use shined only to mean polished, maybe another 40% use shined whenever the verb has a direct object, and maybe 10% always use shined. But this is wild speculation. Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 1:32
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This site puts it pretty nicely:

The transitive form of the verb “shine” is ”shined.” If the context describes something shining on something else, use “shined”: “He shined his flashlight on the skunk eating from the dog dish.” You can remember this because another sense of the word meaning “polished” obviously requires “shined”: “I shined your shoes for you.”When the shining is less active, many people would use “shone”: “The sun shone on the tomato plants all afternoon.” But some authorities prefer “shined” even in this sort of context: “The sun shined on the tomato plants all afternoon.”If the verb is intransitive (lacks an object) and the context merely speaks of the act of shining, the past tense is definitely “shone”: “The sun shone all afternoon” (note that nothing is said here about the sun shining on anything).

Thus, as your professor was shining it "on the ball", "shined" would be correct. IT's correct, because, as the above states, "if the context describes something shining on something else", and your professor is shining "a light" on the ball. thus, "shined" is used here.

If you the professor was just a shining a light, not particularly on anything, it would be "shoned".

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  • The site is right (at least for American English), but the conclusion you draw from it is wrong. He shined the flashlight, or He shined my shoes, but The flashlight shone on the ball. However, it is not the prepositional phrase on the ball which makes the verb transitive in the OPs sentence, but the direct object flashlight. Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 0:57
  • But, the site states, "if the context describes something shining on something else", and the OP's context definitely gives the context of a light shining on a ball
    – Thursagen
    Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 1:06
  • I see. I think I disagree with the site then; I believe the American rule is that you use shined for when the verb is transitive. I don't perceive any difference whatsoever between The sun shone all afternoon and The sun shone on the flowers. But I do agree with He shined the flashlight on the ball. Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 1:13
  • Here's some evidence for my position from Google Ngrams. In American English, nearly half the uses of the transitive shined/shown his flashlight are shined, but very few of the uses of the intransitive shined on/shone on are shined. Commented Aug 27, 2011 at 1:25
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The OED says shined was commonly used in England from 1300 to 1800, then gradually replaced by shone. Maybe the Americans just kept the original?

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