This might just be availability bias on my part, but it seems to me that if a verb ends is a "d" sound then it's a lot more likely to have an irregular past tense than an average verb picked out at random. Examples include "feed/fed", "stand/stood", "rend/rent", "tread/trod", "betide/betid".

So, is this an actual pattern, or am I just imagining it?

And if it is a real pattern, what's the explanation?

  • You'd have to survey all the verbs ending in d--headed, shredded, are a few regular past participles. This is a list question, so is actually not in the scope of ELU unless you chance on someone who's familiar with it already. (Also bed, bedded.) – Xanne Jun 29 '17 at 6:57
  • @Xanne Not really, it's a morphology question (and an astute one - the answer, btw, is yes) :-) – Araucaria Jun 29 '17 at 7:17
  • @Araucaria Oh good! Then we'll have an answer. – Xanne Jun 29 '17 at 7:19
  • 2
    @marcellothearcane A different strategy is to use devoicing as well as consonant reduction 'build' --> 'built'. There are 34 possible endings for a verb in English, but verbs whose base ends in /d/ or /t/ make up between 35-42% of all irregular verbs. – Araucaria Jul 1 '17 at 17:11
  • 2
    @David: No; strong verbs have a particular type of vowel change called ablaut. The verbs Matthew Cline is asking about are categorized as a type of irregular weak verb from a historical perspective. Your examples of "am/was" and "go/went" are a type of extreme irregularity called "suppletion". – sumelic Jul 1 '17 at 17:23

Preserved from comments to the question:

  • It's related to the rule that we cannot have geminate consonants in English - so we cannot add the past tense morpheme /d/ onto a base that already ends with a /d/ (or /t/). So for example we cannot make the word /endd/ as a past form of the verb END. Usually, for most verbs we add an epenthetic vowel (so for the past form of END we get ended, /endɪd/). However, a different strategy is to reduce the final consonant, so for example instead of /bɪdd/ for the past of bid we can have either /bɪd/ with the double /dd/ reduced or /bɪdɪd/. – Araucaria

  • A different strategy is to use devoicing as well as consonant reduction 'build' --> 'built'. There are 34 possible endings for a verb in English, but verbs whose base ends in /d/ or /t/ make up between 35-42% of all irregular verbs. – Araucaria


There is one class of irregular verbs that have only one verb form in the present, past, and past participle: they are monosyllabic verbs ending in d or t, and they do stack the deck somewhat.
But only somewhat.

Here's a list of English irregular verbs. As you can see, they don't all end in d or t.

And here's a list of the monosyllabic t/d-final zero-inflected verbs on that list:

  • beat, bet, bid, burst, cast, cost, cut, fit, hit, hurt, knit, let, put, quit,
    rid, set, shed, shut, slit, spit, split, spread, thrust, upset, wed

This is one class of irregular verb; there are many such, but this one is unique.
Each of these verbs

  1. ends in t or d
  2. has only one syllable
  3. has only one verb form: sit, sit, sit; shed, shed, shed; cut, cut, cut, etc.

Note that there are other irregular verbs in the list that have the first two characteristics above, but not the third. Read, read, read, for instance, does not have identical forms in sound, only spelling, which doesn't count; and lead, led, led and breed, bred, bred work the same way, but with better spelling. And then there's eat, ate, eaten. But read, breed, lead, and eat aren't in this verb class.

  • 1
    +1 for my favorite: "But only somewhat." – P. E. Dant Jul 7 '17 at 6:33
  • 1
    Some, perhaps many speakers would add pet to your short list of invariant verbs. – tchrist Jul 8 '17 at 21:51
  • @tchrist Thank you; it's a regular verb for me, but I've heard it that way. – John Lawler Jul 9 '17 at 15:02
  • 1
    Thanks for the answer. (I think, btw, that there are other weak verbs which are there precisely because they end in a dental plosive. Apart from the ones you mention, which combine vowel shortening, there are those which involve final consonant devoicing, which exclusively end in /d/ or /t/ too (like build or send) ...) – Araucaria Jul 11 '17 at 20:14


Maybe I should withdraw this, but I think my misconstruction of the question was not uncommon, so I will note that, after rereading, I recognize that the actual question concerns a bias towards irregularity in all verbs whose plain forms end in a 'd' sound. (And it appears that the OP even limits the question to the voiced d.)

In which case, he may be sensitive to the doubling of d sounds, as noted by others, but has a workaround rule in '-ed', also noted by others.

(Off the top of my head, just a few more of the short regular verbs ending in the d sound that take the workaround:

add, aid, bead, (bide goes both ways), brood, bud, (chide goes both ways), crowd, crud, confide, deed, (fud is a bit new in coinage), flood, gad, goad, hood, (i-d is a bit new in coinage as a verb), jade, kid, load, lead (as in applying the metal -- not the verb that conjugates to led), (mod is a bit too recent, maybe), (mead and mud might be too technical in context), need, nod, pad, (plead goes both ways), plod, pride, prod, raid, (reed might be too technical), (rid goes both ways), rod, seed, side, (sod goes both ways, I guess), stead, stud, tide, thread, void, wade, weed, wad, wood, ...

Why these are not irregular would be an interesting subject of study, and would help parameterize the suppression.

And I'm falling asleep. 8-)

Surveying all verbs to find all verbs ending in the d sound is going to be a large task unless one happens to have a dictionary of verbs in computer readable form handy.

The reverse task, to list all irregular verbs and examine the etymology of their morphologies for the application of a suppression mechanism might be quicker if such a dictionary is not handy.

(end comment)

It is an availability bias. You can find some lists of irregular verbs in the Oxford English Dictionary and on wikipedia. The verbs in those lists which end with a "d" are in the minority, actually.

(addendum: the list of irregular verbs, borrowed from wikipedia and wiktionary, non-basic forms removed, flagged for final d/t.)

Examples of irregular verbs not ending in "d" include fly, sew, run, begin, think, swim, lie, and so forth.

The conjugations do have patterns, which are discussed to some extent on the wikipedia page, see the discussion of strong vs. weak verbs.

And there seem to be patterns relative to the plain form ending in "d", but I'm not familiar enough with this information to describe them. Country of origin seems to play a large part, but that's not all.

  • 2
    I think it's a question of relative proportionality, not majority. There's 30-odd different endings that the plain form of a verb could have. However, roughly 40% of irregular verbs end in a /d/ or a /t/ - we should expect that figure to be about 6-7%. So having an infinitive ending in a /d/ or /t/ does in fact seem to increase the likelihood of a verb being irregular. – Araucaria Jul 5 '17 at 17:22
  • Where do you get the 40% from? From the lists that I have at hand, I'm definitely not seeing that, unless you're including conjugated forms. – Joel Rees Jul 6 '17 at 14:08
  • 3
    Well, if, for example, you take the Wikipedia list of irregular verbs in common use, disregard the entries which redirect you to roots (so, for example, see the entries for over or a) and count the ones that end in /d/ ot /t/ (the sounds not the letters, of course), you find that about 43% of the entries end in either a /d/ or a /t/. – Araucaria Jul 6 '17 at 16:46
  • I get 36%, if I incude th and ch endings, 32% if I don't, using the list I compiled from wikipedia and wiktionary which I put up here: <osdn.net/users/reiisi/pastebin/5165>. But I see I was misreading the question. And I think it would take a more careful analysis, checking the etymological history of each word individually, to get a really good feel for morphological pressure due to the doubling. Might make an interesting master's thesis, if researched carefully. (And I'm sure it has been done.) – Joel Rees Jul 7 '17 at 3:45

So, is this an actual pattern, or am I just imagining it?
And if it is a real pattern, what's the explanation?

The answer seems simple. If verbs form a past tense according to a pattern, they could not be "irregular". They would form a class of verbs conforming to that pattern.

Perhaps some of these "irregular" verbs did, in the past, form the past tense conforming to a pattern . That would have been before any recording of English or its predecessors, and, the mechanism of that pattern would be unavailable to us now. One might guess as to undocumented mechanisms in English, but, guesses are not facts.

One will have to accept some verbs as "irregular", and so, not part of a pattern. If there were some known pattern, those verbs would not be "irregular".

Perhaps an unidentified mechanism caused "I go" and "I went" in current English to be unlike each other as "eo" (I go) and ivi" (I went) Wiktionary were in Classical Latin. I'd be interested in knowing, but I doubt any proof can be dug up to substantiate it.

  • 1
    It's not "some unidentified mechanism". The reason for I go and I went is that originally, I went was the past tense of I wend, and for some reason it replaced I gede as the past tense for I go. – Peter Shor Jul 4 '17 at 13:35
  • @Peter Shor ..identify that reason, and there may be a mechanism ongoing. Thank you for pointing that out, but, there is a mystery remaining as to why that happened. English is not as comprehensively recorded as Latin was.. I will concede that neighboring Germanic Languages do not have a radically altered root in the :"past tense", but, still there is a mystery here. – J. Taylor Jul 4 '17 at 14:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.