Which one is better?

  1. I've eaten, shaved and showered.
  2. I've eaten, shaven and showered.

The first one sounds more correct to me, but shouldn't we use the past participle shaven for the same reason that we use the past participle eaten? Why would shave take the ending -ed when eat takes the ending -en in the past participle?

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    I don't have time to give this the answer it deserves. #1 is correct. "To eat" is one of those verbs that doesn't fit the general construction mode (there isn't an "-ed" version of "to eat"). "Shaven" would only be used in the present tense. "I am [clean] shaven," indicating a past event's influence on the present. You'll notice that we're not using "showeren" because "to shower" doesn't have an "-en" form. You've gotta love this language. – JBH Dec 1 '18 at 16:21
  • I feel like part of the answer also has something to do with the object of those verbs: I've eaten [food], shaved [myself/my face] and showered [myself/my body]. Something about self-directed actions and other-directed actions... – miltonaut Dec 1 '18 at 17:26
  • For the record, Google Books has no instances of the collocation eaten, shaven and showered. But the facetiously alliterative shaved, showered, and shat and shave shower and shit are far from unknown. Competent native speakers would never use Past Participle shaven in such contexts though - only Simple Past shaved. – FumbleFingers Dec 1 '18 at 18:03
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    Vulgar UK people (mostly men) might describe their post-rising routine as "shit, shave, shower". – Michael Harvey Dec 1 '18 at 19:30
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    "Shaved" is what I did. "Shaven" is what I am. "I shaved" is fine, "I shaven" wrong. "I am/was shaved/shaven" depend on context. – Robbie Goodwin Dec 11 '18 at 0:36

I would say either is possible, but I prefer shaved because it is more common. The following passage describes both shaved and shaven as possible past-participle forms in North American English:

For some verbs, neither form is particularly stigmatized for North American English speakers. Consider these examples of verbs with two past-participle options: I have sewn or I have sewed, I have shaven or I have shaved, I have mown or I have mowed, I have proven or I have proved.

(Linguistics for Everyone: An Introduction, by Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, p. 169)

But note that for the past-tense form, "shaved" is the only option.

the history behind the use of shaven and shaved

As David's answer says, shave comes from a "strong verb", which means that it originally lacked -ed in both the past tense and past participle forms. (The suffix -ed characterizes the verb class called "weak verbs". The terminology "strong" and "weak" refers to the way the verb inflects.) But the strong past tense of shave was lost, and the strong participle form seems to be fairly far into the process of being lost. It has been common for strong verbs to develop into weak verbs in English, although there are occasional examples of change happening in the opposite direction, with weak verbs gaining strong -⁠(e)n participles. A shift from weak to strong inflection seems to be the origin of the past-participle forms hidden, proven, sawn, shown, worn ("English Irregular Verbs", Wikipedia).

shaved is currently more common as a past participle than shaven

Although "shaven" is not entirely obsolete as a past participle, it seems to be much less common than "shaved" in this context:

Google ngram chart showing frequencies between 1900 and 2008 of the following phrases, from most frequent to least frequent: "have shaved", "has shaved", "have shaven" (minus "have shaven heads"), "has shaven". The forms with "shaved" are more than twice as common as the corresponding forms with "shaven": "have shaved" is around 0.000002%, while "have shaven" minus "have shaven heads" is around 0.00000015%; and "has shaved" is around 0.000001%, while "has shaven" is below 0.0000001% (Google Ngram Viewer)

One possible weakness of this chart is that the sequence "have/has shaven" does occur in some contexts where "shaven" isn't a participle. I subtracted "have shaven heads", which seems to be the most common example, but there might be others that I didn't get.

Nevertheless, I think that the "have shaven" and "has shaven" lines in the chart above contain at least some real examples of shaven being used as a participle. Here are a few specific examples taken from Google Books of shaven being used as a past participle, just to establish that this usage really does exist for some present-day English speakers:

people who don't use shaven as a participle may still use it as an adjective

The form "shaven" is frequently used as an adjective, even by people who don't use it as the past participle of "shave". Compare "molten", which is still used as an adjective even though it has been completely replaced by "melted" as the past-participle form of the verb "melt".

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    shaven is only an adjective: a shaven head Not: I have shaven is not contemporary English.... – Lambie Aug 31 '19 at 19:33
  • @Lambie: Are you saying that the quoted books are not in English, or that 2012 and 2015 are not contemporary? – herisson Aug 31 '19 at 23:06
  • I am saying that no one says: I am shaven, unless they actually mean: as opposed to unshaven. If you shave your face and you are a man, you say: I have shaved and showered and ready to go. You don't say: I am shaven and showered and ready to go. freshly shaven head, yes. May have shaven her head, ok here, sort of literary because the meaning is: to have a shaven head. – Lambie Aug 31 '19 at 23:10
  • Melt is actually a complex case. Its forms are apparently from a merger of two similar but separate words. – David Sep 3 '19 at 18:11
  • I question the methods here. You only subtracted "have shaven heads", but not legs, eyebrows, etc, so you can't say that your "(have shaven)-(have shaven heads)" trace represents it's use as a past participle. Also, I'm not sure what to make of nearly-zero-but-not-zero values in Google n-gram. – mRotten Sep 3 '19 at 18:53

Which question should one answer?

There are two questions here. The first is “which one [sentence] is better?”. That is a question of usage, which @sumelic demonstrated can be answered by reference to sources such as Google Books. The second I think is more fundamental, and is the one I shall consider:

“Why would shave take the ending -ed when eat takes the ending -en in the past participle?”

An answer

Because in English there are strong verbs and weak verbs, which form their past tenses according to different systems. Eat is an example of a strong verb, shower is an example of a weak verb, and shave is a verb that was originally strong but has changed so that it is mainly weak, but with some strong forms surviving as less-used alternatives.

This is explained in the Wikipedia article on Germanic strong verbs:

“In the Germanic languages, a strong verb is a verb that marks its past tense by means of changes to the stem vowel (ablaut). The majority of the remaining verbs form the past tense by means of a dental suffix (e.g. -ed in English), and are known as weak verbs.”

In the example sentences we are dealing with past participles — the past participles of weak verbs in English (a Germanic language) end in -ed (or -d or -t), whereas those of strong verbs usually end in -en (or -n). However to clarify let us look at three forms of the verb: the infinitive, the simple past tense (aka preterite) and the past participle used with an auxiliary (have (’ve) in the examples). In addition I have included the participial adjective (where it occurs), which, although originally formed from the past participle, does not necessarily evolve/degenerate in concert with it in the case of strong verbs.

Strong, weak and mixed verbs

The table shows the standard strong form with eat (eat, ate, eaten) and the weak form with shower (shower, showered, showered), together with an additional example where there is a good example of a participial adjective, drive for a strong verb (p. adj. ‘driven’, as in “the driven snow”) and escape for a weak verb (p. adj. ‘escaped’, as in “an escaped prisoner”). In the case of the verb shave, which was originally strong, I would suggest that the strong form of the past participle (shaven) is more common today as a participial adjective. A second example, shear, is provided as both strong (shore, shorn, shorn) and weak (sheared, sheared, sheared) forms can still be found in both past tenses and the participial adjective).

As a child in an English-speaking country one encounters these older strong forms in traditional texts such as nursery rhymes, even if they have fallen out of contemporary use. The example brings to mind The House that Jack Built:

This is the priest all shaven and shorn,

That married the man all tattered and torn

Coda: Early examples of use of past participle, shaven

As there has been some discussion about the use of shaven, I checked in the OED for early examples of its use. The entry for shave is extensive, but under the meaning 3 as a verb, “to cut off… close to the skin with or as with a razor”, there is the following:

1530 He hath shavyn away all the heare on his heed

There is a separate entry for shaven as an adjective, with the following early example of use in recognizable form:

1500–1520 Quhill preistis come in with hair shevin nekkis

(Don’t ask me about ‘Quhill’.)

Footnote: Mixed verbs

Not all mixed verbs were originally strong. Some have acquired ‘strong’ forms by analogy, as in the case of the weak verb, dive, with a simple past tense in the US of dove, but in Britain dived. (Cf. drive/drove) See the Wikipedia entry on English Irregular Verbs.

  • @Lambie — Shower was used as a reference in the question, so it seemed appropriate to use it as an unambiguous example of a weak verb. Answering the specific question is not a useful exercise or appropriate to this site. Explaining what is going on linguistically is appropriate and more generally useful. I appreciate that my answer does not deal fully with the difference between strong verbs in different tenses and in adjectival forms and I should do that. But answering this with Google ngrams of usage seems to me to miss the point. This naive speaker doesn’t know about strong and weak verbs! – David Aug 31 '19 at 19:53
  • @Lambie — I’ll try to improve my answer tomorrow. Today’s effort was on comparison of nucleotide and amino acid sequences. I was quite pleased with it, but it took rather a while and it will garner few points because of the nature of SE Biology. – David Aug 31 '19 at 20:02
  • @Lambie — I've updated my answer to accommodate your criticism. If I have done so, perhaps we can delete the comments. – David Sep 3 '19 at 12:37
  • In the update of my answer I have included a text table as a graphic because this seems almost impossible to do as text in SE. I have provided an extensive explanation of the table, which I hope will be satisfactory for people with visual problems. The answer should therefore be comprehensible without the table. If it is not, please request clarification. – David Sep 3 '19 at 12:39
  • I am willing to remove them both but will say this: shaven is opposed to unshaven and is almost exclusively the only modern usage: a shaven head/an unshaven head or a clean shaven face or unshaven face. Personally, I would give an example like that. People learn via examples and don't remember the rest...usage is the most important aspect here for me. – Lambie Sep 3 '19 at 16:11

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