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The English language has a huge number of irregular verbs(~470). This is significantly more than other languages e.g. French (~130), German (~200)

Irregular verbs make the English language notoriously difficult to learn for non-native speakers.

And yet English is arguably the most spoken language internationally:

Modern English, sometimes described as the first global lingua franca, is the dominant language or in some instances even the required international language of communications, science, information technology, business, seafaring, aviation, entertainment, radio and diplomacy.

-Wikipedia("English Language") (Emphasis mine)

My question is: Why is there no move to introduce regular versions of verbs as acceptable alternatives of irregular ones? Could we even drop the irregular verbs all together?

Is it simply a case of tradition? Or is it impossible to forcibly manipulate a language- what has history taught us?

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    I've rewritten the question, to try to make it sound less like a complaint. Perhaps it might get reopened? – Urbycoz Nov 11 '11 at 10:29
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    @bizso09 To answer you question please read my answer to a somewhat related question. Essentially: no, irregular verbs are not kept due to tradition, it's just how people's minds work. – Matt E. Эллен Nov 11 '11 at 10:56
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    @Jasper Loy I think it is what he was asking. But we should probably ask the OP himself. – Urbycoz Nov 11 '11 at 11:04
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    Try dropping themyourself and see what happens. – Barrie England Nov 11 '11 at 21:16
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    You say Why is there no move but there are (and have been) many! Here is Simplified English: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simplified_English or userlab.com/SE.html – GEdgar Nov 11 '11 at 21:38
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The English language, like all languages, is not handed down from above, but rather exists in the minds of the people who speak it. Native speakers have no problems whatsoever learning the irregular verbs, and languages generally do not adapt to make themselves easier for non-native speakers.

What does happen is that if a large number of speakers, native or non-native, make similar mistakes, these mistakes may eventually become the norm. This does, in fact, happen with uncommonly used words. Erez Lieberman et al published a paper claiming that verbs have a quantifiable rate at which they become regularized:

a verb that is 100 times less frequent regularizes 10 times as fast.

However, this takes a long time and is not part of any kind of "effort" or managed process. It takes a significant effort to change the language of an entire people.

Consider the Chinese government's attempts to police the Chinese language(s) and to implement what is essentially spelling reform (technically: simplified characters). This is a huge effort, spanning decades, and requiring total re-education of a billion people. Yet the smaller dialects are not all dead and some are not even dying, the use of traditional Chinese characters has not completely died out, and the Chinese were starting with a population that had a high illiteracy rate. There is a huge cost involved in attempting this and most countries would simply be unable to carry it through.

Language is determined by its speakers. As long as most native people don't have problems with irregular forms, the language will continue to have them. Non-native speakers probably have as much chance of changing that as I do of getting China to ditch characters and go Pinyin all the time.

Also note that some verbs are being irregularized, see this Language Log post about "snuck".

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    See also Steven Pinker's 'Words and Rules'. – Barrie England Nov 11 '11 at 19:36
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Your claim, that English irregular verbs are harder than French or German ones, is dubious.

For an English irregular verb, (except for to be), you only need to memorize three forms. For German irregular verbs, you need to know five different forms. For a French irregular verb, you may need to memorize eight or so different forms. Since French irregular verbs are three times as hard as English irregular verbs, one might expect there to be fewer of them.

Changing all irregular verbs to regular in any language is not going to be something you can do without a strong authoritarian government which the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand don't currently have (and I hope they never will).

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  • A quick count in one of my grammar books produces a total of 125. – Barrie England Nov 11 '11 at 20:41
  • This is important information but is not an answer to the question (however questionable the question might be). Should be a comment? – Mitch Nov 11 '11 at 23:09
  • Good point. Okay, I'm turning this into a comment. – Peter Shor Nov 11 '11 at 23:25
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    Frankly, I think this question is ridiculous. How about we abolish declensions in (modern) Greek and subjunctive verbs in Romance languages? This is a taking-the-piss question as the Brits say but I will upvote your answer for the factual information. Also, irregular conjugations in many languages more than make up for non-conjugation in English. And that is why this question is linguistically naive. – Lambie Apr 17 at 18:51
  • @Mitch When the facts are wrong in the question, I think pointing that out will make for a good answer. This answer puts the "number" issue into the proper perspective. – Lambie Apr 17 at 19:04
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"My question is: Why is there no move to introduce regular versions of verbs as acceptable alternatives of irregular ones? Could we even drop the irregular verbs all together?

Is it simply a case of tradition? Or is it impossible to forcibly manipulate a language- what has history taught us?"

Many attempts at "regularizing" English have failed (even Caxton and Webster kept irregularities so that they didn't change the language too much). If an authoritative enough source publishes a reform, then perhaps such changes might catch on. But what Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 says is correct: common usage can, eventually, win out over "technically correct" usage. In the meantime, you just have to go with what is currently "correct", by consulting a good dictionary in your "preferred" English (British or American).

Just look at Esperanto - a "global language" revolution: has that caught on?

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Why is there no move to introduce regular versions of verb-forms as acceptable alternatives of irregular ones?

Your time would be better spent asking why the weather is not always as you want it to be.

I don't know what your native language is but, if it is not English, I suggest that you successfully reform the irregular verbs in it and then tell us how you did it.

If it helps you at all, in broad terms, newly introduced verbs are usually regular. If you are willing to wait for a millennium , you may see the number of irregular verbs decrease.

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