Ok, so as an English teacher, I know that in the present and past perfect tenses, the auxiliary verb have is followed by the past participle form of the verb.

Using most verbs, I find that this is true for all sentences I have heard. However, on several instances, I have run into a native speaker using the past form of the verb (drank) where the grammar calls for the past participle (drunk).

For example: "I hadn't drank any coffee before I lived in Italy."

According to grammar norms, this sentence should be: "I hadn't drunk any coffee..."

More and more, I noticed that people tend to use drank instead of drunk after perfect aspect constructions. This construction was used across all communities of practice and wasn't subject to dialect boundaries.

According to results from http://www.phras.in, have drank and have drunk are clear, with the standard have drunk being 4x more prevalent than have drank. However, with an instance rate of about 200,000 for the non-standard form, that is nothing to scoff at. However, the opposite was true with the negative form haven't drank vs. haven't drunk with the non-standard being almost twice as prevalent.

EDIT: As for the dialect variant idea, I have researched into the various dialectal changes involving the past participle. Most constructions involving the variant are indicated to be dialectal or just plain bad grammar. However, when I started hearing it from people from the UK, this is when I started asking questions. Looking into it further, I have found some linguistic research papers involving corpora and frequency analyses of this phenomena and have found that there is definitely a shift among non-standard verbs to use the past instead of the participle for perfect aspect. At least according to the BNC and COCA. This is usually with germanic-root words such as bid/bade/bid, drink/drank/drunk, bit/bit/bitten.

Research Paper: I haven't drank in weeks

Another Example

So, my question, then, is whether or not there is some sort of construction that is the exception for this particular situation, i.e. some construction where perfect tense does not use past participle after the aux. verb, or if this is simply some crazy, non-standard phenomenon with the verb drink in the perfect tense.

  • 2
    Are you located in the US Northeast? This is a dialectal variant, which I know occurs in places like New Jersey and Long Island in particular (but probably not only there). After things like "hadn't", "coulda/woulda/shoulda", etc., the simple past form is used instead of the past participle. But this would not be exclusively for "drink" but for all verbs.
    – Kosmonaut
    Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 20:34
  • 4
    Maybe this shouldn't have been closed. One hundred fifty years ago, have drank was a perfectly respectable alternative to have drunk. But have went has never been widely used. Commented Jun 9, 2012 at 0:06
  • 3
    @PeterShor, Thank you, Peter. I found that the 'duplicate' answers were really no help at all. It's unfortunate that this question was closed prematurely.
    – Adam
    Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 18:24
  • 2
    I remember hearing somewhere—I don't know where, and I have no idea how reliable this is—that "have drank" was used instead of "have drunk" to avoid using the word drunk, because drunk also means intoxicated. I was trying to track down this piece of information to put in an answer when it was closed. Unfortunately, I couldn't easily find it on the web, and I suspect this explanation is apocryphal. Commented Jun 21, 2012 at 18:30
  • 2
    @Adam: the idea is that you first improve the question by editing it. Comments are meant to help you in doing so. Crucial bits such as "I have seen question X and question Y, but the answers there don't cut it for reasons A, B, and C" belong in the question body rather than buried in comments. Most people don't read lengthy comment exchanges, so you run the risk of getting the exact same answers those other questions produced. Not to mention that your very premise ("any other verb but drink") has now been shown to be wrong. Stuff like that really needs editing. Thank you.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 0:47

4 Answers 4


My guess is, this is part of a general conflation of past tense and past participles for ablauting verbs. Where I grew up (Sydney, Australia), the past participle is often used for the simple tense (I drunk the coffee, rung the captain, then sunk the boat). This only happens with participles that lack overt suffixes (so, it's impossible with worn or seen). The phenomenon you've spotted looks like the flip side of this conflation, with the simple past filling in for the past participle. Very nice if you're a grammar watcher.

  • 1
    I agree that the triggering feature is probably the vowel change in the stem. I hear "have sank" with about the same frequency as "have drank" (relatively, that is, since "drink" is rather more common) - likewise "sang" and "shrank". I don't recall hearing "have began", so perhaps there's something about the velar, too.
    – Mark Reed
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 13:52
  • Interesting to know. I've definitely heard begun used as a simple past, but I share the hunch that there's something odder about have began. Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 14:03
  • I'd still like to know what the deal is with 'hasn't drank' due to the fact that it is so irregular and the fact that it is more prevalent than the standard. I doubt there's a clear answer, but you did a very nice job of answering the general idea.
    – Adam
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 6:10

The use of "have drank" instead of "have drunk" was widespread 150 years ago. Consider the following Google Ngram:

enter image description here

This does not happen for most irregular verbs, as you can see for the corresponding Ngram for "have sank/have sunk". So 150 years ago, "have drank" was not incorrect grammar.

As to why people still use it nowadays, there are two possibilities. Either they learned English from people who never switched away from the use of "drank" as the past participle, or they are just confused about when to use the past and when the past participle. I would guess that it's often the former.

I have seen speculation that "have drank" was used to avoid saying the word "drunk", one of whose meanings is a synonym for "intoxicated". (In the comments here, for example.) I don't know if there any solid evidence for this speculation; it is reportedly mentioned in the OED, although I can't check this myself.

  • My question is specifically why the negative present perfect usage of drink is more popular than the standard nowadays. Even a simple google search shows that haven't drunk has 128M hits, and haven't drank has 135M hits. That's more than just coincidence. Hasn't drank has 242M hits and hasn't drunk has 52M hits to make it even stranger.
    – Adam
    Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 10:03
  • @Adam: Google hits numbers for phrases (as opposed to one-word queries) are complete nonsense. You have to use Google Ngrams or corpus searches to get the reasonable numbers. Compare here and here. The difference between "have drank" and "haven't drank" is not that big. Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 11:11
  • COCA and the BNC can't handle complicated phrases like 'hasn't drank'. NGrams is a great resource, but far from an end-all, be-all. Because I'm specifically talking about non-standard terminology, as opposed to English which has generally gone through a process of careful revision and scrutinization (like published material), I resorted to other means, such as an instance calculator for blogs and internet posts (phras.in). If you could recommend another source, that would be fantastic.
    – Adam
    Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 6:36

According to English grammar, when you want to form a Past Perfect you must use the subject plus the past simple of the auxiliary verb have plus the past participle of the main verb. Although this is the only correct construction of the past participle, there are a lot of dialects that prefer to use the past form of a verb instead of the past participle.

If you want to write correctly use the past participle!

  • 2
    The question isn't about the norms (the questioner, an English teacher, makes his awareness of them clear). Rather, it's about whether the nonstandard forms cluster in any given construction or around any set of verbs. Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 11:32
  • 1
    In fact yesterday I wrote that, according to english grammar, there aren't particular clusters of verbs that used instead of the past participle the past simple of the main verb. This is my opinion. Commented Jun 24, 2012 at 10:47

According to R H K Webster's, not all 'educated persons' reject the alternative past participle drank:

usage: Confusion tends to arise regarding the forms for the past tense and past participle of drink. The standard past tense is drank: We drank our coffee. The standard past participle is drunk: Who has drunk all the milk?

Yet drank has a long and respectable history in English as a past participle: Who has drank all the milk? While this construction still occurs in the speech of some educated persons, it is largely rejected, esp. as a written form. drunk as the past tense (We drunk our coffee) was once a standard variant but is now considered nonstandard, although it sometimes occurs in speech.

Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, © 2010

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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