If I say:

Your heart just shrank two sizes too small.

Is the verb shrank correct as is? Or should it be in participle form?

Your heart just shrunk two sizes too small.

Which one would be correct in these two cases?

closed as general reference by MetaEd, Daniel, StoneyB, coleopterist, user11550 Oct 1 '12 at 2:37

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  • 1
    Regardless of shrank vs. shrunk, you can't tack on a "too small" like this. Something can shrink two sizes, or it can shrink so it becomes two sizes too small, but you can't load both "two sizes" and "too small" onto the verb all at once. – Marthaª Sep 11 '12 at 0:49
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    @Martha Sure you can. "I put the knit sweater in the washer to pre-shrink it but I accidentally used hot water instead of warm, so it shrank two sizes too small." It only works when the intention is to shrink it, but only to a certain size. (This may not be what the OP wants, of course.) It's a similar structure to "The taxi drove us two blocks too far, so we didn't leave a tip." – SevenSidedDie Sep 11 '12 at 1:02
  • This question can be improved by researching before you post the question, including the results of your research in the question, and explaining how those results were inadequate to answer the question. – MetaEd Sep 11 '12 at 14:16

You would normally use the past tense. There is no auxiliary there.

However, there is historic confusion about whether the past of shrink is supposed to be shrank or shrunk. Shrunk as the past dominated through the 18th century, and remained common during the 19th century; it still survives today as a minority alternative to shrank. Sir Walter Scott used shrunk in Ivanhoe and in Betrothed, both during the 19th century, and you have but to consider the 1989 film, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, as one modern example of people using shrunk instead of shrank as the past for shrink.

That means that both your examples can be generated by native speakers, although some may think one or the other of those two sounds funny to them. Saying “he shrunk something” instead of “he shrank something” might seem to have a certain rustic sound to it today, but it has a long history. It might be best to avoid in formal writing except for related speech, as many people think only of shrank for the past form of the verb, and so it might be perceived as a careless error.

Writers who used shrunk for the past often used shrunken for the past participle; Scott is one example of such. Today, however, the longer shrunken participle form is now usually reserved for adjectival uses, although it can still occasionally be found causatively, as in “to have shrunken his head” as opposed to “his trousers have shrunk”. (There was once an corresponding causative, to shrench something, that went along with the non-causative to shrink, but which is now obsolete. This shrink/shrench pair followed the same model as drink/drench and stink/stench.)

This sort of variation between which one is the past and which the past participle is particularly common with strong verbs that have a vowel change from i to u in them, such as sing/sang/sung, which once used sung as the past. Similarly, sunk long served as the past of sink, and Johnson in the 18th century called it the normal form, ascribing to sank the label “anciently”. Indeed, the OED allows either sank or sunk for the past, and it allows either sunk or sunken as the past participle. With stink, using stunk for the past persisted through the 19th century before settling down to modern stank and had stunk. The common drink/drank/drunk/drunken has a similarly checkered past.

The OED gives as the etymology of shrink the following:

Etymology: OE. scrincan (pa. t. scranc, scruncon, pa. pple. ʒescruncen) = MDutch schrinken (only in Kilian as obs. Flem.; ? from Eng.), Sw. skrynka to wrinkle (MSw. skrunkin pa. pple. shrivelled, wrinkled), Norw. skrekka, skrøkka (pa. t. skrakk, skrokk, pa. pple. skrokken, skrokket). The causative is shrench v.1

The pa. t. originally had vowel change I shrank, we shrunke(n, but, as early as the 14th c., the properly plural form is found with a singular subject, and shronk, shrunk becomes frequent in the 15th c.; shrunk is the normal pa. t. in the 18th c., and still survives. The pa. pple. shrunken is now rarely employed in conjugation with the vb. ‘to have’; see also shrunk, shrunken.

  • Exactly. This has nothing to do with just. – John Lawler Sep 10 '12 at 23:43

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