Students of martial arts may be familiar with a breakfall, which can (depending on the situation) be treated as a noun or a verb.

I am often amused when speakers, even native English speakers (myself included!), stumble over the past tense because of the double-irregularity. I've heard breakfalled, breakfell, brokefall, and brokefell - most try one combination or another and then switch to did a breakfall.

I was wondering if people had other examples of this phenomenon, and whether there is a canonically correct past tense form?

EDIT: Prompted by the discussion, for those interested, a breakfall may be defined as any of several ways of 'receiving' a technique, but in Western parlance most often refers to a method of slapping the ground (mat) just at the moment of impact, when you are thrown. This provides a reactive force and lessens the whole body impact if you are unable to roll out. (See uke/ukemi for the Japanese perspective).


Here's an example of the neologism on-lend (give a loan with money lent from other companies)...

...central bank credit was a major source of finance for banks (on-lended at fixed spreads)...

...which illustrates the general principle that verb nelogisms are normally regular. The established pattern over centuries is that irregular verbs are disappearing; so long as the nelogism is genuinely perceived as a "new" verb (as it probably is with breakfall, on-lend), it's automatically treated as a regular verb by default. So just use breakfalled.

EDIT: I should point out there's no definitive authority specifying how any given verb neologism will be conjugated before usage becomes established custom and practice. For example...

Google Books favours troubleshot over troubleshooted by about 7:1. But on Google Internet (which I assume represents more widespread current usage), the bias is only half that. My guess is that as people get more used to troubleshoot as an "independent" verb, they'll increasingly regularise it.

But all "authorities" now seem to agree that for the baseball (ex-)neologism to fly out (to hit a fly ball), the "correct" past tense is flied out (not flew out).

My suggestion for OP to use the regular form is partly based on the fact that I have absolutely no idea what breakfalling is, so I make no close connection between the neologism and the component (verbs?) break and fall. And either or both could be seen as "nouns", which would make me even less inclined to replicate the irregular verb forms.

  • In this case I think that due to the presence of two irregular verbs, none of the suggested forms sound quite right when spoken. Perhaps, one just has to accept that breakfelled sounds the least wrong! :) – Kyudos Jan 14 '13 at 20:02
  • @Kyudos: I don't understand your apparent reluctance to go with what is effectively standard practice. True verb neologisms are invariably regular. Read a bit more of that first link in the answer. – FumbleFingers Jan 14 '13 at 21:36
  • Because, from my experience of this word, there is no standard practice. No one seems happy with the past tense verb form, often switching to the noun form when the verb 'doesn't work'. I can accept that breakfalled is the correct form, but that doesn't make it sound correct. – Kyudos Jan 15 '13 at 3:29
  • @Kyudos: Well, I suppose that "doesn't sound correct" thinking is what makes people revert to did a breakfall to avoid the problem. There is no actual right/wrong here, obviously, so perhaps I'd better expand the answer to reflect that. – FumbleFingers Jan 15 '13 at 3:43
  • "When you read a sentence like "Ryan Braun flied out to right, allowing Hart to tag and go to third," does that sound correct, merely tolerable, or downright wrong to you?" (throwingthings.blogspot.in/2011/08/…) – Kris Jan 15 '13 at 5:55

Inflection will mask.

From a simple plain-English speaker's perspective, verb neologisms necessarily need to have regular conjugations so the neologism could be visible.

Among breakfalled, breakfell, brokefall, and brokefell, only breakfalled contains the neologism in toto.

Related verb, fell ("make fall, cause to fall,") pt. felled.

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