Basics of writingVerb tenses

Dived or dove: some confusing past tenses

From Rick:

Last year I did a post on verbs whose present tense, past tense, and past participles were all the same (like read: I read a lot, I read a short story yesterday, I have read fifty books so far this year).

Here’s the link in case you missed it:


When I’m editing, I come across several common verbs whose past tense forms have changed to the past participle, or at least are acceptable that way.

For example, the verb “shrink” is traditionally conjugated as “shrink, shrank, shrunk.” But I wonder how many of us paid attention to the title of the movie “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” when it came out many years ago. “Shrunk” is now considered acceptable as the simple past tense.

But here’s a weird one. Consider “drink, drank, drunk”:

I drink water when I’m thirsty.
I drank three glasses of water after exercising today.
I have drunk many different types of beer in my life.

If we think about “shrunk,” we’d assume that we’d start hearing “I drunk three glasses of water today.” Nope. It goes the other way: “I have drank…”

I read a theory as to why “drank” has replaced “drunk” in these contexts. The suggestion is that “drunk” carries too many negative connotations (being drunk) and that people consider it better to use “drank” has the past participle.

DIVED/DOVE: The British say “dived” and indeed that was the original past tense of “dive.” Apparently “dove” arose here in America to follow “drive, drove, driven” (which by the way remains intact for now).

PLEADED/PLED: Both are acceptable, but strangely “plead” (pronounced as “pled”) is also used: He plead guilty in court.

SANK/SUNK: Both acceptable as past tense; past participle is “sunk.”

SPRANG/SPRUNG: Both acceptable past tense; past participle is “sprung.”

DREAMED/DREAMT: Either can be past tense or past participle, but “dreamed” is the more common spelling, and some consider “dreamt” as more informal or less refined.

SHINED/SHONE: This one is a bit different because the two form carry different meanings based on whether the base verb “shine” is transitive or intransitive. Ah, you remember those terms from your English grammar classes, but that was a while back, and some of you probably don’t remember exactly what those terms mean.

“Transitive” means the verb has an object. The verb expresses action on something: I gave my son a cookie. I kicked a soccer ball. He likes steak.

“Intransitive” means there is no object of the verb: She cried. His uncle died last week. I screamed.

Some verbs can be both, depending on whether they’re action or not action on something:

They are playing baseball. (transitive)
The kids have been playing all afternoon. (intransitive)

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, you’ll better be able to understand the difference between “shined” and “shone.”

When “shine” is transitive, the past tense is “shined.”
The policeman shined his flashlight into the room.

When “shine” is intransitive, the past tense is “shone.”
The full moon shone brightly.

In other words, if you’re “shining” (such as a light) something, use “shined.” And use it in this sense as well: After he shined his shoes, they shone brightly.

Some authorities prefer “The sun shined on the asphalt and made it hot.” This is not really a transitive use of the verb, but we can split hairs on this one because the sun’s light is acting on an object.

But as with many things in your writing, if a particular case of “shone” sounds awkward, then use “shined.”

I hope this helps. Of course, if you’re not sure of the correct verb form, you should ALWAYS look it up!


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