or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, October 06, 2005


Just so there isn't any confusion: today's example doesn't have a mistake in it, so don't bother looking for one. The paragraph is from an AP wire story about a python that got greedy and tried to swallow an entire alligator; the meal disagreed with the snake, in that the alligator, still alive at the time, evidently began clawing its way out of the python. Neither meal nor diner survived the experience, according to the rather revolting photograph; I wouldn't say, as the story does, that the snake "exploded" (what could cause an actual explosion in such an instance?), but it sure does seem to have ruptured.

Anyway; the paragraph.

The gators have had to share their territory with a python population that has swelled over the past 20 years after owners dropped off pythons they no longer wanted in the Everglades. The Asian snakes have thrived in the wet, hot climate.

"Thrived"? I'd rather not.

In English, the simple past generally uses the form of the past participle. (The past participle is used, among other things, to form the past perfect--something that's completed--whereas the simple past merely expresses something that happened: infinitive "to live", simple past "I lived", past perfect "I have lived".) Irregular verbs, of course, have to mess with this beautiful simplicity, and English, thanks to its multiple outside influences, has a fair number of irregular verbs.

One of these outside influences was German, from which English derived a great many verbs. German verbs generally end in "-en", and quite a few English verbs originally also had this ending in some form or another ("to come", related to modern German "kommen", was originally "cuman" and then "cumen", perhaps recognizable from the Middle English song "Sumer is icumen in"--that is, "summer is/has come in"). All of these verbs lost the ending in the infinitive, but some retained it in the past participle.

All monosyllabic English verbs that end in "-rive" matched the Germanic verb style by ending in "-riven" (for instance, the verb "to drive" was originally "driven", with a long "-i-"). There aren't that many: "drive", "rive", "shrive", "strive", and "thrive". (A few structurally similar verbs such as "write", "ride", and "stride" also have this same pattern, and everything about the "-rive" verbs is true of these as well.)

And what ties them together? The simple past form is always "-ro*e", with the asterisk representing the appropriate consonant, and the past participle is always "-ri*en". With, of course, one exception, because there always has to be an exception: "rive" never took on the form of "rove", but instead always had as its past tense "rived" or some variant of it. (Why? I don't know. Just because, I suppose.)

"Thrived", as used in the wire story, is not, of course, wrong; it's a well-established form. But isn't "thriven" nicer? I think it is. We still use "driven" as a past participle, "riven" is still much in existence as the name of a computer game, and I'd like to hang on to "shriven", "striven", and "thriven" for a while yet. ("Written" and "ridden" will be with us for the foreseeable future as well; I am not so sure about "stridden", which already has a decidedly antique air to it.)


Blogger safed_chuha said...

Dive, dove, diven? There are many exceptions to these rules and even some in German.

Thursday, October 06, 2005 7:54:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

I didn't say that all verbs ending in "-ive" have that pattern--they certainly don't, as "live", "archive", "connive", and "waive" all demonstrate--but that all one-syllable verbs ending in "-rive" (except "rive" itself) do. "Dive" certainly doesn't, as "diven", though once (a long time ago, in various forms and spellings) a past participle, has not been a part of the language for centuries.

On the other hand, "dive" does come from Middle English "diven", with a long initial vowel, but that's the infinitive. (The past participle of "dive" was already by the 12th century "doven", and settled down as "dived" centuries ago.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005 8:43:00 PM  

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