Sunday, October 16, 2011

Dived agin Dove

In the week gone by, I've bumped into the dived agin dove controversy more than once. While it is funny to see pedants get all worked up about it, it is time to put this to bed. 

In English there are two basic types of verbs: strong and weak. A strong verb is one that as a stem vowel change in the past tense or past participle: dive → dove. A weak verb is one that adds 'd' or 'ed': dive → dived. Some verbs, like dive, have both forms and thus the controversy.

How we came to this point only highlights a fundamental problem. That problem is how English has been treated since the Norman-French Takeover of England in 1066. I touch on this mindset in this writ. While Latin is taught and encouraged in our schools, Anglo-Saxon (Old English) is ignored below the university level and even then only taken by those who wish to read old texts in their Anglo-Saxon/Old English form. In the meantime, we lose more Anglo-root words to their Latinate counterparts and we have fundamental gaps in the knowledge of English that lead to controversies like this one.

The common mythos is that Americans made up dove as a past tense based on the drive → drove model. This myth is so strong that one sees it in wordbooks and even in academic papers. While, as an American, I'd like to take credit for that, the onefold truth is that isn't so. Dove has been about a lot longer than that. 

That has happened with many words and a lot of usage. The US, not always, but often keeps the older words, the older forms, and the older usage. So which form is the correct one?

In Old English the verb dive had two forms, altho strongly akin they had slightly sunder uses: the strong, class II form dufan had a past participle of dofen (OE didn't have the letter 'v' so here, f=v ... doven). The strong form was intransitive which is how the verb is mainly used today. From dufan we get dive, dove, doven.

The weak form, dyfan, was transitive (meaning to dip something). Thus dufan/dyfan were like lie/lay, rise/raise, sit/set, and fall/fell. The 'y' in OE was pronounced as ü so you can see the alikeness in pronunciation. From the weak form dyfan we get dive, dived, dived.

In the UK the weak form survived, but with an intransitive meaning, however, American English also keeps the strong form.

Nowadays, dove is also listed as a past participle instead of doven. But to say, "I had dove" requires, to me, an unnatural stop, it just begs for an ending. I have trouble saying, "I had dove" without saying either "doved" or "doven". We know that doved is wrong so I use doven which not only fits the wove, woven pattern but is historically correct from dufan.

We also see this form in other related words. For byspel, from the past participle of the archaic bedive (immerse, submerge, drown) there is also the word bedoven, meaning drenched or drowned. He was bedoven in sweat.

So there it is. Dive is a result of the blending of the usages of dufan and dyfan. For those pedants whose brains must put everything in its own little box, then if you use dive as an intransitive verb then use dive, dove, doven. But for the rest of us, it doesn't matter so much. We can accept that there are two legitimate forms for the past tense.

So use dive, dived, dived or dive, dove, doven without angst!

If you want to have fun ... check out glide. It not only has a weak and a strong form, it has two strong forms! And they're all correct! It would be hard to go wrong with the past tense of glide but yet, even tho it has three past tense forms, it doesn't seem to be controversial.

Snuck is another post ...

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this! My sister used to be a diver, and I'm a somewhat pedantic English major, so this will put some familial controversy to rest, I'm sure.