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January 16, 2000 - Grammar Lady: Irregular Verbs - 2002-02-01

INTRO: Today VOA Wordmasters Rosanne Skirble and Avi Arditti introduce us to Grammar Lady.

RS: Mary Bruder is a woman on a mission. She calls herself Grammar Lady. Her goal: to help bring grammar back into people's lives.

AA: Mary Bruder has taught English and English as a Foreign Language. She says it bothers her that many schools in the United States and Canada no longer teach the rules of grammar.

RS: So now there's a place where people who don't know their participles from their apostrophes can turn. They can call Grammar Lady on the telephone hotline she operates from her home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

AA: Mary Bruder also writes a column for the local newspaper. And, she's on the Internet: she runs, a Web site that gets 300-thousand visits a month.

RS: For speakers of English-as-a-foreign- language, she says, one of the most common grammatical mistakes is incorrect usage of irregular past tense verbs.


"As the language has changed over the years, most of the verbs in English have a regular pattern. For example, with the verb `live,' you say, `I live in Pittsburgh now.' `I lived in Pittsburgh last year.' And, `I have lived in Pittsburgh for twenty years.' That's the regular pattern and most of the verbs in English have changed over to that. But there are some quite popular verbs like `go,' that didn't change. And so we have three forms of that verb: Go, `I go to church every week.' `I went to church last week.' And, `I have gone to church every week. So you have `go, went and gone.'

RS: Grammar Lady Mary Bruder puts "speak," "spoke," and "spoken" and "do," "did" and "done" into the same category of verbs with three forms.

AA: But, she says some irregular verbs adapt to a more regular pattern over time. Take the past tense of the word "dream."


BRUDER: "I grew up saying `dreamt.' But we could check for an age changing: Rosanne, what do you say for the past tense of dream?"

RS: "`Dreamt,' I'm in your league."

BRUDER: "What do you say, Avi?"

AA: "I say `dreamed.'"

BRUDER: "OK. This is not wrong. A lot of the forms are in usage and they are both correct and acceptable. A lot of the changes we find happen over generations."

RS: In other words, younger people are learning to say "today I dream," "yesterday I dreamed," and "I have dreamed" -- just like any other verb. Mary Bruder cites the media as one source of change in the past tense of verbs.


"Here's one that has changed because of popular culture, and I'm not sure that we will ever get it back again. (The verb) is shrink. The past is `shrank' and the past participle is `shrunk.' But, that movie a few years ago -- `Honey I Shrunk the Kids'-- used it in error and now everyone is confused about that one."

AA: That movie title should have been, "Honey I Shrank the Kids."

RS: Or, "Honey, I Have Shrunk the Kids."

AA: Grammar Lady says the only way to learn irregular verbs is to memorize them - and she says the easiest way to do that is to learn them in groups that follow similar patterns.


"For example, if you have a verb like `make,' the past is `made' and the past participle is `made.' You only have two things to remember. Verbs like `make' are 'teach': `teach,' `taught,' `taught'; `buy': `buy,' `bought,' `bought.' So, there's a bunch of those in that particular category. Then there are ones where all three parts are the same. And, that's like `shut,' `I shut the door now.' `I shut the door yesterday.' `I have shut the door.' Those are easy to remember if you remember them as a group. Then there are the truly irregular ones where all three parts are different."

AA: "All new verbs, I have heard it said, are regular."

BRUDER: "Yes, all the new verbs will have the -ed ending and the -ed past participle."

RS: "That's good news!"

BRUDER: "Yes!"

AA: Grammar Lady Mary Bruder will join us each month to answer some of your questions about American English.

RS: You can write to her at her Web site, Don't forget to tell her you heard her here on Wordmaster.

AA: Or you can send us your questions. Our e- mail address is

RS: And, our postal address is VOA Wordmaster, Washington, DC 20237 USA. That's a new ZIP code. Keep those postcards and letters coming!

AA: Next week on Wordmaster, learn more about irregular past tense verbs from a scientist and author who has written a whole book about them!

RS:With Avi Arditti, I'm Rosanne Skirble.

MUSIC:"Verb: That's What's Happening"/Schoolhouse Rock