Though I have lived in various parts of this great land, I am not sure if this topic is one of regional interest or if it is pervasive throughout the English speaking world, and I am interested in any thoughts on this. Namely, I am curious about the use of the past participle in the simple past tense case.
Take a look at the verb see. This conjugates as see (present tense), saw (past tense), seen (past participle), seeing (present participle). I see the leaves today; I saw the leaves yesterday; I have seen the leaves before (present perfect); I had seen the leaves before (past perfect); and I am seeing the leaves now.
Now, before anyone starts thinking that I am picking on him or her, let me be the first to say that I am seeing this phenomenon in my own household. I can’t blame the local public school system; we are homeschooling our kids. We are the school system. I also can’t attribute it to lack of reading (under the premise that a well read student will inherently speak and write correctly) because my kids have a voracious appetite for reading. Not only that, but they’re not reading junk; they are reading one work of great literature after another. They still get it wrong, sometimes.
Okay, so back to the topic. Recently, from two different events, I heard the word seen used as the past tense of saw. That is, I heard this: I seen it.
Of course, our speech patterns develop in the families and towns and cities where we grow up, and most of us (me included) don’t realize we are in error until somebody points it out to us or we make a conscientious search of our own dialog and writing to grade ourselves, I guess.
The irregular verbs in English — and there are many — can be confusing because they are so, um, irregular. Look at these sets of irregular verbs in their present / past / past participle / present participle forms:
present, past, past participle, present participle
run, ran, run, running
lie, lay, lain, lying
lay, laid, laid, laying
swim, swam, swum, swimming,
bring, brought, brought, bringing
see, saw, seen, seeing
drink, drank, drunk, drinking
We see cases where the past participle is the same as the past tense (laid and laid, brought and brought); we see cases where the past participle is the same as the present tense (run and run); and we see cases where the present, past, and past participles are all different (lie, lay, lain; swim, swam, swum; see, saw, seen; drink, drank, drunk).
Probably the thing to do at some point in your life is to find a list of irregular verbs (those lists are easy to find on the Internet) and go through each one, making sure that what you see is what you have been using.
My kids do not have a problem with see / saw / seen / seeing, but drink / drank / drunk / drinking will get them every time. Specifically, they use the past participle as the past tense (“I drunk it” instead of the correct “I drank it”) and they use the past tense as the past participle (“I have drank it” instead of the correct “I have drunk it”).
How do we get past this? It’s not really a matter of just pointing it out — I’ve tried that, in my role as Grammar Policeman at home. I just need to drill it into the kids more.
That reminds me. I have been developing a set of worksheets that can be used in conjunction with my book, I Laid an Egg on Aunt Ruth’s Head. I’ll add a section on irregular verbs. Look for it soon.