More geeky language stuff

British English tends to have more irregular forms than American English (learnt vs learned, spelt vs. spelled, etc.) so why don’t we say “ust” instead of “used”?

Comments (8)

  1. Mike Walsh says:

    Learnt and Spelt look regular enough to me …

    It is using "Loose" when you mean "lose" (or was it the other way round?) that is irregular not to speak of the terrible "Me bad".

  2. RichB says:

    "Write Us" – what’s that about then?

  3. Peter Torr says:

    Mike: The "irregular" means it doesn’t follow the "regular" rule of adding "ed" on the end. See for example:

    Using "loose" instead of "lose" would just be a mistake :-).

  4. Peter Torr says:

    Rich: No idea 🙂 It always irks me when I hear people say that.

    Perhaps even more annoying is "Do you want to come with?" or "Let’s go with" or any number of other possibilities where the pronoun "me" or "them" etc. is omitted.

  5. Mike Dunn says:

    Regarding "ust" vs. "used" – you need to separate pronunciation from spelling. You can’t use spelling to justify pronunciation rules, and definitely not in English (eg, why do the Brits say "lifftenant"?)

    The rule for the regular past tense suffix is it’s [d] after voiced sounds, [t] after voiceless. Since "use" ends in a voiced sound — [z] — the ending is [d]. So to answer your question, we don’t say "ust" because by the language rules, "ust" is illegal. Just like you can’t write "int x const = 0" in C because "const" is illegal in that position.

    Now, if you mean "used" as in "I used to like soccer" then that _is_ pronounced with a [t] because the final consonant in that word is voiceless — [s].
    </linguistics_lesson> 😉

  6. Mike Dimmick says:

    That’s _lefftenant_.

    No, I have no idea why, probably just so it didn’t sound like French 😉

    Another example: why "kernel" and not "colonel" with all the l’s pronounced?

  7. Eric Lippert says:

    "Colonel" comes to English via French "coronel", via Italian "colonnel", meaning "the guy in charge of one column of soldiers". The French and Italian pronunciations and spellings duked it out for a few centuries in English, and when the smoke cleared in the 17th century, English ended up with the Italian spelling (almost) pronounced the French way (almost).

  8. Kathleen McGrath says:

    If "ust" is illegal because the [z] is voiced, then "learnt" and "spelt" are illegal (and maybe they should be 🙂 ) because the endings [n] and [l] are also voiced sounds. Maybe it has more to do with sounds that are nasal ([m], [n]) and laterals [l]; or sounds that don’t have a voiceless counterpart. Most of the irregular verbs that can take a t/ed end with these sounds: learned/learnt, spelled/spelt, spilled/spilt, dreamed/dreamt, burned/burnt