The Grammarphobia Blog

“Lighted” vs. “lit” and “dived” vs. “dove”

Q: When I went to school (I am 61 and actually learned how to diagram sentences), I learned the past tense of the verb “to light” was “lighted,” not “lit” and the past tense of “dive” was “dived,” not “dove.” Am I not correct and have not these two wrong conjugations become an integral part of the English language in America?

A: Both “lighted” and “lit” are considered standard past-tense and past-participle forms of the verb “to light.” There’s nothing grammatically wrong with a sentence like “I lit the fire.” This has been the case for a couple of hundred years.

But you’re right about “dived.” It is the predominant (and preferred) form, while “dove,” a more recent development, is still frowned upon by some usage experts. However, “dove” is no longer considered an outright error. It’s become acceptable in the irregular conjugation, along the lines of “drive/drove,” “speak/spoke,” “fling/flung,” and similar verbs (sometimes called “strong” verbs) from Old English.

In this respect, “dove” is an unusual development in English. Usually verb tenses tend to simplify and take on “-ed” endings over time (as in “dance/danced”), instead of going the other way and taking on old Anglo-Saxon endings.