The Grammarphobia Blog

Does “daresay” have a past?

Q: My dictionary doesn’t have a past tense for “daresay.” Is it “daresaid”? Or “daresayed”? Or perhaps even “daredsay”? I daresay you’ll have an answer.

A: We haven’t found any standard dictionaries that list a past tense for “daresay,” a compound verb that means to think very likely or to suppose.

In fact, many dictionaries specifically say that “daresay” is generally used in the first-person singular present tense (“I daresay”).

However, the Oxford English Dictionary notes that “some dialects make the past daresaid, darsayed, dessayed.” The term is “durst say” in the OED’s only past-tense example:

“La Fleur … told me he had a letter in his pocket … which, he durst say, would suit the occasion” (from A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy, a 1768 novel by Laurence Sterne).

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage cites a more recent example of the past tense—using “daresayed”—from a Sylvia Townsend Warner story published in the New Yorker in 1954:

“Philip, a courteous guest, daresayed that the hourglass was timed to town eggs—puny specimens.”

Despite that example and the one in the OED, the usage guide says, “This compound verb is used in the first person singular of the present tense. It has hardly ever  been used otherwise.”

We’ve written before on our blog about the first part in the compound verb, “dare,” including posts in 2008 and 2009 on the regional or dialectal usages “durst,” “dast,” and “dasn’t.”

As for the verb “daresay,” the editors of the M-W manual say the term can be written as either “daresay” or “dare say,” but they add that “our evidence shows the one-word styling slightly more common.”

The OED says “dare say” (it uses two words) can mean to venture to assert or to assume as probable. The dictionary has examples of the first usage dating from the 1300s and of the second from the 1700s.

The verb is in the present tense in the dictionary’s earliest citation, from a Middle English translation (circa 1350)of Guillaume de Palerme, a French poem written around 1200:

I dar seie & soþliche do proue, sche schal weld at wille more gold þan ȝe siluer” (“I dare say and truly do prove she shall wield at will more gold than silver”).

We’ll end with a more recent example, from an essay by the author Daniel Mendelsohn in the Oct. 8, 2013, issue of the New York Times Book Review:

“Tone is everything. A novel in which characters say ‘I daresay’ is galaxies apart from one in which characters say ‘I kinda think.’ ”

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