English language Etymology Grammar Linguistics Uncategorized Usage

‘Lighted’/ ‘lit’ and ‘dived’/ ‘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 standard past-tense and past-participle forms of the verb “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.

Although “dived” is the traditional past tense and past participle of the verb “dive,” American dictionaries now also accept “dove” as standard. (British dictionaries prefer “dived.”)

In the US, “dove” has 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.

The “dove” past tense first appeared in the mid-19th century. The earliest citation in the Oxford English Dictionary is from Longfellow’s poem “The Song of Hiawatha” (1855):

“Straight into the river Kwasind / Plunged as if he were an otter, / Dove as if he were a beaver.”

(Note: This post was updated on April 14, 2023.)

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