Q: A recent editorial in the Washington Post says many of Donald Trump’s “rivals have strove to mimic him.” Shouldn’t that be “have striven”?
A: “Strove” or “strived” is the past tense of the verb “strive.” The past participle (used with forms of “have”) is “striven” or “strived.”
So the Post’s editorial writers should have said Trump’s rivals “have striven” or “have strived” to mimic him.
Although the use of “strove” as a past participle has been around for several hundred years, it’s not considered standard English today.
As the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “strove” appeared as a past participle “in the 17th cent., and remained somewhat common down to the middle of the 19th cent., but is now confined to illiterate use.”
The OED compares this use of “strove” to “stroven,” which appeared as a past participle in the 16th and 17th centuries. (The dictionary’s last citation for “stroven” is from the early 1600s.)
When the verb “strive” showed up in Middle English in the 13th century, it meant to be in a state of hostility.
The English word was adapted from the Old French estriver (to quarrel or contend). The OED says the French verb is “of disputed origin,” but it’s “commonly believed to be of Germanic etymology.”
The OED has a questionable citation for the verb from the Ancrene Riwle (circa 1225), an anonymous guide for monastic women. The earliest definite example is a 1297 entry in The Chronicle of Robert of Gloucester: “he striuede wiþ his wiue” (“he strived with his wife”).
Meanwhile, “strive” took on the sense of to contend or carry on a conflict. The OED’s earliest example, dated around 1290, is from The South English Legendary, a Middle English collection of writings about biblical and other religious figures:
“And striuede for holi churche aȝen þe kinge and his” (“And strived for holy church against the king and his”).
The verb took on its usual modern sense (to endeavor or exert much energy) in the 14th century. The earliest Oxford example is from the the Wycliffe Bible of 1384, an English translation from Latin:
“And therfore we stryuen [L. contendimus] whether absent, whether present, for to plese him.”
As for those two past tenses, “strove” appeared somewhat earlier than “strived,” according to the OED, but “strived” would “be normal for a verb adopted < French, and has always been more frequent of the two.”
In Google searches, however, “he strove” appears three times as often as “he strived.” The six standard dictionaries we’ve checked include both past tenses, though “strove” is always listed first.