News & views
Past tense sinks in the present imperfect
[6 Oct 2011] There’s trouble afoot – even among journalists – with the past tense of irregular verbs: ‘Charlie Adam, booked for fouling Modric early in the game, sunk his studs in Parker’s thigh’ and ‘There’s no truth in the rumour that a half-French referee who sunk the Welsh ship’s hopes was in the employ of French intelligence.’
So that would be ‘sank’, in both cases, yes? Because, obviously, ‘the ship sank’ (simple past) but ‘the ship has sunk’ (present perfect). The same difficulty arises with the verb ‘to swim’, whose traditional past tenses are ‘I swam’ and ‘I have swum’. So when the Daily Mail says: ‘...water-borne comic David Walliams – who swum through the unmentionable to conquer the unimaginable – emerged triumphant last night after his eight-day Thames marathon.’, they mean ‘who swam’. Walliams himself gladdened the hearts of traditionalists, commenting: ‘I think I’ve just swum the length of the Thames’.
Note to self: should I worry about this, and if so how much? [MC]