H.L. Mencken > The American Language > Subject Index > Page 285
H.L. Mencken (1880–1956).  The American Language.  1921.

Page 285
them tooken, as in “little A1 might of tooken sick.” 60 Hadden is also met with, as in “I would of hadden.” But the majority of preterites remain unchanged. Lardner’s baseball player never writes “I have written” or “I have wroten,” but always “I have wrote.” And in the same way he always writes, “I have did, ate, went, drank, rode, ran, saw, sang, woke and stole.” Sometimes the simple form of the verb persists through all tenses. This is usually the case, for example, with to give. I have noted “I give” both as present and as preterite, and “I have give,” and even “I had give.” But even here “I have gave” offers rivalry to “I have give,” and usage is not settled. So, too, with to come. “I have come” and “I have came” seem to be almost equally favored, with the former supported by pedagogical admonition and the latter by the spirit of the language.
  Whatever the true cause of the substitution of the preterite for the perfect participle, it seems to be a tendency inherent in English, and during the age of Elizabeth it showed itself even in the most formal speech. An examination of any play of Shakespeare’s will show many such forms as “I have wrote.” “I am mistook” and “he has rode.” In several cases this transfer for the preterite has survived. “I have stood,” for example, is now perfectly correct English, but before 1550 the form was “I have stonden.” To hold and to sit belong to the same class; their original perfect participles were not held and sat, but holden and sitten. These survived the movement toward the formalization of the language which began with the eighteenth century, but scores of other such misplaced preterites were driven out. One of the last to go was wrote, which persisted until near the end of the century. 61 Paradoxically enough, the very purists who performed the purging showed a preference for got (though not forgot), and it survives in correct English today in the preterite-present form, as in “I have got,” whereas in American, both vulgar and polite, the elder and more regular gotten is often used. In the polite speech gotten indicates a distinction between a completed action and a continuing action—between obtaining and possessing. “I have gotten what I came for” is correct, and so is “I have got a house.” In the vulgar speech much the same distinction
Note 60.  You Know Me Al, p. 180; see also p. 122. [back]
Note 61.  Cf. Lounsbury: History of the English Language, pp. 393 ff. [back]


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