Q. "My boss insisted on using the word 'strived' in a letter he wrote to an important client. I researched the word at a library, and everyone there said the past tense of 'strive' is 'strove.' Which is correct: 'strived' or 'strove'?" — George, Memphis, Tennessee
A. You clearly STROVE to find the correct choice, and now you know my preference. But the answer is a little more complicated than that.
English verbs are divided into regular verbs and irregular verbs. Regular verbs form their past tenses by adding an ending (usually "-ed"), as in "walked," "carried" and "hobbled." They're sometimes called "weak verbs" because they rely on a suffix to form their past tenses.
By contrast, irregular verbs, of which there are almost 200 in English, form their past tenses by changing the spellings of their roots, as in "throw/threw," "catch, caught," "steal, stole," "strike, struck" and "swing, swung" (which are all, come to think of it, associated with baseball). These irregular verbs are sometimes called "strong verbs" because they form their past tenses without relying on an ending.
During recent decades, however, some of these strong verbs have stopped going to the gym, so they've been losing their muscle mass and becoming weak verbs. The strong verbs "leap," "dive" and "kneel," for instance, which traditionally have had the past tense forms "leapt," "dove" and "knelt," are increasingly being treated as weak verbs by using the past tenses "leaped," "kneeled" and "dived."
Like these verbs, "strive" currently can have two past tense forms. I say "currently" because 1) so many irregular verbs seem to be related to water ("dove," "swam," "sunk," "drank") and 2) the acceptability of irregular or regular verb forms is always shifting with the currents.
"Strive" is now making the transition from being a strong verb to being a weak verb, caught between the bases, as it were, and that's the cause of this confusion. So, we have a choice between using its irregular past tense "strove" or its regular past tense "strived."
If your boss, for instance, wants to affect a more formal tone with a client, "strove" is the word to use. But if an informal, casual tone is preferred, he should strive for "strived."
Choosing the past tenses of verbs is tricky. A while back, a big flap arose when a play-by-play radio announcer said a batter "flew out" to center field (instead of "flied out"). The big flap? That was the sound of the batter's wings as he strove/strived to gain altitude.
Rob Kyff, a teacher and writer in West Hartford, Connecticut, invites your language sightings. Send your reports of misuse and abuse, as well as examples of good writing, via email to [email protected] or by regular mail to Rob Kyff, Creators Syndicate, 737 3rd Street, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254.
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