Verbs with a past tense already built in

While the roast(ed) potatoes are in the oven, the Monitor’s language columnist ponders some irregularities and oddities of verbs.

Larry Crowe/AP
A potato peeler is used while making Rosemary Roasted Potatoes from Rozanne Gold's 'Kids Cook 1-2-3.'

Playing host this past Thanksgiving seems to have brought me out of the culinary rut I’d been in for longer than I want to admit. I’ve been inventorying items from the remotest corners of my kitchen cabinets, and finding and trying new recipes – including one for “Roasted Fingerling Potatoes with Fresh Herbs and Garlic.”

Once these were in the oven, my grammatical curiosity took over: “Why not simply ‘roast’ potatoes?” After all, Charles Lamb’s famous 1822 essay was “A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig,” not roasted.

Roast is indisputably correct as an adjective, and roasted is likewise correct as the past tense (“he roasted”) and past participle (“she had roasted”) of the verb. So either form would have been correct in either of our two examples.

From my position as a lay observer, I note a tendency for words we use all the time to become irregular in their grammatical form. Take the plain old verb to be: Try to get through a day without it. But how does an English language learner cope with “I am,” “you are,” and “he is,” except by memorization?

Conversely, there is a tendency for words we use less frequently to become regularized. That means opting for the more regular-looking “ed” form of roast. And that explains all the weather reports we’ve been hearing this winter telling how much snow is “forecasted” for this weekend. The past of forecast, and the past participle, too, are simply forecast. This verb has its past tense built in. 

But quite a number of dictionaries recognize the “ed” forms as variants, and these forms seem to be gaining ground. A Google Books Ngram Viewer of “forecast” versus “forecasted” doesn’t provide a fair comparison, because “forecast” has so many different uses, but forecasted is clearly on the rise. It glides along the bottom of the chart until about 1960, when the fever line rises like a levitating snake. The chart also shows forecast taking a notable dip in 1980, presumably as forecasted began to displace it.

Something similar may be going on with strive. It comes from French, and so it would normally be “regular,” with strived and strived as its past tense and past participle. Ah, but rhyming association with drive, a so-called strong verb (of Germanic origin, conjugated drove and driven), led to strove and striven becoming the standard forms, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary.

More recently, though, the wind has shifted again. People are “regularizing” strive. (This may happen because the verb is used so disproportionately in the present: “We strive every day.”) But several dictionaries offer strived as an alternative to both strove and striven. Again, an Ngram Viewer provides an imperfect comparison, but it shows strived achieving liftoff from the baseline of the chart, even as striven shows a breathtakingly steep downward line. I wouldn’t want to ski down that slope.

And so how much snow is “forecasted” for this weekend? I’m not sure, but I’ll check – after I finish off my “roasted” potatoes.

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