“Off-the-wall questions” edition.
Both these questions came to me by way of Kizz, who is a stalwart supporter of Grammar Wednesdays in that she very often supplies some really good material (and for that, I am grateful):
What, if any, are the differences between dreamed and dreamt, and spilled and spilt?
I went on a quest to see if I could come up with the answers to those questions, but came up with a whole lot of nothing. I suspect that the forms are simply older versions of the past tenses of their respective verbs, and that their usage in modern language is mostly a matter of preference. Just to be sure, though, I emailed my husband’s sister, who’s been living in England for upwards of twenty-five years, to see what light she might be able to shed on the topic. Here’s what she said:
Dreamt/spilt are used less and less, they come from the late 1500s (Shakespeare for eg) as they scanned better than the two syllable version. They are still in OU dictionary of course, mostly used as past tense or in sayings such as ‘spilt milk’. I don’t really know what is done in schools anymore as both boys haven’t done anything remotely close to English since [the youngest] was 17!!
So, there you have it.
Kizz, who reads a lot of fanfic – the writers of which have a less-than-stellar command of the nuances of the English language – also wondered about whether the saying is “wreck havoc” or “wreak havoc.” She didn’t trust herself in thinking that the way she was seeing it – as “wreck” – was wrong because she’d seen it SO many times, and can that many people all be wrong?!
The answer is yes, they can be and, more to the point, they are. Wreck (which is pronounced “reck”), when used as a verb, means to cause the destruction or ruin of something. Wreak , pronounced as “reek,” is a verb which means to inflict, execute, or carry out. “Wrecking havoc” means, literally, ruining havoc, and that makes no sense.
Lastly, I wanted to clear up the difference between “born” and “borne.” I was in an employee meeting last night at my health club, and was handed a sheet explaining what to do about “blood born pathogens.” Sometimes, it’s really hard to be an uptight English teacher.
Both born and borne are the past tense of the verb “to bear” which means, among many other things, to carry or bring. Born is used mostly as regards the delivery of babies. Borne relates to everything else.