No matter how long you’ve been speaking English, no matter how hard you’ve worked to perfect your grammar, some past tense verbs can stump you.
For example, the day after you decide to grin and bear it, would you say “I grinned and bore it?” Beared? Born?
That shiny car you saw yesterday, would you say it shined as it drove by? Or it shone?
Would you say you weaved baskets, or that you wove them?
The questions are frightening, but luckily the answers aren’t far out of reach. Dictionaries list past-tense and past participle forms for every irregular verb. So you can always look them up — if you know how.
Here are four verbs with tricky past tenses.
Bear. When your verb has homonyms, its dictionary entry can feel like a maze. When you look up “bear,” for example, you have to skim past all the entries for the animal before you see “bear, verb.” Under that verb entry you’ll see “bore / borne also born / bearing.” This is how dictionaries list past forms for irregular verbs: first the simple past tense, then the past participle, then the progressive participle. That past participle is the one that goes with “have,” “has” or “had.” The progressive participle is the “ing” form. Sometimes you’ll see multiple options listed, which means you can choose. So now you can see that yesterday you grinned and bore it. In the past, you have grinned and borne it. If you prefer, you can even say you have grinned and born it.
Bare. Skim past the adjective form of “bare” in your dictionary and at the verb entry you’ll see just “bared; baring.” There’s no past participle — just the simple past tense and the progressive participle. This is the dictionary’s way of telling you that the simple past tense and the past participle are the same. So you would say, “Yesterday, I bared my soul” and “In the past, I have bared my soul.”
Shine. Some verbs are both transitive and intransitive. Transitive means they take an object: “I’ll shine a light on this subject.” Intransitive means no object: “That high-gloss paint really shines.” In these cases, you have to read the dictionary even more carefully because past tenses for each may be different. At the entry for “shine,” Merriam-Webster’s says the simple past tense can be “shone” or “shined.” Both are fine. The past participle can also be “shone” or “shined.” But you have to skim down to the definition for the transitive verb to see this note: “past tense and past participle: shined.” That means “shined” is the only option when your verb takes an object: Yesterday you shined a light on something. In the past you have shined a light. But if your verb doesn’t take an object, you have two options: The car’s paint job shone or shined. In the past, the car’s paint job has shone or shined.
Weave. This verb also has both transitive and intransitive forms, but there’s no note saying their past tenses are different. So just use the past tense forms listed right after the entry word: “wove or weaved; woven or weaved.” That first pair shows your options for the simple past tense. Yesterday I wove a basket. Yesterday I weaved a basket. Yesterday my car wove in traffic. Yesterday my car weaved in traffic. Those are all fine. For the past participle, you could use “have woven” or “have weaved.” But there’s one catch. Merriam’s has a second definition for “weave.” It’s an intransitive verb meaning “to move waveringly from side to side; sway.” Personally, I don’t see how swaying is so different from the zig-zagging your car does when it weaves, so it’s hard to understand why this “weave” has a separate dictionary entry. But for the record, that “weave” has only one option for the past tense or past participle. In every instance, it’s “weaved.”
— June Casagrande is the author of “The Joy of Syntax: A Simple Guide to All the Grammar You Know You Should Know.” She can be reached at JuneTCN@aol.com.