The spelling of verbs change depending on the tense in use

The computer can be annoying, especially when you know you have the spelling of a word right but it keeps prompting you to change it. Sometimes, we end up with documents full of typos because we unconsciously click on an underlined word and pick the computer suggestion.

This can be attributed to a clash between the two versions of English; British and American, both bearing different spellingsof certain words.

Thus, when you want to write ‘revolutionise’, the computer might prompt you to write ‘revolutionize’.

The difference here is minor, hardly recognisable, but there are some verbs that might get distorted at the point one makes reference to their past tenses or present participles.  

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Situations that could lead to distortion are avoidable if we remember that the spellings of verbs change depending on the tense employed.

When we add letters ‘ed’ to the most basic form of the verb, which is the infinitive, we create the past tense. When we add ‘ing’ to the infinitive, we get the present participle of the word in use.

Note, however, in some instances this is not always the case as shall be shown.

With the verbs cook, work, back, blunder and ask, one need not do more than simply add ‘ed’ to form the past tense(cooked, worked, backed , blundered, asked) or add ‘ing’ for the present participle; cooking, working, blundering, asking).

The explanation

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However, this rule does not work with verbs that end with a silent ‘e’ as in smile, like, move. With such verbs, for one to form the past tense, the silent ‘e’ must be removed before adding ‘ed’. For example, ‘smil-ed’ (not smileed) and smil-ing(not smileing).

There is an element of confusion in relation to this rule where the verb ‘singe’ (which means to burn or sear) is concerned.

Singe would lose its meaning if the silent ‘e’ were to be removed in order to create a present participle.

As such, for the word ‘singe’ to retain the original meaning, its present participle becomes ‘singeing’ (retaining the ‘e’) while the past tense follows the rule, demanding the removal of letter ‘e’ as already shown.

The explanation for this is that there has to be a clear distinction  between ‘singeing’ (burning) and ‘singing’ (crooning). Should the rule demanding removal of the silent ‘e’ apply to all verbs, we would end up with ‘singing’ as the present participle for both ‘singe’ and ‘sing’.

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In cases where the verb has an ‘ee’ ending as in free,  ‘oe’ as in tiptoe or ‘ye’ as in eye, the letter ‘e’ is not dropped when forming a present participle; freeing, tiptoeing, eyeing. But to form the past participle, the ‘e’ must be dropped; freed, tiptoed and eyed.

Second consonant

Where verbs have a vowel sound and letter ‘l’ at the end, such as equal, travel, swivel and distil, the requirement is that one adds another letter ‘l’ to form the past tense; equalled, travelled, swivelled, distilled.

In pronouncing the verbs ‘commit’, ‘refer’ and ‘admit’, the stress is at the end. In such cases, the rule is that the second consonant be doubled before the addition of ‘ed’ or ‘ing’ to form the past tense and present participle; committed, referred, admitted, committing, referring, and admitting.

Notably, it is with such verbs that a computer whose language preference has been set to American English will mess up a user whose preference is British English.

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There are some organisations whose preference for writing reports is either American or British English.

You can therefore imagine the impression managers have of a staff member who uses both versions in the same document.

Those in the media understand this demand better because each media house has a house style (guide), which all journalists must adhere to.

Where reporters in the field fail to observe such rules, sub editors and editors are left with the burden of having to make numerous corrections, a time consuming exercise that increases the possibility of having embarrassing errors in the final newspaper print.

If a verb ends with letter ‘c’,  the letter ‘k’ must be added to the word before going on to add either ‘ed’ for the past tense or ‘ing’ for the present participle. Such words include; traffic, mimic, and panic (trafficked, mimicked, panicked, trafficking, mimicking, and panicking).

Mr Chagema is a correspondent at The [email protected]

EnglishVerbsSpellings