Support First Things by turning your adblocker off or by making a  donation. Thanks!

Why do we say, “John goes to the pawn shop today,” but “John  went  to the pawn shop yesterday?”  Where does that come from?

Word of the Day German doesn’t have it. In the Krautic tongue, people say  ich gehe, I go,  and  ich ginge, I went.  The past  ginge  is in the same corral with the present  gehe.  So what happened to us?

Our Old English verb  gan, to go, to walk,  had two past tenses, depending on where you were and what century it was. One was based on a completely different verb:  ic ga, I go;  but  ic eode, I went.  That  eode  seems to be a kissin’ cousin of the Latin ire,  to go: cf.  exit: he goes out.  There was also a very old “reduplicative” past, common in Latin and Greek, rare in German, and almost entirely vanished from English:  ic gengde, I g-go-ed, I went.  Somewhere along the line people stopped understanding  eode,  because there wasn’t a present for it. It had been a bad boy that year—sorry. So they borrowed a past form  from another verb.  The verb  wend  was sauntering along, minding its own business, when the Linguistic Authorities whistled, “Hey kid, come over here. You got a past tense on you?”  He did:  went.  Compare with  send, sent; lend, lent; bend, bent.

Comments are visible to subscribers only. Log in or subscribe to join the conversation.



Filter First Thoughts Posts

Related Articles