Literal-Minded

Linguistic commentary from a guy who takes things too literally

He Grit His Teeth

Posted by Neal on March 24, 2007

A while back, I wrote about the regular past tense of pet becoming irregular for many people, so that instead of saying petted, they just say pet. In this way, pet extends the pattern exhibited by other monosyllabic verbs ending in -et: let, set, bet. Commenters added that they had heard past tenses of net and sweat formed the same way, with the past-tense form identical to the base form. Broadening out, I pointed out some monosyllabic verbs ending in -t, with vowels other than /&epsilon/ (aka “short E”) in the middle, and identical base and past-tense forms. One of these vowels was /I/ (aka “short I”), and the examples I mentioned were slit and hit; I should also add quit and split. Others have both regular and irregular past-tense forms, including fit, knit, spit, and shit. Well, now it looks like these verbs, like the -/εt/ family, have formed enough of a pattern to attract regular verbs into their orbit. I realized this when I was listening to another episode of “This American Life”, entitled “The Allure of the Mean Friend,” and heard Jonathan Goldstein say:

Jackie turned back around and I grit my teeth, vowing not to let a single cough escape my mouth. (8.52-8.57)

I paid 95 cents for this episode because it was one from the archives, but when I looked for a link to it, I saw that they’re airing it again this week, which means all you lucky readers can download it for free for a few days. (Darn it, I want my 95 cents back!) Anyway, it looks like for Goldstein, the past tense of grit is grit. It hasn’t made it into the Merriam-Webster online dictionary yet, but this speaker isn’t alone: the phrase he grit his teeth gets a small number of Google hits (518); she grit her teeth 5820 Google hits. By comparison, he gritted his teeth gets 37,200 hits; she gritted her teeth, 21,700.

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One Response to “He Grit His Teeth”

  1. […] one, on the past tense of irregular verbs like pet, because I’ve written about this topic a few times. (Incidentally, I guess I shouldn’t complain about the use of the word blog to refer to […]

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