Talky Tuesday: Beware the -Ides of… words

English is a tricky beast, especially when it comes to verb conjugations. At least a lot of irregular conjugations in other languages happen for reasons of pronunciation — for example, a Spanish verb like conocer, in which the second “C” is pronounced like an “S”, changes to “conozco” in first person present in order to preserve the “S” sound. Slipping the Z in there turns the word into “ko-NOS-ko.” Otherwise, it would be “ko-NO-ko,” which just sounds wrong.

In English, since our spelling is all over the place, that never seems to be the driving force behind why a verb may suddenly become completely irregular.

Now, some of our main irregulars are common to every language. The words for “to be” and “to go” are pretty much a hot mess in any tongue, probably because they are very common. So while there’s neither rhyme no reason to I am, you are, he/she/it is, they are, you (all) are, we are, and even less to a change across tenses like I go, I went, I am going, I have gone, and so on, at least these words are equally strange in English, Spanish, German, French, and so on, and so on.

But it occurred to me recently that there are certain groups of English words that have no consistency in conjugation because, while their infinitives might be spelled the same, they act very differently once we move into the preterite and present perfect.

Today, I’ll just be looking at infinitives that end in –ide, of which I have 29 examples. Out of that total, 19 are completely regular, seven are completely irregular, two of them are mixed, and one of them goes both ways.

The regular infinitives are: to betide, to bide, to blindside, to broadside, to coincide, to collide, to confide, to divide, to elide, to glide, to misguide, to preside, to pride, to provide, to reside, to side, to subdivide, to subside, and to tide.

In each case, both the preterite and present perfect are formed completely regularly, by adding a “D” to the end of each: bided, blindsided, broadsided, etc. Sometimes, this will add an extra syllable to the word, although in a lot of cases it doesn’t. Instead, the original verb just winds up with a T-sound.

For example, watch and snatch become watched and snatched, but are pronounced more like “watcht” and “snatcht.” Likewise, catch becomes… caught.

There’s that inconsistent English irregularity again. Speaking of which, let’s move on to the seven completely irregular –ide verbs: to backslide, to bestride, to hide, to override, to ride, to slide, and to stride.

These can be broken down even further, because there are several ways they can be irregular. In the preterite, they can either be shortened, so that instead of adding the –d, the terminal e is dropped and the “i” becomes a short vowel. For example, to “backslide” becomes “backslid” and not “backslided.” Backslide, slide, and hide all work this way.

The other four change their internal vowel completely, from an “i” to an “o.” For example, to bestride becomes “bestrode.” This seems to be a common feature of most infinitives that end in “–ride”, so bestride, override, ride, and stride all fit this pattern for the preterite.

As for the present perfect, two of the verbs also use the shortened form, so that backslide and slide also become backslid and slid. Meanwhile, all of the others do something strange. They double the letter “D” and add an “N.” For example, to hide becomes hidden.

This is the case for not only to hide, but to bestride, to override, to ride, and to stride; hidden, bestridden, overridden, ridden, stridden.

The oddballs are to chide and deride, because they sort of fall out of any of the above patterns. You might think that “to chide” would follow “to hide” and become “chid” and “chidden,” but it doesn’t. In fact, it’s usually normal in both forms — chided. The present perfect can also be chidden, but this is not the preferred form.

Incidentally, never conjugate “to chide” as “chode,” because that means something entirely different in English, can also be spelled “choad.” It’s a noun, not a verb, and one that you wouldn’t want to bring up at a family dinner.

As for “to deride,” its past participle is not “derode,” but “derided,” while its present perfect is… deridden.

The remaining oddball is “to abide,” which can be either “abided” or “abode,” but there’s a catch. Abided is preferred for the preterite, while abode is preferred for the present perfect.

Weird, right? So how did this happen? Well, it all comes from the concept of strong and weak verbs. In this case, the ones that just add the –d are the weak ones. Meanwhile, the strong ones have some sort of internal change in the vowels.

Blame this on Old English, which still survives in the modern language even after its been used and abused by French, Germanic, Nordic, Romance, and pretty much every other tongue its ever met. The good news is that most English verbs are weak. The bad news is that you can really only master the strong ones by memorizing them, because there are no hard and fast rules.

But that’s how English works. Enjoy!