17 August 2013

dived / dove

What is the past tense of dive? For most people, it is dived, but for a significant minority of people, particularly in the USA, it is dove.

Now, you probably think that dove is an archaic form that has been preserved by a few more conservative speakers. But actually, it is not. Historically, dive was always a regular verb, so this occurrence of dove is in fact an innovation.

This is rather surprising, as we expect verbs to become more regular, not less. For example, brew, chew, shove and suck were all once irregular, but now they all take the usual -ed past tense suffix. So why has dive gone in the opposite direction and become irregular for some speakers?

My guess is that it is by analogy with drive. I suspect that drive became used rather more often in the twentieth century as more and more people owned cars, especially in the USA; and the irregular nature of drive/drove has influenced dive as well. (The only other verb with this -ive/-ove pattern that I think of is strive/strove, but this is such a rare verb that I suspect its influence is less substantial.)

In Brunei, I have never heard dove as the past tense of dive, but maybe it will appear one day. I read today that Brunei has 1 car for every 2.65 people, which makes it the eighth highest rate of car ownership in the world. According to Wikipedia, the highest rate of car ownership is for San Marino, which has more cars than people. (This Wikipedia page lists Brunei at number 36, but maybe those figures are out of date.)

One way or another, people in Brunei have a lot of cars, so presumably the verb drive/drove is used rather regularly in Brunei English, and it is possible that this will provide a stimulus for the adoption of dove as the past tense of dive in Brunei.