Monday 4 March 2013

Go, Went, Wend and Gaed

Repost because my computer isn't working.

Let us wend our irregular way to an odd leftover of grammar. The English verb go declines as: go, goes, went, gone. Or at least that's what you're taught in school; but it's a goddam lie.

The verb go looks terribly irregular. What's that W word doing between the Gs of go and gone? The etymological truth, though, is that went is a completely different verb.

Once upon a thousand years ago there was the present tense go and the past tense gaed*. Then there was another, separate, verb: wend. We still use wend in the phrase to wend your way.

Just as the past tense of send is sent, so the past participle of wend became went. So in the past tense you went your way.

And then something very odd happened. People stopped using gaed as the past tense of go and pretty much stopped using the present tense of wend. This left modern English with go and went, which became so universally used for motion that they appear to be one irregular verb, which effectively, they now are.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I must wend.

An old game of go is therefore a went.

*But mainly in the North. There was another past tense - eode - in Old English, but that too appears to be a separate derivation.


  1. All I know is that after I go, it is obvious that I went.

  2. Old English: gangan -to go; old Norse derivation - Ganga or gange can't remember which; Current North East and Durham dialect - "where ya gannen?""Am gannen yam""Divent gan".
    Wise Tutor of Old English at very good university to young Northern student intimidated by peers speaking queen's English: "do not be afraid to speak with your true voice. You speak English true in both accent and dialect." Words I have lived by.

  3. I think you mean it IS CONJUGATED, not it DECLINES, don't you? Though, even that sounds strange. Declination is usually not to do with verbs. Right?

    1. @Julian: You stand correct. Verbs are conjugated, nouns are declined in languages where applicable. For us a bit strange, but the i-adjectives are conjugated in Japanese, they have a past tense ie. oishii (delicious), oishikatta (was delicious).

  4. Isn't it declension, and not declination?