Bas Aarts

Preterites as past participles

In this paper I investigate a phenomenon that involves the use of the past tense forms of irregular verbs in lieu of past participles, as in the attested examples below:

(1) Jenny: Ooh, I don’t mind the chicken one. Lee: I’ve ate that. (Gogglebox, tv programme, 2021)
(2) Luckily the first boy had swam away from where the debris fell. (BBC News website, 9 July 2018)

The construction has been referred to as ‘preterite to past participle shift’ (Lass 1994), as ‘past for perfect’ (Wolfram 2003: 146), and as ‘past tense spreading’ (Geeraert and Newman 2015: 11). I will argue that these labels are unsatisfactory for a number of reasons, and will use the term ‘preterite as past participle’ (PaPP) instead.

I will first briefly discuss the long history of the PaPP construction in English, and will then investigate its use for a large number of verbs which differ in frequency in one of the megacorpora of English, namely the iWeb Corpus (Davies 2018–).

One of the findings of this research confirms Geeraert and Newman’s claim (2015) that the less frequent participles are more likely to be replaced by past tense forms. I will explore the hypothesis that as the distance between the auxiliary ‘have’ and the past participle increases, the chance of PaPP becomes greater. The hypothesis is confirmed by the finding that PaPP is more likely when the verbal sequence contains a negative element (e.g. ‘has not took’), adverb (e.g. ‘has probably took’) or more than one verb, especially a modal verb (e.g. ‘will have took’).


  • Davies, Mark (2018–) The 14 Billion Word iWeb Corpus.
  • Geeraert, Kristina and John Newman (2015) ‘I haven’t drank in weeks: the use of past tense forms as past participles in English corpora’. In: John Newman, Harald Baayen and Sally Rice (eds.), Corpus-based studies in language use, language learning, and language documentation. Leiden: Brill. 11-33.
  • Lass, Roger (1994) ‘Proliferation and option-cutting: the strong verb in the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries’. In: Dieter Stein and Ingrid Tieken-Boon van Ostade (eds.) 1993. Towards a standard English: 1600-1800. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. 81-113.
  • Wolfram, Walt (2003) ‘Enclave dialect communities in the south’. In: Stephen J. Nagle & Sara L. Sanders (eds.) English in the southern United States. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 141-158.

Bas Aarts is Professor of English Linguistics and Director of the Survey of English Usage at UCL. His publications include: Syntactic gradience (2007, OUP), Oxford modern English grammar (2011, OUP), The English verb phrase (edited with J. Close, G. Leech and S. Wallis, 2013, CUP), The Oxford dictionary of English grammar (edited with S. Chalker and E. Weiner, 2nd edition, 2014, OUP), How to teach grammar (with I. Cushing and R. Hudson, 2019, OUP), The Oxford handbook of English grammar (edited with J. Bowie and G. Popova, 2020, OUP), the Handbook of English Linguistics (edited with A. McMahon and L. Hinrichs, 2nd edition, 2021, Wiley) as well as book chapters and articles in journals. He is a founding editor of the journal English Language and Linguistics (CUP).

More information: