City University of Hong Kong CLASS CLASS
Making Sense of Grammar
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asked Nov 22, 2022 in Questions about English Grammar by hopoon4 (280 points) | 329 views

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In the history of English, the majority of irregular verbs that we are using now were regular. People needed to apply different rules to change the form of different verbs. However, irregular verbs are created because most of them are still following the historical conjugation systems. Conjugation refers to different changes of verb to express tense or person. For example, the word ‘they’ is followed by ‘are’ while ‘he’ is followed by ‘is’ in the verb ‘be’.

The reasons why most of the irregular verbs are still following the historical conjugation systems are due to the frequency of usage and redundant changes. For the frequency of usage, according to EnglishClub, an online website that helps people to learn English, introduced that the Old English appeared around 450-110 AD. As Late Modern English is developed based on Modern English, and Modern English is developed based on Old English. Most of the irregular verbs that we are using nowadays are high frequency verbs, for example, ‘ate’, ‘thought’, or ‘caught’. The forms of different verbs are reinforced regularly by people in different eras. However, the changes were made around the historical conjugation systems as they get the strength of being high frequency verbs. For less frequent words, they cannot be reinforced enough to resist the changes. Therefore, some of the verbs are in regular form, for example, ‘called’, ‘played’, or ‘packed’ while others are in irregular form. Moreover, for redundant changes, some of the verbs are keeping the base form in the usage of past tense and perfect tense, for example, ‘hit’, ‘read’, or ‘cut’. What it means by redundant change is that when -ed is added to some of the verbs, it sounds to similar that people think it is redundant to do so, such as ‘hitted’, ‘readed’, ‘cutted’. Also, when some of the verbs that are too frequently used, the verbs may lose some sounds due to how people pronoun it, for example, ‘haved’ can be shortened to ‘had’ and ‘maked’ can be shorten to ‘made’.

Therefore, the frequency of usage and redundant changes are the main reasons that why irregular verbs appear based on the history of English.

When we were still memorizing different verb forms in primary school, it is easy for us to misspell the simple past form and the past participle form. This is because English to most of us is a second language. Language transfer exists when we are learning a different language which is known as cross-language influence. There are two types of language transfer: positive transfer and negative transfer. For positive transfer, it refers to the similarity between the first language and the second language can help someone to learn the second language. However, in this case, there is negative transfer instead of positive. Negative transfer refers to the interference of the mother tongue cannot help someone to learn the second language or even hinder the learning process. This is the reason why it is easy for people who are learning English to misspell different verbs. The difference between Cantonese and English is that in Cantonese we use aspect marker while tense marker is being used in English. There is no tense marker in Cantonese. For example, we use ‘咗’ to express the activity that happened in Cantonese. In English, we use the simple past form to replace the simple present form of the verb to express the past activity. As every verb can add “咗” to describe the past activity in Cantonese while there is no variant in Cantonese verbs. Therefore, when Cantonese native speakers are learning English, they tend to add -ed to all verbs instead of recognizing the irregular forms.

answered Nov 22, 2022 by hopoon4 (280 points)

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