Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ex-Lax for Verbs

Q. I am writing to find out the difference between sung and sang. I used it to thank someone after they "sung Happy Birthday" the day before. He thought he "sang Happy Birthday." Which was correct? Thanks! Have a great day!

A. "He sang Happy Birthday" is the correct form. This is one of the irregular verbs, and they are notorious for causing problems.

The three principal parts of this verb are sing/ sang/ sung. The second spelling is used for simple past time: "My mother sang me to sleep each night." As a pure verb, the third spelling is used only with the helping verbs have/ has/ had:
  • "I have sung my last song."
  • "She has sung the National Anthem countless times."
  • "Before she had sung the last note, the crowd erupted in applause."
All of this is a trace of how complicated verbs used to be in the English language. Now, aside from roughly two hundred or so frequently used irregular verbs, all verbs simply slap on a -d or -ed (occasionally a -t) to show past time of any kind.

The forms are not always predictable. We have swim/swam/swum, but it’s swing/swung/swung. There is no swang.

If you get confused, help is near:

Visit Mike's web site at


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

Dona Sheehan's prints