Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fell a Tree or Fall a Tree?


Norman wrote, “Can you provide some clarity on the use of 'fall' and 'fell' with regards to cutting down a tree?  Many folks say, I'm going to fell a tree.  On the other hand, some say, I'm going to fall a tree.  Thanks for any insight that you can provide me.”

The proper form is "fell a tree." Fall is not supposed to take an object. Its principal parts are fall. fell, fallen.

  • A tree fell in the forest.
  • The tree has fallen.
  • The regime fell to the revolutionaries.
The principal parts of fell (a separate verb) are fell, felled, and felling. That verb does take an object, and it has two meanings:

  • (1) To cause to fall by striking; to cut or knock down: to fell a tree / to fell an opponent in boxing. 
  • (2) To kill: President Kennedy was felled by an assassin's bullet.

It wasn’t part of Nortman’s question, but fell as an adjective means fierce, deadly, and ruthless. When a bird of prey suddenly drops down on its prey and snatches it up, it kills in one fell swoop.


Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition

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