Have went?

Several people in the attitudes survey I have been carrying out commented in their texts that they often hear have went and even see it written down sometimes. These people are all teachers, all in their late fifties, early sixties, but there was also one writer who said that she regularly used have went herself, and even at times preferred it to have gone because to her it means something different. This person, too, was a teacher, and one who is under thirty. All writers are American.

This is very interesting indeed: does it mean that have went is becoming more common, and is developing a different meaning from have gone? Could it be that this is a development taking place in American rather than British English?

If you google for have went, you get many hits to usage fora where the issue is discussed, such as one that is called englishforums.com. But what I’d like to know is if it is an issue that has been discussed in any printed usage guides already, or whether it is a new feature.

Read Viktorija’s comment on this post, and fill in the web poll on have went: Thanks!


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4 Responses to Have went?

  1. vkostadinova says:

    The irregular use of past tense and past participle forms was apparently quite common in the days of Noah Webster. In Part II of his ‘Institute’ he writes that “no auxiliaries can with propriety be joined with the past time. The expressions, I have wrote, I have bore, I have began, I have drove, &c. which are so much in vogue, are shocking improprieties.” Furthermore, “the most unlettered Englishman would laugh to hear another say, he has went, or it will be gave; and yet, I have wrote, have drove &c. which are quite so improper, have become so familiar to our ears”. (Quoted in Finegan’s ‘Attitudes toward English Usage’, 1980:39).

    I am not sure why Webster thought that Englishmen would find these expressions strange, when Lowth also talked about the merging and chaotic use of past tense and past participle forms, which he noticed in some of the most notable writers. Finegan mentions this earlier in his book by quoting Lowth: “This general inclination and tendency of the language, seems to have given occasion to the introduction of a very great Corruption; by which the form of the Past Tense is confounded with that of the Participle in these verbs.”

    Not yet sure if this issue is further discussed in more recent usage guides, but if it is still encountered in use today, it is certainly an interesting case of the fact that certain disputed usage items remain in use – and for quite a long time as well! – contrary to (strong) prescriptive tendencies.

  2. I’m surprised that most poll respondents evidently consider “have went” to be completely unacceptable, because the proper usage of strong verbs seems to be going the way of the dinosaurs, even in public discourse. It’s as if the typical native (American) speaker of English is incapable of handling more than one form of a verb for referring to the past. So sink/sank/sunk becomes sink/sunk/sunk, and similarly with the other “ing” or “ink” verbs. Another variation is the disappearing use of the participle, so we now hear eat/ate/ate and, especially irritatingly, run/ran/ran and come/came/came. And it’s not just among the educationally disadvantaged; I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve heard college-educated native speakers do this. About a month ago I heard an NPR staffer on “All Things Considered” say “have ate”. This used to be limited to ages six and under; now it’s typical discourse among adults.

    Does our obsession with youth lie at the root of this? Is it possible that a 50-year-old senior programmer analyst hopes that he’ll be mistaken for a teenager if he says the process has “been ran”? Well, on the phone it might work for him….Arrrrrghggh!

    Is it possible for anti-prescriptivism to go too far? Linguists are descriptive by nature, but the grammar that is taught–or should be–taught in schools might alternatively be called the rules of communication. Rules are necessary if we are to understand each other. In spite of the anti-prescriptivists, not everything anybody has ever said is good grammar or good usage.

    • Oh, heaven forbid that we cross the final frontier… again…

      Read what vkostadinova wrote. Especially the Noah Webster quote, which sounds a lot like you. Also, the bit about “merging and chaotic use of past tense”. In the 18th century. Think about it.

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