For a paper I’m giving in January at the Leiden conference The Effects of Prescriptivism in Language History, I decided to look at strong verbs, or rather at the larger category of irregular verbs. Two questions for our readers: how many strong or irregular verbs are there in the English language? Perhaps there is not an answer to this, even though it is a closed class. But what about this one: which of these would be discussed most frequently in English usage guides and why?
One small clue (since I’ve finished my analysis): it is none of the verbs in the Snakes & Ladders image.
Is the most commonly discussed irregular verb “to be”?
No, it isn’t! Try again?
How about something that would be discussed because of the differences between British and American English? ‘Dived/dove’ and ‘sneaked/snuck’ spring to mind.
Right, well done! Both are discussed, but neither of them is the most frequent one.
I’m going to guess lie/lay/lain.
And the winner is: Jonathan! But what made you guess this verb?
I just figured that with most irregular verbs, all there is to say is “the correct form is x, not y.” But with lie, there’s the whole issue of confusion with lay.