Sunday, September 16, 2012

Dreamed vs. Dreamt: Both are Perfectly Dreamy

I woke up this morning, grabbed some coffee, jumped on Twitter and found @KKHaviland's shout out for yesterday's post on swam vs. swum. She asks: Can you do 'dream'?

Why, I'd be delighted to! Dream is one of those verbs that trips us up because it's not quite like other verbs. It's a regular verb that can also be an irregular verb.

Regular verbs make up the vast majority of verbs in the English language. They are the easiest for us to get right. In the past tense, we simply add 'ed' to the word to form the past participle. I talk to her. I talked to her. I had talked to her.

Irregular verbs don't follow the pattern. We see and hear some irregular verbs so often that we instinctively get them right. I run to school. I ran to school. I have run to school. I buy pizza for lunch. I bought pizza for lunch. I have bought pizza for lunch.

But other irregular verbs can give us grief, as seen in yesterday's post. I swim. I swam. I have swum.

In the United States, we can certainly think of dream as a regular verb. I dream of graduation day. I dreamed of graduation day. I have dreamed of graduation day. These sentences are perfectly fine.

So what about dreamt? We hear that, too. Who dreamt that up? I dreamt I was walking through a meadow. Dreamt is also perfectly acceptable.

Dreamed is more common in American English, but we can go ahead and use dreamt if we like. And dreamt is more prevalent in British English—which is why we're more likely to hear it in the rest of the English-speaking world, from London to Ottawa to Perth to Dublin. The good news is that either word is acceptable, no matter where you live.

Heads up: This American/British variation also applies for other verbs, such as 'learn'. I learnt that in school. American teachers may shudder, but that would be A-okay in England.

Quick rules:
  • It's okay to think of dream is a regular verb. In the present tense: I dream in black and white.
  • Dreamed and dreamt are both acceptable as participles in the past tense. I dreamed in black and white. I dreamt in black and white.
  • Dreamed and dreamt are both acceptable as participles in the past perfect tense, which must be preceded by 'has', 'have', or 'had'. I have dreamed in black and white. I have dreamt in black and white.



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