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A quick dive into ‘dived’ vs ‘dove’

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Written by Stan Carey

Reading the Simpsons comic book story ‘The End of El Barto’, I came across an interesting question of grammar, of all things. Chief Wiggum is narrating the story in melodramatic fashion, and describes falling into a puddle of mud: ‘Suddenly, the world turned upside-down. A black pool opened at my feet, and I dove in – or is that dived in?’

Good question! Chief Wiggum is not the first person to be unsure of whether to use dived or dove as the past tense of dive. So which is right? Or does it depend on where you are?

Historically, dive was a weak verb, so its past tense was dived. Dove is a relative newcomer, probably formed by analogy with drivedrove or strive–strove. The OED’s first citation is from 1855, in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha: ‘Straight into the river Kwasind Plunged as if he were an otter, Dove as if he were a beaver.’ In later editions Dove became Dived, perhaps under editorial influence.

Dove hung on, though, and soon spread to other dialects, especially in North America. Macmillan Dictionary labels it American, and includes both dove and dived as options in its American definition. As Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage notes, the use of dove ‘is really governed by geography rather than by social class or notions of correctness’. The word’s omission from Fowler’s Modern English Usage, first and second editions, may have helped it slip under critics’ radar.

Personal preference enters the picture. So does house style: the AP Stylebook favours the more regular dived, as does the Chicago Manual of Style: ‘The form dove, though common in certain regions and possibly on the rise, has not traditionally been considered good form.’

There’s no ‘possibly’ about it – dove is definitely on the up. Like snuck, which featured in another Simpsons comic, dove is an emerging strong verb, bucking the usual pattern of regularization. Using Google’s Ngram Viewer to compare I dived and I dove, We dived and We dove, etc., we see dove on the rise in each case. In some dialects it has overtaken dived.

So while dove is quite new to the set of irregular English verbs, it is a popular choice and can be considered standard. Depending on where you are, a few people may consider dove or dived to be wrong or just a bit strange, but you can use either word. You can even alternate to suit your mood. Just make sure you pronounce dove /dəʊv/, to rhyme with ‘rove’ or ‘cove’. If you pronounce it /dʌv/, to rhyme with ‘love’ or ‘shove’, you won’t get any peace.

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About the author


Stan Carey

Stan Carey is a freelance editor, proofreader and writer from the west of Ireland. Trained as a scientist and TEFL teacher, he writes about language, words, books and more on Sentence first, Macmillan Dictionary Blog and elsewhere. He tweets at @StanCarey.


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