Changing Rules

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

Last week I wrote about the erroneous conjugation of the verb to dive, in which many people use dove for the past tense. I still have not received an answer as to whether or not these same people use diven for the past participle, but I did receive several comments about the fact that dove has been used so commonly that it has been accepted as a correct word for the past tense of to dive.

I grew up in an era when grammar, like manners, had rules, and ignoring the rules of either subject brought correction from parents and teachers alike. Because of that, I tend not to like the those behaviors or word usages that have become acceptable just because they have become so common.

Yes, saying "I dove into the pool" is now generally accepted as correct grammar, so feel free to use it. But don’t expect me to join you. I’m sorry. I can’t make myself, any more than I can make myself split an infinitive, which has also become acceptable just because a lot of people do it.

You may promise to never do something, but I can’t. I must promise never to do whatever it is. Too many years of being hammered by my father and my teachers.

Some others you won’t hear me saying, although they have become generally acceptable, are sunk and shrunk as past tenses. I was taught sink, sank, sunk and shrink, shrank, shrunk, and I can’t get over my background here.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said that a foolish consistency was the hobgoblin of little minds, so I’ll prove that I don’t have a little mind by confessing one with which I flaunt the old rules all the time. I was taught there’s no such word as snuck. The correct past tense of sneak is sneaked. Okay, if I run into any of my old teachers (and they would be REALLY old by now), I’ll say sneaked. But snuck sounds so much more expressive, I think I’ll continue using it. According to this is perfectly acceptable.

So where do we go with all this business of grammar. I intend to continue posting on correct grammatical usage as I was taught back in the frontier days. For normal conversations or for dialogue in your books, feel free to use the modern updates that I consider to be wrong, but for formal writing or public speaking, I still maintain we’d all be better off and communicate more coherently if we follow the tried and true rules.

How do you feel about my calling things incorrect that have come to be accepted in today’s language? What grammatical misuse bothers you? What particular area of grammar would you like help with? I’d love to hear and help.


For more information about David N. Walker, click the "About" tab above.

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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13 Responses to Changing Rules

  1. I think we all have our pet peeves, but I’d much rather know the correct usage. Although at the end of the day I tend to use what sounds good to my ear – especially when I’m writing dialogue.


  2. I admire your dedication to grammar. Sadly, I tend to flout it. Not a lot, just a little. Mostly when I’m writing conversationally and such.


  3. Sharon K. Walker says:

    “Snuck” really makes me bristle: however, I can’t split hairs about splitting infinitives because it sounds more natural to split them.


  4. Emma says:

    I use the word “dove” – sorry, didn’t know it wasn’t correct šŸ™‚


  5. Karlene says:

    Ahh… but we can’t forget that many of our characters didn’t grow up in your era. And therefore we want natural conversation for their dialogue. It would be very strange for a young person of today, who was taught rules of grammar today, and reading current material, and hanging out with their friends etc… to speak in a language of the past.

    Taking this to an extreme would be bring Shakespeare into normal language. And then we have language of our culture. I shot an approach to minimums last week. That might be how a pilot would talk to another pilot. We really didn’t shoot anything with a gun.

    “My daughter dove on her diving team,” Kathryn said.
    “But wait,” Beth said, “I thought she dived on her diving team.”
    “No. She dove many years ago.”
    “But didn’t she dived years ago?”

    I think the problem with “voice” is that we get locked into rules, and we lose the natural voice of the times. Maybe it’s time we all loosen our neckties and learn to be creative. Because many of the rules have changed. I’m so glad you brought this up. Thanks for the great discussion.


    • I definitely agree that dialogue must be tailored to the way that character would really speak. Many of my characters in Fancy speak very poor English, because that’s the way rural people in the 1860s spoke. But in the narrative parts, I still use proper grammar.


      • Karlene says:

        That’s what I try to do too. But what if the dictionary contradicts our lessons of the past? Oh no. Still so confused. šŸ™‚


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