Loose Leaf Journal – February 2015

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That Pesky English


There I was, turning onto my street after work, when the hair on the back of my grammarian neck stood up. Why? A radio news announcer said someone “had went” somewhere.

It’s “had gone,” people.


“Go” is a pesky irregular verb that doesn’t seem to follow any rules when it comes to past tense. “I go, I will go, I went, I have gone, I had gone.” The only time “went” is right is when it is in the past AND there’s no helping verb alongside it.


“See” works the same way. “I see, I will see, I saw, I have seen, I had seen.” Like “went,” “saw” goes walking by itself in the past. If there’s a helper, use “seen.”


Over and over we hear that English makes no sense, that English is a hard language to learn. No doubt it is, but I love it like a mixed breed dog, which I happen to think is the best kind. Part of the complexity of English comes from it being a conglomeration of other diverse languages.


Linguistics is genealogy for words. World languages have family trees just like people. For instance, English started out as an ancient Germanic language. Then Britannia got invaded by the Romans, bringing a huge Latin and Greek influence. Later, when France conquered the Brits, you guessed it, French got added to the mix, which is itself part of the Latin family tree. American English has adopted a lot from another Romance language, Spanish, thanks to our Latino brothers and sisters.

In Elkhart County, as in much of the United States, Native American linguistic influence surrounds us: Wakarusa, Elkhart, Nappanee, for instance. Other county names are evidence of where settlers came from. Bristol, England, predated our Bristol. Middlebury sounds English, too. I’m guessing Millersburg has German roots. Goshen comes from the Hebrew Old Testament. New Paris – well, that one doesn’t take too much to figure out.


Our language might be complex, but it is also rich, because of its diversity, not in spite of it. It’s kind of messy, but then so are human families.


Just please, would you do me a favor? Remember that it’s “had gone,” folks.


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