ENGLISCH/913: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (191) Double-"T" (SB)


191. Where did the double-T come from?

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

My name is Sin and I am from Taiwan. I have a question regarding the verb "to write". It is written with only one "t", but the past participle "written" is written with double-"t". Why is this so?


Sin B (Taiwan)


Dear Mr B

To tell you the truth, there is no specific grammar rule for irregular verbs like "to write" (wrote, written). So I think if you are looking for an explanation, you probably need to look for regular verbs whose past tense and past participle form end in "ed".

In these cases the spelling rule says if the verb ends in a hard consonant sound in English, for example a "t", we double up the last consonant in the past tense and in the past participle.

Let's think of a verb like "to spot", meaning to see something in the distance like "I spotted a car in the distance", which ends in the hard consonant "t"-sound.

"Spot" in it's present tense or infinitive form only has one "t" at the end, and when we make it past, we double up the "t", "spotted". The same happens to the past participle: "I have/had spotted" and the present participle: "spotting".

Another example is "to trot" (the accelerated pace of an animal, faster than walking): A horse had trotted along the road, before it trotted into the stable, considering that trotting is quite an acceptable pace.

"Trot" follows the same spelling rule, because of the hard consonant sound at the end.

Now, I think what is happening with "write" is, even though it is an irregular verb and is using the fairly old-fashioned past participle form "written", I think it is still following this rule, to double up the hard consonant, if you use it in one of the past tense forms (present or past perfect).

There are other examples of irregular verbs that follow the same pattern:

bite - bit - bitten

beget - begot - begotten

forget - forgot - forgotten

get - got - gotten

smite - smote - smitten

forbid - forbade - forbidden

This might be an explanation but it is not a spelling rule and you cannot use it on every verb with a hard ending.

Hoping that this helps you with your written English,


Miranda Gobbledygook

16 July 2012