For a language that is the lingua franca – and I’m aware of the irony of using that term – of the business world, and most of the tourist world, English is a tad tricky at times. Actually it’s a lot tricky. With a ton of irregular verbs and more heteronyms than you can shake a stick at, it’s no wonder people for whom it’s a second language struggle from time to time.

It’s not that much different for people using it as their first language. Take some of the irregular verbs and their past tenses. We’re talking run-ran-run, drink-drank- drunk, ring-rang-rung. One’s for the present tense, one’s for the simple past – or Aorist if you love your classical Greek – and one’s for the perfect tense, as in I have done something.

From time to time you’ll hear among native English speakers phrases like “I rung him already,” or “I’ve already rang him.”

The way to remember it is this: simple past is generally the ‘a’ word. I ran round the block. I rang Paul yesterday. We drank to her health. When you’ve got the word ‘have’ in there, it throws it ‘back’ farther to the ‘u’ word.  I have rung the changes. We have run a mile. He would have drunk more if he’d stayed.

Of course, the other way to avoid getting it wrong it to take the wonderfully circuitous route favoured by the Irish: I’m after ringing him. I’m after drinking a toast.  Marvellous.

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