The other day I heard—on our national broadcaster no less—a young news presenter (journalist? I hope not) say: ‘The ship sunk…’ I ground my teeth in despair. Pedantry: I am thy faithful follower (more or less).
So I thought I’d write about some of those tricky verbs and try to help make them clearer. I’m only skimming the surface of the meanings so there’s a lot missing regarding alternative uses of the words.
Sink, sank, sunk
According to my Collins (this time) Australian Dictionary ‘sink’ (I’m not talking about the kitchen sink) is a verb meaning to descend or cause to descend, especially beneath the surface of a liquid. It’s the present tense of the verb. ‘Sank’ is the past tense of sink, and ‘sunk’ is a past participle of sink. Don’t you wish you’d been taught grammar?
So we should say: ‘See that ship out there? Watch it sink! Oh no, it’s gone; it sank. Do you think it was sunk?’
The ship was sinking (yep, another part of speech, an intransitive verb—maybe I’d better talk about transitive and intransitive verbs in another article…). So they watched it sink, or they watched as it sank. Where the verb ‘sunk’ comes in is if someone did something to the ship (or us if we are sunk by being caught out doing something we oughtn’t). It’s the past participle of an irregular verb…
Want the good news? Most verbs are regular and we just add ‘ed’ to the word to indicate past (dined, climbed, washed, etc). Bad news: you just have to learn the others, those pesky irregular verbs.
Drink, drank, drunk
The same dictionary describes ‘drink’ as a verb (present tense), meaning to swallow liquid, among other meanings. ‘Drank’ is the past tense of the verb, whereas ‘drunk’ means to be intoxicated with alcohol.
‘See that man? Watch him drink! Oh no, it’s gone; he drank it too fast. Do you think he will be drunk?’ (Yes, politically incorrect, it could just as easily have been a woman.)
The word ‘drinking’ is, if you remember the above, the intransitive verb. That means they watched him drink, and as he drank. You can extrapolate the rest!
Fling, flang, flung
Yep, there is no such word as ‘flang’—I only stuck it in because it seemed a good word to play with. (That’s what you do when you love ‘em.) ‘Fling’, as a verb, and according to the handy volume, means to throw something, especially with force or abandon. ‘Flung’ means that something has been cast aside. If you are ‘flinging’ something you are in the middle of doing it.
After I’d heard the young lady misuse the word ‘sunk’, I nearly wrote about bring, brang, brung. But you know that’s incorrect, don’t you?
‘Mummy, I brang you this flower.’
‘Darling, that’s just lovely, thank you, but that’s not quite how you say it.’
‘Okay, I brung you it then.’