Fling, flang, flung

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.’


Category(s): Editing
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3 Responses to Fling, flang, flung

  1. Love it, Margie.
    So delighted to see someone who loves our language using humour to explain its vagaries.

  2. of course, it’s bring, brought, has broughtten …

    I have railed against misuse of sunk, shrunk, and sprung. Without resistance, we’ll lose some wonderful words, as lost as flang, and clang, and slang. And ones barely visible fading into the far distance, like stang, and wrang, and slank. some of it is regional; things not found in many dictionaries are still perfectly acceptable in parts of the former empire. Like rooves and hooves, for instance.

    • Hello Vincent – thank you for the message. I am often tempted to use hooves and rooves; I was castigated the other day for using the word ‘spelt’ (as in spelled). Ah well, can’t win ’em all. I love that the language evolves, but look forward to the demise of the incessant use of ‘like’. I will be happy when it disappears as my pet phrases from my (long ago) teenage years have. Thank you for reading my little bits of stuff.

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