Participles fading away... could have saw

McWhorter, the linguist, in today's Times, says the participle is fading. The simple past form is coming to be used in the compound (perfect) constructions. He suggests toleration; a non-normative approach since, obviously, language evolves.

Here are a couple of his examples from educated American speakers:

Once, off the air, I heard a prominent talk show host say, “I wish he could have saw how much people loved him.”

Another recent one was, “She could have went to college with the rest of us, except actually, she went to Bennington.” The person who said that was me (McWhorter!).
Opinion | Are Participles a Thing of the Past?

Are these becoming acceptable to you? Used by you? I find the second example perhaps marginally passable in conversation... maybe!
  • PaulQ

    Senior Member
    English - England
    McWhorter, the linguist, in today's Times, says the participle is fading.
    The world is filled with people saying the old and proper ways are going to hell in a handcart. I can't say that I've noticed this particular atrocity much in spoken BE. In written BE - by which I mean social media - it might be another matter and, depending on which sites you visit, Britian's illiteracy rate can be frightening.

    Here's an example from Facebook: Facebook

    Uncle Jack

    Senior Member
    British English
    I would never use them, but I have been using past participles for at least fifty years, so I am unlikely to change now.

    I haven't noticed the past tense being used as a participle at all, not among educated native speakers of standard English, and I don't detect any changes among this group. I suspect that the distinction is a fairly simple one for native speakers to grasp, since I recall the six-year old son of a friend of mine correcting his own speech when he erroneously used the past tense instead of a past participle, and although he was an intelligent child, I don't think he had particularly remarkable language skills.

    There may well be an influence from "global English", the large number of people who speak English as a second, third or fourth language, whose own native language might not have such a distinction, but even so, the two examples seems very odd to me. If you wanted to simply the perfect infinitive, then using "have" + past tense seems an odd way of going about it, particularly where the past tense has an irregular form.


    Senior Member
    English (US - northeast)
    No. I don't use them, and I don't hear them. Note that both examples are spoken (not written). Mistakes and "new usage" happens first in speech, not writing. It happens much later (or never) in writing.

    But there is a modern "in between". Social media, tweets, and texting. This is often "written speech", writing following the usage of spoken English instead of written English. Texting is literally "typed speech" -- an instantaneous 2-way interaction, using text instead of sound.

    McWhorter devotes an entire TED talk to this concept: that texting is a 3d branch of English, and is developing its own grammar. The YouTube video has the title "John McWhorter: Txtng is killing language. JK!!!"


    Senior Member
    English - US
    Here in the Southeast I hear this type of usage frequently but I was surprised to read McWhorter’s column since he seems to be saying the practice is spreading beyond my region. The people who use it here seem to run the gamut of lower to middle classes.

    Normally I never use it, not being originally from the South, but just last month surprised myself by employing it spontaneously in a text when I was trying to create rapport with a Southern good ole boy that I needed something from.

    Code switching for a cause. 😁