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Friday, April 12, 2013

If the past tense of "teach" is "taught", why isn't the past tense of "reach" "raught"?

I don't know about you, but in the last few months I've noticed a sudden upsurge in the use of the phrasal verb "reach out". It used to be that reaching out had some kind of emotional connotations; either you reached out for help or you reached out to help someone. But more recently it seems to be just a synonym of "contact". In one recent TV program I heard it used at least four times to mean "make a phone call" (or I suppose it could also have potentially covered  "send a text or email to").  I do not know where this is coming from. Have you noticed it too?

Meanwhile, the noun "outreach" in the sense "The activity of an organization in making contact and fostering relations with people unconnected with it, esp. for the purpose of support or education and for increasing awareness of the organization's aims or message" is older than you probably think, with the first evidence dating from 1899. However, this noun certainly increased in frequency quite dramatically starting in the 1960s.

Here's an interesting piece of trivia about the verb "reach". Originally its past tense and past participle were "raught" (analogous to "teach" and "taught"). But in the Middle Ages the verb became regular. For a while "teached" also tried to supplant "taught" but "taught" proved more resilient than "raught". 

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  1. What about words like preach, leach, breech did they ever appear as praught etc?


  2. Preach was never an Anglo-Saxon word so it didn't have an irregular conjugation. We got it from the Norman French "precher", a squished-down version of the Latin praedicare (to proclaim publically) and then its spelling was changed by analogy with words like reach and teach.
    The origin of "leach" is obscure. "Breach" has been used as a verb only since the 1800s, formed on the noun "breach" meaning "a break". Verbs formed like this, and at such a late date, are always regular.

    1. I LOVE your website. I can easily "lose" an hour on the bunny trails that appear. I am fascinated with the ins and outs of our language. As an ESL teacher, I am often confronted with the "why" of the seeming exceptions, such as these. Knowing some etymology helps us see that they are not truly exceptions (although that doesn't always help my students deal with the irregularities)

  3. The inconsistency of various past tenses of the word "teach" is but one of millions of head-scratchers now in or entering our language. We use to "take a look." Now TV reporters ask us to "take a listen." I'm guessing we will soon be not only "drawing a conclusion" but "drawing and opinion" as well.

    I blame Wolf Blitzer for accelerating this language creation frenzy we are "enjoying." During the original Gulf War in 1990, he indicated he didn't have many details on the subject about which he was reporting, but he was "efforting" to learn more. I am conclusioning that there will soon be no hard and fast rules in languaging.

    1. A phrase was common among language literate computer engineers when I was in college in the mid- and late 80s: "All nouns can be verbed." It now seems to be a trend.

    2. using nouns as verbs and verbs as nouns is not a new trend. It has been going on in English for centuries. See this post https://katherinebarber.blogspot.ca/2010/09/verbs-its-ok-to-do-this-really.html


About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.