The Opposite of Span

The ship sunk.

No. It didn’t. In modern usage, the ship sank.
Similarly, no shirt shrunk in the wash and no-one ever shrunk from anything. In both cases they shrank.

This is almost the reverse of the case of span (see a previous annoyances post) except that rather than being full past tenses (preterites,) sunk and shrunk are now, in the main, used as participles and, unlike span, have no other function or meaning.

Sunk and shrunk ought to be accompanied by was/were (or perhaps is/are.) Grammatically they occur in the passive mood (or mode.)
“The ship was sunk”€ – done to the ship; passive.
Compare that with, “€œthe ship sank”€ -€“ done by the ship; active.

We are sunk is a metaphorical expression, but it is still passive.

I can’€™t see why there should be any difficulty here but there is a similar confusion with sung/sang, sprung/sprang and rung/rang. You hear it all the time. I can only assume people who employ the words this way have a tin ear.

For the record, sang, sprang and rang are active; sung, sprung and rung are participles.

Amusingly (to me) the Guardian published one of its famous corrections (it appears in the column’s last paragraph) about one of the subjects of this post on Saturday.


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