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sprang or sprung?

August 16, 2017

I was reading a news story in The Times yesterday, about a prisoner who escaped from jail by faking illness and losing four stone, when I was brought up short by the following: “ Walmsley, 28, is believed to have fled overseas after two men sprung him from custody…”

What? What did they do?

“They sprung him.”

But surely you mean sprang him?

“Er…”

I don’t mind ordinary people making grammar mistakes in ordinary conversations; but it never ceases to mystify me how professional writers, who earn a living from their facility with words, don’t know simple rules of English grammar. And the culprit, Fiona Hamilton, isn’t just any old hack but the crime editor of The Times. It seems to me that she needs an editor herself.

Spring is not an unusual word and many other verbs follow the same pattern. At the risk of being tedious let me explain. English verbs have a past tense, and also a past participle, which is used in perfect tenses with have/has/had. In most cases the past tense and the past participle are the same (I worked/ I have worked); but there is a large number of irregular verbs which change form (I ate/ I have eaten, I went/ I have gone etc). Now there is a fair-sized group of verbs where the middle vowel changes, and always in the same way: sing/sang/have sung; swim/swam/have swum; ring/rang/have rung; sink/sank/ have sunk; begin/began/have begun; and many more. Spring belongs in this group, as Ms Hamilton jolly well ought to know.

In the same edition of The Times, another report, about a rock-climbing exploit, included the line “attaching a rope… and pulling it taught (sic)”.

Give me strength. Don’t they have sub-editors at The Times? I’d be happy to help. I’d do it for nothing.

P.S. May I bring to your attention my comic fantasy YA novel The Infinite Powers of Adam Gowers – here is the link: https://unbound.com/books/adam-gowers . Go there and you will see a neat little 2-minute video of me explaining why the time for this novel has come! And if you support it you will get your name in the back and an invitation to the launch party.

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3 Comments
  1. Simon Carter permalink

    I think in this instance, of escaping custody, the vernacular wins. Has sprang ever been used in that context?
    No defence for taught though! As an aside is there a reason so many homonyms come in threes?
    Taught,taut,tort. By, bye,buy. Pair, pare, pear. Way, weigh, whey. Pore, poor, pour. Raise, rays, raze. Meet, meet, meat. Write, rite, right.

  2. Simon Carter permalink

    I meant homophones. Of coarse.

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