The Unsteadiness of ‘Drank’ and ‘Drunk’

In modern manuals, Drink is the past tense of drinkas in “I drank a lot last night” and drunk is the past participle (following “have”), as in “Yes, I have drink wine before.” However, throughout history, these words have been confused and used in contradictory contexts, perhaps due to the association between the word drunk and drunk.

Perhaps sometimes you find yourself saying “I’ve been drinking…” or “I’ve been drinking…” quite reasonably. Or maybe you used drunk more than Drink in the past tense when talking about a great night out or a tea party. Also within the limits of reason. So… when were you grammatically correct?

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Most guides recognize ‘drank’ as the past tense and ‘say’ as the past participle.

I don’t like energy drinks, but I drank espresso in France before events! — Chantae McMillan, quoted in Kitchen PerformanceApril 27, 2017

I need to go to the toilet. I drank a lot of water! If the score is 1-0, I will keep my place! — Mauricio Pochettino, quoted in London Evening StandardDecember 14, 2016

Although technically incorrect, Drink is used as a past participle (the form of the verb is used with To be or Haveas in “I’ve never drank coffee”) is not unheard of in words, and drunk sometimes heard instead Drink as a verb in the past tense (“I have lied before—I drank a cup of coffee once”). Variations of irregular verbs drink has been used erratically for centuries, even in writing.

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The History of ‘Drank’ and ‘Drunk’

According to the established rules for irregular verbs, Drink indicate the past tense and drunk is the past participle. Another similar distortion is resounded And crossbar because ring And sing And sing because sing. The Oxford English Dictionary note, however, that drunk was accepted for use in the past tense from the 16th to the 19th centuries, and English lexicographer Samuel Johnson proposed the past tense drunk as a standard variant of his 1755 English dictionary.

…so we had plenty of meat and drinks (although I don’t drink, despite being strongly urged to do)…. —Samuel Pepys, The Diary of Samuel Pepys1663

… they have long and deep earthen pots, which they use to sink into the ground, to keep the water they drink cool and pleasant…. — Daniel Defoe, The Life, Adventures and Pirates of the Famous Captain Singleton1720

Hot and tired, I comfortably drained the cup he gave me…. — The Duchess of Lemington, Rosina, or, Virtuous Country Maid1827

On the other hand, Drink as a past participle emerged in the 17th century, and it seems to have been in common use in writing throughout the 19th century.

NURSE. Ma’am, it’s lest you drink it before it’s ripe. —Sir John Vanbrugh, Occur again periodically1696

… read somewhere that drinking lots of cold water is good for fever…. — Benjamin Franklin, Memoir1771

Monboddo had dinner with me recently, and after tea we had a good time together…. —James Boswell, letter, February 14, 1777

Tonight; we drank tea…. —Jane Austen, letter, March 2, 1814

… the monster vomited up all the water it had drank, with a force that pushed the canoe away very quickly to the other side. – Mark Twain, Life on Mississippi1883

It is suggested that this replacement of Drink because drunk originated as a way to avoid the association of drunk with drunkenness. Given society’s recent emphasis on ethics, that thinking seems reasonable; however, saying “I drank too much alcohol” does not hide the fact that you have actually done so. However, it seems that the deliberate avoidance of the word continues to this day.

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The authors of early 20th-century notebooks, trying to make irregular verbs uniform in English, thought differently about drunk and prescribe it as just a past participle of drink that should be criticized when used for the past tense.

Correct use of ‘Drank’ and ‘Drunk’

Modern notebooks only recognize drunk is the past participle, so you’ll want to use the past participle Drink and past participle drunk written. use drunk since the past tense is basically dialect and outside of the dialect is considered incorrect.

… I don’t have the money to buy the costume, and I don’t think I can get anything at home, because it’s possible that Dad came back earlier, and took it all from Judge Thatcher and drank it all down. – Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn 1884

Drinkon the other hand, has achieved a degree of acceptance in spoken use.

Another phrase you may have heard is “I was/was too drunk,” like Drunk used to be a past participle of drink. However, since the 17th century it has been mainly used as an adjective and its function as a verb is now considered archaic. Today, Drunk used mainly in an attributive sense, as in “drunk partygoers” or “a drunken brawl” and as a complement to the adjective form of drunk.

Who is in happy hour now?

Categories: Usage Notes

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