Grammar Moses: Regular or irregular ... it's up to you

Updated 3/11/2023 5:01 PM

My wife spends her slumbers dreaming up ways to solve complex problems.

I merely dream up situations from which I cannot extricate myself and ridiculous scenarios involving work.


We both wake up exhausted, but at least her dreams are productive. Her sleep-borne solutions actually work in waking life.

She woke the other day and ask me whether she "dreamed" something or "dreamt" it.

She also wanted to know whether it was better to say someone "leaped" or "leapt."

Those who watch a lot of BBC mysteries on Acorn likely prefer "dreamt" and "leapt," because they are chiefly British irregular verb forms.

But you don't need a British passport to use them. Both forms are perfectly acceptable on this side of the Atlantic.

Just for yucks, I plugged "dreamed" and "dreamt" into Google's American English Ngram Viewer (yes, it's not just an all-in-one!) and compared that to their prevalence in the British English corpus of books.

As you probably expected, "dreamed" is the runaway favorite in the U.S.

In Britain, "dreamed" still dominates, but the divide is much narrower.

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Going further down the rabbit hole, I compared the common phrase "I would never have dreamt" to "I would never have dreamed."

In British English, there are several periods over the past two centuries in which the "dreamt" phrase is more common than the "dreamed" version. In American English, "dreamed" wins out, but the difference is slim.

Just when I thought I'd seen an undeniable pattern here, I tried the same thing with "leapt" and "leaped."

In American English, "leapt to a conclusion" is more popular than "leaped to a conclusion."

In British English, the opposite is true.

Knock me over with a feather.

The truly maddening thing about English is its lack of consistency. But then without that you wouldn't be reading this column.


Homophone or not?

Reader Jack LeVan took issue with a recent column in which I called "incidence" and "incidents" homophones.

"Your admitted fondness for homophones has you hearing them when they should not have been said," he wrote. "If you sever the first two syllables shared by the subject words of your column you would be left with single syllables that ought not be pronounced identically. 'Incidence' leaves what sounds like a word, spelled slightly differently, that my kids often used to describe their old man. 'Incidents' becomes what I find in my car door after buying a few things at the grocery. Over articulate and note the position of the tip of your tongue."

The position of one's tongue notwithstanding, I challenged Jack to listen to a lineup of 10 people randomly saying either "incidents" and "incidence" and tell me who is saying which word.

I do understand his point. However, unless you halt and aspirate that T in "incidents" (think of the sound you'd make to mimic the sound of striking a cymbal) it all sounds the same.

I'll call it an "informal homophone" or a "lazy homophone" then.

Write carefully!

• Jim Baumann is vice president/executive editor of the Daily Herald. You can buy Jim's book, "Grammar Moses: A humorous guide to grammar and usage," at Write him at and put "Grammar Moses" in the subject line. You also can friend or follow Jim at

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