I came across this sentence in a textbook called Reading Explorer (Level 2, 3rd edition, page 31) published by National Geographic. I think the verb here should be the past form "sang" instead of p.p. "sung". I hope this can be justified and if not, why is the past participle used here?

The sentence is as follows and an original picture is also attached.

"The research revealed that only 2 percent of male sparrows sung a different song from the standard tune."

Enter image description here

  • 8
    You're right. That's probably a typographical error. Mar 30 at 14:51
  • 1
    I think it is a typo. By the way, in educated AmE speech, this is a mistake, Especially in writing. Songs sung by male sparrows accounted for [etc]. I'd guess a typo.
    – Lambie
    Mar 30 at 18:44
  • I would actually expect "sing" as it should be on-going, not simply in the past. There is no reason to believe that sparrows that used to sing the standard tune would cease doing so, and little more reason to expect non-standard birds to switch to the standard. Mar 31 at 23:58
  • @SoronelHaetir past tense is common in reporting on research results, and seems perfectly normal. The study only captured a moment in time. Anyway, by the time of publication the sparrows themselves may be in the past, never mind their songs (they're pretty short lived)
    – Chris H
    Apr 1 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


Depending on how much you trust a quick Ngram search, sang is about 30 times more common than sung as the simple past form. But sung is very much still valid; all three definitions of sing given by TFD list it as an alternative form.

This usage isn't informal or uneducated, as some commenters have suggested; you can find countless attestations in formal contexts.

You can find it in The New York Times:

Alex Turner, from the Arctic Monkeys, found ways to distance himself from the teenage culture he sung about

In The Guardian:

Covering Low’s songs Silver Rider and Monkey on his next album, he sung the latter with Patty Griffin, which created its own story.

In The Economist:

the song they sung most often was nothing patriotic, but a lullaby in the Kumamoto dialect

In The Atlantic:

The piece they sung was that in which occur the lines [...]

In The Washington Post:

And it was that latter sentiment with which Franklin so mournfully sung that day [...] She sung the opening lines [...]

In Financial Times:

Meanwhile, he sung the praises of Amazon, Netflix’s newest competitor

In The Independent:

That is exactly what the UK showed Trump, and Theresa May, as we sung against everything they stand for.


He didn’t make the competition, but he did become a meme, inspiring numerous parodies, including spoofs by Jimmy Fallon—who sung it as Neil Young—[...]

Conclusion: there are no grounds for calling this usage of sung mistaken, nonstandard, or dialectal.

Edit: In case anyone thinks this usage is a recent innovation, Webster's 1828 dictionary also lists both "sung" and "sang" as valid "preterit tense" forms, but "sung" as the only valid "participle passive" form.

  • 5
    Perhaps not nonstandard, but it is fair to say – as evidenced by comments on this very page – that it is frequently stigmatised by speakers. For a non-native speaker, I’d say best practice is still to stick with sang as the past tense, but recognise that sung is likely to be heard. Mar 31 at 10:34
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Sometimes the variation, and hence the stigma, is regional; for example sprang is rarer in the US today than in the UK. Other verbs besides sing to examine for historical variation in past inflections, all either originally or ᴇᴠᴇɴᴛᴜᴀʟʟʏ strong Class Ⅲ verbs, include cling, clink, drink, fling, ring, shrink, sink, sling, slink, spring, stink, swing, wring. But bing, ding, link, kink, ping, wing, zing are ᴍᴏꜱᴛʟʏ all too new to admit strong forms, while wink, blink, bring, think have their own tales.
    – tchrist
    Mar 31 at 17:32
  • @tchrist A strong past-tense form for wink would be particularly interesting! Mar 31 at 17:58
  • 1
    I'm not a native speaker, so I'm not adding an answer myself, but I always thought sang would be used in sentences like he sang this nice song and sung would be used in sentences like the song sung by him was nice Apr 1 at 14:59
  • 1
    @GuilhermeTaffarelBergamin In the former case, sang is much more common, but some speakers might use "He sung this nice song" instead.
    – alphabet
    Apr 1 at 15:01

In American English dictionaries, e.g. Merriam-Webster, "sung" is listed as an alternative to "sang" for the past tense. Wiktionary marks it as "archaic or dialectal" as a simple past verb.

Personally (as an AmE speaker), the quoted passage sounds dialectal. It may well be a typo.

  • 1
    Not in formal writing or in educated speech.
    – Lambie
    Mar 30 at 18:45
  • 1
    Interesting. To me sang and sung sound equally acceptable, but Ngram suggests that sang is much, much more common as the simple past form. That said, many dictionaries list both; TfD has it in all three definitions of sing.
    – alphabet
    Mar 30 at 22:52
  • 1
    @LukeSawczak I certainly wouldn't say "I seen him," but I might say "He sung for hours." Dictionaries list "sung" as an alternate simple past form of "sing"; they don't list "seen" as a simple past form of "saw," since the latter is clearly nonstandard.
    – alphabet
    Mar 31 at 3:29
  • 1
    @Lambie Sing is a strong Class Ⅲ verb whose normal past was sung in the 1600s and 1700s, variously either sang or sung in the 1800s, and much, much more commonly but not utterly invariably sang in the 1900s through today.
    – tchrist
    Mar 31 at 17:38
  • 2
    @Lambie If all those recent examples cited above from The New York Times, from the Washington Post, and from TIME magazine are "mistakes" in your eye, then I can see that you have a lot of letters to write those publishers detailing the error in their ways. How 'bout you go do that and then let us know how that works out for you?
    – tchrist
    Apr 1 at 14:19

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .