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While chatting with somebody, I first used haven't eaten, then I thought that it was wrong, and switched to haven't ate.

Apparently, haven't ate is the one which is wrong.

Can someone explain the logic behind this? Verb tenses are still something I confuse a lot.

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  • Even though it is not related to the question but 'I often use have in place of eat', Have you had lunch yet? I will have it later.
    – Max
    Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 6:33
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    Haven't ate is certainly something people say, but it's not Standard English. You might hear it, for example, in AAVE.
    – user230
    Commented Jul 21, 2013 at 4:05
  • If you go to Oald you'll see that the three basic forms are eat/ate/eaten. "ate" is pronounced /et/ in BrE and /eit/ in AmE. You find the basic forms under the headline "verb forms".
    – rogermue
    Commented Oct 3, 2015 at 23:51
  • I have got an Aussie friend and he always says I must have ate something wrong.
    – user31782
    Commented Nov 6, 2018 at 8:06

3 Answers 3

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The principle parts of the verb eat are:

eat     infinitive and present
ate     past
eaten   past participle
eating  present participle

Accordingly, perfect constructions are formed with have + eaten:

I have eaten, you had eaten, he will have eaten, &c

Passive constructions are formed with be + eaten:

We are eaten, you were eaten, they will be eaten, &c

Progressive (continuous) constructions are formed with be + eating:

I am eating, you were eating, she will be eating, &c

You will occasionally hear et for the past, and even for the past participle but in US speech these are strictly non-standard dialect forms.

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  • The pronunciation et for simple past is pretty common in SE UK at least. I don't think of that pronunciation as being "non-standard dialectal" - just when it's used as a past participle, which is much less common (though certainly not uncommon). Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 2:11
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    @FumbleFingers I will correct that. I was under the impression that /et/ had died out of RP in the early years of the 20th century. Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 2:21
  • "We are eaten, you were eaten, they will be eaten" are grammatically correct, but spoken only by people faced with cannibalism or becoming animal food. Thus, "we are eaten" could never be said, except by a ghost. "You were eaten" would involve talking to human remains. "They will be eaten" could be both bad and good news (possibly implies a postponement for us).
    – fixer1234
    Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 19:48
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haven't eaten is correct. This is the present perfect form, which in this case describes an action or state occurring in the present or recent past.
For example:

I have just eaten the salad.
I haven't eaten the sandwich.

On the other hand ate is the simple past form, so a helper verb cannot be used. It describes an action or state that occurred in the past. For example:

I ate the salad.
I kicked the ball.

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Ate is the simple past of the verb to eat, whereas eaten is the past participle.

As you are using the auxiliary have for the present perfect, you are bound to use the past participle. The simple past form is to be used independently for finished actions or situations.

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