I am confused about the usage of "had" along with "forget". Let's take some serious example.

People usually took bath in rivers. Now, they've changed their tradition. I mean, they're bathing in their home, wasting a lot of water.

I want to say this using "forget". When I think of it, it usually comes to me like this:

The humans had forgot the rivers.

I'm also confused with this phrase. Is this right? Or instead does forgotten play a role? As it has already happened in the past, how can I phrase it? Any alternative choice that I can use here in order to avoid my confusion?

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    In today's Standard English, forgot is the simple past form, forgotten the past participle. See the NGram and remarks at the end of @FumbleFingers' answer. Since you're talking about today, what you want is the present perfect People have forgotten the rivers. Mar 30, 2013 at 16:48

2 Answers 2


You can use "forgot" or "have forgotten", but not normally "had forgot" or "forgotten" by itself.

Forgot is usually used to indicate an instance of forgetfulness, for example:

I forgot to do my homework last night.

Joe forgot to set his alarm clock on Tuesday.

On the other hand, forgotten refers to being in a state of forgetfulness (particularly an ongoing one) - and hence always goes with an auxiliary verb; normally have:

I have forgotten how to speak French.

We have forgotten the ways of our ancestors.

In your specific instance, you probably want to use the word forgotten, because you want to say that the not only did we forget, but that the forgetfulness is ongoing. Consequently:

Humans have forgotten the rivers

  • Nice answer Matt. It makes much sense. Thanks... I'm also happy that someone understood my question. I'm too bad in English ;-) Mar 30, 2013 at 14:29

OP won't be surprised to know his example isn't well-expressed English. Better might be, perhaps,

People used to bathe in rivers. Now, they've changed their tradition - they're bathing in their homes, wasting a lot of water.

It's possible to say "The humans had forgotten the rivers" as a loose corollary/restatement of the above, but we wouldn't normally use the word humans like that unless it was in a context where humans were at least implicitly distinguished from non-humans (i.e. - extraterrestrial or fantasy beings, or animals).

But even then, using the verb to forget is rather florid/poetical/metaphoric - they haven't forgotten [that the rivers exist]; they just don't bathe in them any more. Personally, for most contexts I'd prefer...

"The people had forsaken the rivers" (OED: forsake = to abandon, leave entirely, withdraw from)

Regarding had forgot/had forgotten, it's worth pointing out that the former is now considered "non-standard", only occurring in dialectal or casual speech (the relevant OED entry for to forget says *Past participle forgotten /-ˈɡɒt(ə)n/ , (arch. and poet.) forgot /-ˈɡɒt/). Here's a chart to illustrate the shift....

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  • Oops... Sorry for that. Okay, I guess You got me there. BTW, you're right that I'm a way too bad in English ;-) Mar 30, 2013 at 15:32
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    @Crazy Buddy: No need to apologise (if everyone who came to ELL had perfect command of English, they wouldn't be here asking questions in the first place, would they? :) Mar 30, 2013 at 15:40
  • I have a further question. If I read "The people had forgotten the rivers", I expect that another sentence follows, something like "but now there is a river-bathing movement growing up". I would have used "have forgotten" or "forgot". Why the past perfect?
    – mau
    Mar 30, 2013 at 15:55
  • @mau: There's no particular reason to "expect another sentence" at all after past perfect, and certainly no reason to expect that sentence should somehow "contrast" with whatever was previously said. We don't have the rest of the context to know why OP might have wanted past perfect - but since he did use it, I just kept to that form myself. Besides, the truth is that many people who are quite happy to use the past participle forsaken wouldn't be quite so keen on the somewhat dated/literary simple past forsook. Mar 30, 2013 at 16:04
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    @mau Perfect constructions always relate the time of the event they describe to some other time ('Reference time'). A present perfect construction relates the event to the present, to the time of speaking or writing ('Speech time'), so it doesn't usually have to be pinned down. But a past perfect relates the event to some other point in the past, and I think that's what you're missing: At such-and-such time people had forgotten the rivers. Mar 30, 2013 at 16:43

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