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Why is the past tense of "quit" not "quitted?" Same for "hit" and "hitted?" It's clearly not just words that end in "t", because "rot" becomes "rotted."

Are words that end in -it the same in the past and present tenses? Or is there some other rule? Or no rule at all?

closed as too broad by Mohit, Hellion, Daniel, Renan, Walter Aug 9 '13 at 7:54

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  • For completeness, the past tense for quit is quit: "e.g. I quit my job yesterday" and similarly John hit Steve in the bar last night – Matt Aug 7 '13 at 23:16
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    This is an interesting question +1 and I disagree with its closing – Theta30 Aug 9 '13 at 13:26
  • There are 5 questions but they are interrelated-"Or is there some other rule (for the past tense of words that end in -it) and why?" can summarize these. – Theta30 Aug 9 '13 at 13:34
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The past tense of hit is hit and the past tense of quit is quit, but to answer why it is the way it is, we need to look at the history.

The verbs quit and hit were not always like that.

Quit is a loan word of French origin.

Most verbs borrowed during Middle and New English attached the dental suffix to mark their PT/PP and thus developed regular forms.¹

So the form quitted for past tense and past participle was widely used in the past.

Only a small number of loan verbs came to be associated with the surviving types of strong verbs.¹

Hit was one of them and exhibitted "strong" features.

The form "hitten" can be found in archaic texts (from the 16th century onwards).

It might have to do with the fact that it ends in -t.

Phonological factors may have had their share in the selecton of the strong markers. Since [these verbs] contain the stem-final -t/-d/-ð (cf. chide, hide, knit, light, load, put, set, shut, slit, spit, spread, sweat, and wreathe), i.e., the sound which matched the weak PT/PP ending, the selection of the strong marking in Middle and/or New English may reflect an effort to prevent the rise of ambiguous, invariable verbs. But in Present-day English many of [these verbs] (knit, put, set, shut, spread, sweat) selected the non-strong model of tense signalling.¹

Also,

It has been shown (cf. Lass 1994) that the past tense and past participle forms of strong and weak verbs started to become confused and to interfere with each other as early as the late ME period.

Insecurity in the use of the -en and -ed-suffixes resulted in redundant suffixations of verbs that were originally weak or had turned weak and had a stem-final dental fused with the dental suffix (e.g. knit/knitted, lit/lighted, hit/hitten/hitted, burst/bursten/burtsted; cf. Sundby, Bjørge, and Haugland 1991:304-313) ²


¹ Language History and Linguistic Modelling: A Festschrift for Jacek Fisiak on his 60th Birthday. Walter de Gruyter, 1997. ISBN 3110820757, 9783110820751

² Rhythmic Grammar: The Influence of Rhythm on Grammatical Variation and Change in English. Walter de Gruyter, 2005. ISBN 3110219263, 9783110219265

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Quit and hit are irregular verbs, and simply have to be learnt (learned is also acceptable, and more common in American English). Here's a list of most of them: http://www.grammar.cl/Past/Irregular_Verbs_List.htm

One that isn't on the list is "dive", "dove/dived", "dived". Maybe because "dove" as the simple past tense is falling out of use.

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