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Dec 5 2013   12:03PM GMT

What’s the past tense of spin — spinned, span or spun?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

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Which is correct?

interrobang After that unfortunate incident at the holiday party, he went immediately into reputation management mode. But no matter how he ______ it, he still came out looking like a jerk.
a. spinned
b. span
c. spun

Answer: c

Explanation:

Spin is an irregular verb that has spun as both the simple past and past participle form. It means to turn rapidly around an axis. In a metaphorical sense, it means to communicate something in a way that changes people’s perception of it. Here are a few examples:

I will spin that incident so skilfully that I look like a hero instead of a jerk.

I spun that incident so skilfully that I look like a hero instead of a jerk.

I have spun that incident so skilfully that I look like a hero instead of a jerk. 

Span is an archaic simple past form of spin.

See more about irregular verbs here.

Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

17  Comments on this Post

 
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  • DHoole
    I disagree with the assertion that 'span' is archaic. The evidence for this seems to be from dictionaries, sourcing from quotations or older texts. Where is the oral evidence either way? My uses would be 'This is spun thread', 'The car span off the road'. I was born 1963 and grew up in south-west London.
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  • DHoole
    I've just found that 'span' as a past tense of 'spin' appears in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (published 1979), and in A Whispered Name (pub 2008). Respective authors Douglas Adams and William Brodrick were both raised in England, born 1952 and 1950 respectively. Simply 'archaic'? I think not.
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  • TheRealRaven
    Two examples over a third of a century...? Hardly seems common modern usage, perhaps because it has become 'archaic'. I suppose other examples exist, but it certainly has fallen from everyday (every year?) usage.

    'The car span off the road'.

    Seriously? It might surprise me if as much as 5% of readers realized it wasn't a typo.
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  • DHoole
    Yes, seriously. I am English and that is what i say. Other than that i agree with you. I'm not completely consistent about my usage so i would concede that 'span' is in the process of disappearing. Other discussions have quoted truly archaic examples such as Wordsworth and the bible as 'proof' that 'span' is no longer used, but that's just incorrect at present.
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  • bgas82
    I live in London, was born in 1982 and would use the word 'span' in the example given. In fact, using word 'spun' in that context sounds wrong to me, so presumably there must be more than some very rare occasions when I have heard 'span' being used for 'spun' to stand out in this way. Perhaps British and American English deviate on this?
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  • jnthnwrght
    I'm British English born in 1953. I agree with some of my compatriots that 'spun' as the simple past of 'spin' sounds wrong. I would say that the wheel span. So it's not archaic unless I am.
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  • Dibiemmili
    The United states is simply killing the English language. I cry. This is simple: spin, span, spun. Where on earth did these guys get the history they are quoting here?

    London, the home of the language has a responsibility here: stand your ground. Protect and defend your language.
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  • Salsaia
    I fully agree that americans are killing english language.. And that's really pity..
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  • TheRealRaven
    Hearing that "Americans" specifically are killing English gives me a real pain in the gregory.
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  • Rachele
    The United states is simply killing the English language. I cry. This is simple: spin, span, spun. Where on earth did these guys get the history they are quoting here?

    I must disagree with the opinion referenced above and feel it has more to do with cultural bias than it does fact. I am neither a linguist nor an English manom, however I do find I comical to see someone blaming the US for the decline of the English language while simultaneously failing to capitalize 'states.'. Also, please remember that English is the most spoken language in all of North America, not just the US.
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  • Rachele
    The United States is solely responsible for the decline of the English language? That's a very broad statement to make, particularly if you're not going to use spell check before committing ones cultural bias to 'paper.' "United states"? Also, are people forgetting how much the English language has been influenced by both the German and French languages? Is it not possible that poor education in the United States, Canada and the UK in the underprivileged  and working classes are all equally to blame? I'm neither a linguist nor an English major, however I have traveled the world and am both a Canadian and American citizen and it has been my experience that ignorance and inequality are equal opportunity offenders in poor education regardless of culture or country of birth. Perhaps bias and bigotry have no place in any effort to save proper Englsh, in fact, it's really rather divisive. Just a thought.
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  • jamesgillis
    I am an English major and a language instructor. First of all, please don't correct my English. I am going to simply put down a few thoughts here, in no particular order. I am not writing an essay here nor striving for MLA standards - so, bugger off, I say to those here-in who find themselves a space within online discussion by choosing to, argumentatively and defensively, correct the spelling and capitalization of others -- you are committing a fallacy, by attacking the speaker and not focusing properly on the speaker's words. To continue, I would say, based on anecdotal evidence, that it is certainly true  Americans tend towards the sound bite and that this likely results in a drive towards expedience and thus forms of words become reduced to the bare minimum. Here, please remember, that the only way to make something popular is to remove the high quality. Here I am not expressing an opinion but an obvious fact: in order to appeal to the greatest number of people one needs to appeal to the lowest common denominator. In this sense, technically speaking, popular music is not good music and this can be shown; popular movies do not tell stories in a high quality manner. In order to internationalize a language one must create a language, in this case English, which is understandable by the greatest number of speakers who do not share one's own culture. English is an international language and as such it must become common, of lower quality. This does not mean that the higher quality forms need to die. English has many forms. Popular forms of technology-- and language is a technology, do not usually rely on good ideas. Take the mobile phone; the only real value is in the fact that the phone became mobile -- only mobility solved a real problem. But, take the smart phone . . . all other aspects or uses of a modern mobile phone (a smart phone) tend to make us stupid and are really just market driven forms of value. People who spend great amounts of time on their smart phone are actually trying to be in their life without being in the real world . . .  escapism blinds us to what is real. Think this - necessity is the mother of invention (real problems get solved) but innovation is the mother of necessity (creating more need - think of software updates and how they rarely solve a problem without creating another problem) and generates iatrogenic effects -- the solution to a problem today creates more problems and needs tomorrow: the more we use air-conditioners the more we need air-conditioners; the more we use doctors the more we need doctors (when we go to a doctor we do not want good medical advice; we want treatment and forcing wellness through treatment rather than good health practices comes with iatrogenic effects. As long as we accept compromise solutions we never get at the real problem . . .  think of how automobiles are a compromise solution and as long as we continue to use them we will never get to work at the underlying needs. The more we focus on language the less time we spend at real communication. Shakespeare and Chauser used upwards of six different spellings for the same word in the same work. Language evolves and spelling is a social constraint, not based on logic. Great writers of the past focused more on communication and trusted their audience to be intelligent . . . but in the modern world we like to dumb things down for the sake of economy and profit. These are not opinions but facts. Hmmmm back to language. In his novel, Midnight Fugue, published in 2009, Reginal Hill uses the world "span" as in "span around." But, yes, language does evolve . . . and no language more so or in the same ways as does English. The more French people who speak English the more English becomes like French. The more Chinese who speak English the greater is the Chinese-ness of English -- this is an observation I have made (and I consider myself an expert); the Chinese influence is slowly reducing the use of 'be' verbs (is/am/be/was/were/are). Only English speaking countries do not have language/culture police. By attempting to hold today's language to the standards of yesterday we fight evolution. On the other hand, by ignoring the obvious causes for changes within a language we are ignorant to the reductions in quality and inclusiveness. Just as the spread of American culture through out the world has homogenized the world, so too has it homogenized our language and culture. I lived in China for many years . . .  when one walks down the street in Shanghai there is very little Chinese culture on display. What there is is wannabe-america. I am a Canadian. Canadians are know as the masters of the long line - we can avoid making our point longer than just about anyone . . . this is both a plus and an oddity in the modern world. I forget where I read this but, it is believed that of the nine world leaders since the fall of ancient Rome, only America will come and go as a world leader without actually creating a new civilization. This point says something powerful about both the strength and weakness of American culture: America has merely fine tuned the civilization begun by Britain . . . but unlike Britain America's version of modern civilization has reduced elitism in ways not possible in the time of the British Empire . . . but what has replaced elitism is a sort of slippery slope-ism where just about any argument can be made for anything . . . We used to say that one can have one's own opinion but not one's own facts. This seems to be no longer true, evidenced here by the way in which some online folks take insult when others make simple statements which are obviously true, true in a commonsense sort of way. Opinions are not facts and facts are usually best supported by the commonsense evidence of one's eyes, ears, and intelligence. Of course, American culture has reduced English to fewer and fewer forms . . .  is this not in keeping with the nature of the "American Melting Pot."  How could any reasonable person think otherwise.
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  • DHoole
    Phew, well, i'm prompted by the above, and by hearing on the radio here in the U.K. 'rung' as the simple past of ring, to comment further. When i was a child in London circa 1970, the simple past of sting was stang. 'The bee stang me'. No, i'm not joking.
    So, to my ear now, 'The phone rung' sounds wrong and ignorant, and 'rang' sounds correct. 'The wheel spun' sounds like typical usage in the U.K., and 'span' sounds a bit odd but acceptable. 'The bee stung me' also sounds typical, but 'stang' sounds wrong to me now even though i grew up with it.
    I wonder if these changes could in part be down to ease of speaking. Rung, spun and stung require less mouth movement than rang, span and stang. I also wonder if there is some link between the length of each word when spoken, and the degree to which they are now, in my experience here, archaic forms. I.e. 'rang' is a little shorter to sound than 'span', which is a little shorter than 'stang'.
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  • jamesgillis
    Sorry, DHoole, could you explain; I don't really get your point . . . I mean, why are you comparing the sound length of "rang" with "span" and "span" with "stang." Even if these words did take less or more time to 'sound' how does comparing the forms of three different words say anything about the archaic-ness or not of any one form of any one of the words "ring", "spin", "sting"?? I would think, that your point would be supported by comparing the forms of "spin" with each other, the forms of "ring" with each other, the forms of "sting" with each other -- ie, comparing the 'sound' length of "spun" with "span", "rung" with "rang" and "stang" with "stung. Again, I am uncertain how comparing the 'sound' length of "span" with that of "rang" with that of "stang" supports the idea that any of these forms is becoming archaic because of the time it takes to "sound' them out. And as to the whole idea that the comparative 'sound' length of a word form quickens that word form along the road to archaic-ness . . . isn't it a bit arbitrary to say that one four-letter word takes more or less time to say than any other four-letter word form, or that any five-letter word or six-letter or seven-letter word takes longer to say than any other five-letter, six--letter, or seven-letter word? Perhaps for you this might be true . . . but I think, in order to support your point, you would have to show that your point is true in some absolute way. To be very blunt, DHoole, I see no real substance in your point . . . don't take that as an insult; I think, honestly, we are over-analysing the point, making something sound academic, or looking for smart things to say . . . when in fact the reason why words become archaic are many-fold . . . so, in that sense, yes, it may be true that a longer 'sound' length of a word may not be to the liking of a particular society at a given time . . . and so I suppose in that sense we agree that expedience is often a driver of language evolution.

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  • jamesgillis

    My real reason for commenting above was because I have a personal dislike for online discussion that devolves into outright emotional argument and defensiveness. Remember, one of the previous commenters suggested that American culture is responsible for some sort of perceived decline of English, is responsible for some perceived reduction in quality. I believe that is true, although I wouldn't go so far as to use hyperbolic terms like "decline of English." But we are all responsible. As I explained, the process of becoming an international language reduces English to common, popular forms . . .  and thus much of the variety gets removed. This is simply a logical result of the process of internationalization -- in order to be international, a language must appeal to the lowest common denominator of the greatest number of people/cultures. This can be seen as an unfortunate outcome, primarily, from my point of view, because it reduces inclusiveness -- much of the wonderful diversity of culture and of peoples from different nations falls by the ways side as they enter a global or international community.

    In any case, back to the comments of that original poster who suggested that The United States is solely responsible for the decline of the English language. This is a rather hyperbolic thing to say . . . but my reason for commenting was that others here took insult at this rather than seeing the truthfulness of this point, generally . . . my point is to ask the question, why do people become so defensive? Why don;t they look rather for truth, why hold people up over defensiveness and in so doing comeplete ignore the kernal of truth in what they are saying. Why seek argument and not understanding and real communication? Why look for loop-holes that will allow an argument. The truth is, the internet appeals to our baser human qualities and, in fact, all the money made of websites and internet based advertizing is made via a general appeal to those baser qualities . . .  the internet is so very very often evidence of the worst of humanity and it could be so much more. When I was younger I thought, WOW the internet will create a world where we can no longer hide from truth. But that is not what has happened, here online. What we have is a new reality where people come online to make a life, to make themselves into something. People become so defensive over nothing. Yes, the original poster over-stated their point when they suggested American is solely responsible -- the truth is we have all fallen in love with American culture and are all to blame for the low and common nature of the world today. Yes, the original commenter over-stated their point? And, of course, it was that strong use of language that another commenter took insult to and came to the defence of American culture, but did not really say anything about American culture but only, argumentatively, pointed to spelling mistakes. The fact that I noted this defensiveness, that was my real reason for commenting and I took the time to speak about how it is that, today, and especially online, people are so willing to voice their opinions as if they were facts and, on the other hand, look so hard for ways to ignore obvious facts. 

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  • jamesgillis

    I think it is important to remember, that the differences we perceive in the world are by and large not real or are grossly exaggerated . . .  all humans beings are between, something like, 95.7 and 97.5 percent the same . . . but we focus on differences and make those differences seem real. This is no where more true than on the internet where people are much more inclined to try and make themselves important rather than are they inclined to try and make understanding important. The sort of culture typified by America, and Britain previously, is responsible for the internationalization of English . . . but, today, most all countries of the world are to some degree wannabe-americas. Or, conversely, countries try to define themselves by how they are unlike America . . . but in so doing they are still 'pointing' to the importance of American culture. Yes? The misunderstanding here, thus the defensiveness over one commenter's suggestion, that America is solely responsible for the decline of English, is really just about people squeezing out a bit of value, is really just about people finding a bit of elbow room so as to make an online personality for themselves, by focusing on differences rather than truth. There is something insincere about this. There is something value-less about this sort of communication . . . it is mere blah blah blah. I know that others will think I am being overly critical . . . but I ask you to be honest with yourself and truly think about what I have said. Is it useful to fill up the internet with such massive amounts of words without actually saying anything of value? We all know that the internet is filled to over-flowing with intrusive advertising and the blogosphere is filled with angry people talking nonsense about others so, certainly, it can be no real stretch for us here to accept that we too, me included, are often using far more words than needed. My defence is this . . . I believe I am saying very simple things . . . but in the modern world, online, it can take a great many words to say a simple thing - primarily because people do not really want a point to be made and put to rest. People want to keep on saying and saying less and less with more and more words. This is how Face-book survives, on the back of people's desire to make mundane, routine, common activities and thoughts seem like they are deep and interesting. For some of us people online, and I think the number is growing, it is become a bit too much to put up with all the valueless use of internet 'space'. Now, some might say that it is not my business to suggest that others are cr creating no value online . . . to me that is like a dangerous driver saying it is not my business if I criticize their driving. It is my business and the manner in which the internet is used is the business of every one. We can either strive for high quality usage or we can continue to try and promote popular, common usage. I am not saying either of these choices is better. I am merely suggesting that if we are going to be common in the way we use the internet, that we should stop trying to present ourselves as sophisticated or intelligent. If we want to use the internet for entertainment, fine, let's be honest about that. If we want to use the internet for argument and for the constant parsing down of truth into more and greater inanity than fine, do that but let's take responsibility and don't try to pretend that we are offering anything of high-quality. All right, I have had my say . . . and these are things I have said in many places, here online. Thank you for your time. To rah.


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  • Joniwix
    An English Major using Z instead of S. Quelle domage.
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