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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


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


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

7  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.
    30 pointsBadges:
  • 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.
    23,260 pointsBadges:
  • 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?
    10 pointsBadges:
  • 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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