“Had Went” and “Needs Washed”

“Had went” and “needs washed” are examples of two common verb mistakes you must avoid. They involve using the wrong verb form, given the requirements of the phrase or expression. It is like choosing to change a flat tire with a monkey wrench: You may ultimately solve the problem, but you are using the wrong tool, and the outcome surely will not be pretty.

Past Tense Instead of Past Participle

“Had went” should be, of course, “Had gone.” The perfect tenses (those using the auxiliary verb “to have”) take the past participle of the verb. Using the simple past is simply wrong. Thus, “Have you ate?” is wrong; “Have you eaten?” is correct.

Tom, the piper's son
Tom, the piper’s son

The error is very old: In the eighteenth century nursery rhyme about Tom, the piper’s son, it appears at least twice, and the reverse problem (using the participle instead of the simple past) occurs once.

Tom, Tom the piper’s son,
Stole a pig and away he run. (ran!)
The pig was eat, (eaten!)
And Tom was beat, (beaten!)
And he went crying down the street.

This rule should be clear. The only fuzzy area that I can think of is “got.” “Gotten” is the past participle, but for centuries, “got” has also been acceptable, as in “Have you got any tomatoes today?” By the way, this “got” can have more than one meaning: “Did you acquire” or “Do you have”? On the whole, of course, it is better to avoid the verb “get,” and say whatever it is that you mean with a more precise verb.

Past Participle Instead of Present Participle
A female with medium length red hair and wearing a light pink shirt paired with light blue pants joyfully cleans the floor with a long mop in both her hands and a gray bucket beside her
Floor needs washed?

The use of the past participle instead of the present participle is another common verb mistake. Where I grew up, in Pittsburgh, it was very common to hear this construction: “The floor needs washed.” This should be “the floor needs washing.” The other day, I saw a note that said, “The caramel pecan sauce needs cooked longer.” In both cases, the correct form is the gerund, a verb form that serves as a noun. Each of these examples requires a noun as the direct object of “needs.” The past participle serves as an adjective, so it simply doesn’t meet the requirement. If you don’t like to use gerunds (and many people seem to dislike them), use an infinitive (in passive voice). It, too, can serve as a noun. Say instead, “the floor needs to be washed” and “the caramel pecan sauce needs to be cooked longer.” Problem solved.

The barn wants painted.
The barn wants painted.

This incorrect use of the past participle seems to flourish in regions of the country that were settled by German-speaking peoples, since German employs the past participle in this way. The usage is common throughout Pennsylvania and farther into the Mid-West. (Pennsylvania Dutch country was settled by German-speakers, not the Dutch.) It still may be common to hear, instead of “needs,” the verb “wants,” as in “The floor wants washed” or “The barn wants painted.” This use of the verb “want” refers to lacking rather than to desiring. Often the “washed” will be pronounced with an “r” in the middle of it: “warshed.” It’s a good idea to avoid that, too, if you possibly can.

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Born in Pittsburgh, educated at Yale. Practiced law in Washington DC. Moved to Colorado. Lived in Mexico. Translator and internet content writer.

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