There’s a popular colloquialism that involves the wrong choice between beat or beaten…and I wish it’d just disappear.
A recent CNN article carried a headline that made me cringe. Yes, it bugged me that much. And it had absolutely nothing to do with politics.
The headline read, “Republican Party math: Can Trump be beat?”
Anyone who appreciates good grammar should cringe as well.
The grammatical way to have crafted the headline would have been, “Republican Party math: Can Trump be beaten?
Beat is an irregular verb. It’s present and past tense form is beat. Its past participle form is beaten.
In the CNN example, whether Donald Trump can be defeated by one of his fellow Republican candidates or not, the verb form requires the past participle version, which means beaten is the proper choice.
Many people’s brackets, I’m told, were blown right out of the water by upsets during March Madness. In those cases, those folks’ chosen teams were beaten, not beat.
The Grammarist explains the problem those of us who hate seeing phrases like “can’t be beat” are dealing with:
This is incorrect grammatically, but is firmly established in slang, especially in North America.
This means, I’m afraid to tell you, that we are stuck with “can’t be beat,” even though most people, if they take the time to think of it, know it’s wrong.
It’s a lot like the phrase, “I’ve got a secret,” which even wound up as a popular game show years ago. If you break it out, it means “I have got a secret,” which is ungrammatical because all you’d need to say is, “I have a secret.” But because it’s a colloquialism that we’ve heard for generations now, it’s one that it’ll be difficult, if not impossible, to shake.
So I’ll cringe when I hear someone say someone or something “can’t be beat,” and whenever I have the chance to use the phrase in spoken or written English, I’ll at least do my part by selecting beaten instead.
It’s the least I can do for the sake of grammar.