Grammar

Bit or Bitten?

When it’s time to conjugate the verb ‘bite,’ you’ll have to decide between either bit or bitten. Making the wrong choice can create a glaring error!

When I’m listening to the news or copyediting a story, errors involving the choice between bit or bitten really jump out at me.

They still don’t represent as big a pet peeve as the improper use of the phrase “due to” does, but they’re pretty close!

Bite is what’s called an irregular verb. That means things get complicated when you have to use either the past tense or past participle form of the verb.

What’s the difference, you ask?

It’s important to understand.

Past Tense

Past tense is simple: it’s the form of the verb you use when you’re writing or speaking about something that has already occurred.

Consider the verb run.

It’s the word you use in present tense:

John will run the 5K Saturday morning.

Past tense, which you’d use after the event had happened, is also simple:

John ran the 5K last Saturday.

Past Participle

The Past Participle form of the verb is the one you roll out when an auxiliary verb, for example, a form of the verb be is added. That would include verbs like is, was, has, or have, among others.

If we keep our example of the verb run, the past participle form of the verb is also run:

John has run every 5K in the state so far this year.

Simple enough, right?

Bit or Bitten?

Unfortunately, when it comes time to deal with the verb bite, people who shouldn’t get tripped up do. Often.

The past tense of bite is bit. The past participle of bite is bitten.

So here’s a question: is this example correct or incorrect?

The child was bit by the dog in her own backyard.

If you said it’s incorrect, you’d be correct! Why? Because when you add that auxiliary or “helping” verb, was, you have to switch to the past participle form.

So for bite, the past tense would be:

The dog bit the child in her own backyard.

The past participle version would be:

The child was bitten by the dog in her own backyard.

Every summer, I’ll hear or see stories about someone who “was bit” by a shark at the beach. It drives me crazy.

It ought to drive you crazy.

It would be nice if it would drive the writer crazy so the rest of us would never have to see such a grammatical blunder.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.