Irregular English verbs: -eave to -eft

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

There are only three English verbs that follow the pattern -eave /iːv/ → -eft /ɛft/, namely (listed as infinitive – past tense – past participle):

bereavebereft or bereavedbereft or bereaved (see below!)
cleavecleft, cleaved, clove, or clavecleft, cleaved, or cloven (see below!)

Bereave means “to deprive of; to take away by death or force”. The past tense is usually “bereaved” when referring to the loss of a beloved person, and in this sense it is usually used in the passive as a (nominalized) adjective:

I expressed my condolences to the bereaved.

When used in another meaning, the customary past tense is “bereft”:

He lost all his money and was bereft of hope.

Cleave is a formal word meaning “to split something in two using a sharp tool or weapon” or “to move something quickly through something”. The past-tense form “clave” /kleɪv/ is now considered obsolete, although we can still find it in literature in biblical references. Also note that “clove(n)” is pronounced /ˈkləʊv(n)/ in the UK and /ˈkloʊv(n)/ in the US.

One relatively common expression with “cleave” used in historical contexts is “cleft in twain” (“twain” being an archaic form of “two”), as in:

The sword swooshed through the air and cleft his head in twain.

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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