Heard on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning, in a segment on sleepwalking: 14-year-old Miranda Kelly reporting a moment when she realized, “Oh, I sleptwalked.”

That’s double inflection, on both parts of the verb sleepwalk, where the standard form  (sleepwalked) has inflection only on the second part, the head V walk.

There are plenty of similar examples to be found, with PST and PSP (slept), marked PRS (sleeps), and PRP (sleeping):

[PST] I slept walked to the toilet and woke up pooping. Easily one of the most disorienting events of my life. (link)

[PST] I think I sleptwalked last night (link)

[PSP] What reasons cause people to sleepwalk?

My brother tells me that I stood up in the middle of the night last night and that every time he asked me something all I said was “nothing” and after a couple of questions I laid down an went back to sleep. I’ve sleptwalked a lot in my life. I’m 18 and I can remember being a kid and my parents telling me that I sleepwalk. (link) [note BSE in to sleepwalk and unmarked PRS in I sleepwalk]

[marked PRS] My boyfriend sleeps walks and has hit me in his sleep? How can I help him? (link)

[marked PRS] Miley Cyrus sleeps walks! (link)

[PRP] My Friend Is Sleeping walking Help?

can u tell me y she is sleeping walking and how long it will last and what should i do im scared to wake her up (link)

[PRP] Perhaps this is also by design as the entire society is sleeping walking into a soft kill carnival. (link)

Background: the verb sleepwalk (or sleep-walk) is a back-formation from the N + N synthetic compounds sleep-walking ‘walking in one’s sleep’ and sleep-walker ‘someone who walks in their sleep’; OED2’s first cite is from 1923 (sleep-walks), with a similar cite from 1954 and cites for sleepwalked in 1976 and 1981. In any case, sleepwalk is a V of the form N + V, so it’s inflected on its V (second, head) portion.

Another piece of background: there are cases where V + N expressions, which would of course have inflection on their V (first, head) portions (this is often called “internal inflection”), sometimes alternatively have inflection on the V + N as a whole (“external inflection”), so that inflectional morphology is realized on their N (second) portions. In this posting, I looked at the case of dragged/hauled ass vs. drag/haul assed:

Both internal and external inflection are attested for drag/haul ass, with the former clearly more frequent.

For N + V combinations, internal and external inflection would normally be indistinguishable, since the head is also the final element. But in addition to internal and external inflection, double inflection is also attested; for drag/haul ass:

In fact, there’s a third attested variant: double inflection, as in dragged/hauled assed and dragging/hauling assing.

In these cases, ass is not being treated as a V — it’s still a N — but it  gets inflectional suffixes because it’s at the end. In contrast, in the doubly inflected sleptwalked etc., sleep is treated as a V, right up to the non-default PST/PSP slept.

That is, some people seem to have reanalyzed N + V sleepwalk as a V + V compound, which would then be eligible for (exceptional) inflection on the first V as well as on the second (head) V.

English isn’t rich in V + V compounds; the example most commonly cited is stir-fry. From OED2:

orig. U.S.

trans. Chiefly in Chinese cookery: to fry (meat, vegetables, etc.) rapidly on a high heat, while stirring and tossing them in the pan. [also attributive in things like stir-fry cooking]

The cites (from 1959 on) have the verb in BSE (stir-fry), PSP (stir-fried), and PRP (stir-frying) forms,  and marked PRS (stir-fries) occurrences are easy to find — all with head inflection only. But some speakers have opted for double inflection, as in these examples:

[PSP] Dak galbiis a spicy stirred-fried chicken dish that is quite appetizing with intense flavors.  All ingredients are stirred fried in a large pan placed in the center of the table as this dish is more of a crowd-pleaser, ample enough for a quartet of diners to share. (link)

[PSP] Jin’s Kitchen: stirred fried collard green (link)

[marked PRS] This Is A Typical Spicy Hot Chinese Dish That Stirs Fries Marinated Pork In A Spicy Sauce. (link)

[PRP] Trying Stirring Frying (link)

(Some of these come from non-native speakers, but not all.)

Once again, there’s a (distinct minority) tendency to allow double inflection.



7 Responses to “sleepwalking”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    From Betsy Herrington on Facebook:

    I heard that story too and it reminded me of one of the Great Questions of the Day back when I was in college: “What’s the past tense of breakdance?”

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    Now also posted about by Mark Liberman, on Language Log.

  3. Variation in inflectional morphology Says:

    […] Arnold Zwicky and Mark Liberman of Language Log were on the case when a woman interviewed on NPR’s Morning […]

  4. Rick Sprague Says:

    As I tried to comment on LL (have I been blacklisted for some reason?), Google finds quite a few recent PSP and 3sg PRS double inflections for ‘jump start’ (i.e. ‘jumped started’ and ‘jumps starts’), including some in professionally written articles for, the Nashua Telegraph, and the United Steelworkers sites. In your opinion, is this a variation, an error, or something else?

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      On LLog: you’ve probably been automatically filtered out by the Akismet spam filter. That usually happens because of your mail address (which has somehow been labeled as problematic, usually because of bad behavior by the ISP) or because you tried to refer to URLs directly rather than via links.

      As for the (nice) examples of double inflection you provide, I assume that at least some of them are legitimate variants.

  5. QSV « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] construction in English (Let’s go see what’s happening) has now come up (in comments) in connection with V + V compounds (sleep walk, stir-fry). I’ve spent years probing this construction, mostly in […]

  6. "Crossed-referenced", "Crashed-landed", and other twice-inflected verbs ~ English Language & Usage ~ Says:

    […] driven to do this after reading a discussion on the word "slept-walked" and an associated blog post, leaving me to wonder what other doubly-inflected past-tense verb forms I could find decently […]

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: