rived

From the NYT Sunday Review  on the 5th, in Nicholas Kristof’s column “Tales of Horror Should Galvanize Obama” (p. 9):

South Sudan is rived by civil war and collapsing economically

The PSP rived of the rare verb rive caught my eye; only riven would have been acceptable to me. In fact, for me, the verb is interestingly defective.

Part of the story was provided on O’Conner & Kellerman’s Grammarphobia blog on 5/16/14:

Q: A recent article in the NY Times says northeastern Nigeria “has been rived for years by attacks from Boko Haram.” Shouldn’t that be “riven”?

A: In that May 6, 2014, article in the Times about the kidnapping of schoolgirls by the terrorist group, the reporter paraphrased a comment by a UN official:

“Manuel Fontaine, Unicef’s regional director for West and Central Africa, said in a telephone interview that the information had been obtained from the agency’s contacts for the area, which has been rived for years by attacks from Boko Haram.”

Is this use of “rived” as a past participle OK? It depends.

The Oxford English Dictionary says the past participle of the verb “rive” is “riven” in British English, but it’s either “riven” or “rived” in American English.

Standard dictionaries in the US generally list “riven” as the usual past participle, but include “rived” as a less common usage.

Information in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.), for example, indicates that the use of “rived” as a past participle is a “standard usage” that “occurs appreciably less often” than “riven.”

A search of the New York Times archive finds that both “riven” and “rived” are used as past participles, though “riven” is far more common at the paper.

… The OED says the verb “rive” is now “somewhat” archaic or literary in standard English, except when used for splitting people into opposing sides, or (in the US) splitting wood or stone.

For me, the splitting wood or stone sense is also archaic; only ‘to divide; to split, esp. into opposing sides’ (OED3) will float.

OED3 says that the verb is now usually in the PSP (which accords with my judgments), though it gives cites with a range of inflectional forms1842 was riven; 1873 has riven; 1904 would rive; 1971 have riven; 1998 is riving; 2003 has riven. Meanwhile, NOAD2 gives only riven as the PSP and adds that it is usually in the construction be riven — that is, that the PSP is usually in the passive (BE riven) and not in the perfect (HAVE riven). That restriction also accords with my judgments.

There’s clearly extensive variation here. The long-range picture is that the use of rive has been contracting over the centuries, both in the senses it conveys and in the forms it occurs in (only the PSP, and then, for me and some others, only in the PSP in the passive). Meanwhile, there’s been a move, in the US at least, to regularize the morphology, with PSP rived challenging the older riven.

For me, rive is now spectacularly defective in its inflection, as it works its way out of the language. That puts it at the other end of the defectivity scale from things like the verb stride (see Geoff Pullum on Language Log here), which has a full set of inflectional forms except for a problem with the PSP, where many people are reluctant to use any of the alternatives (HAVE strided / strode / stridden), while others patch the gap via full regularization, using PSP = PST, or creating a PSP on analogy with some other irregular verbs (like drive, with PSP driven).

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