"Slept walked"

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Bob Moore:

Did you hear the piece on NPR this morning about sleep walking? They interviewed a teenage girl who at one point uttered the sentence "I slept walked." I don't think I have ever heard anything like that before. She not only analyzed "sleep walk" as a verb-verb compound (where I would have called it a noun-verb compound), but she inflected both verbs to make it past tense. Is this a complete one-off, or is this pattern that is more common than I am aware of?

Bob is referring to a quote in "Lack Of Sleep, Genes Can Get Sleepwalkers Up And About", Morning Edition 8/27/2012, where Miranda Kelly says

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I usually don't realize when I do it. Like every couple months I'll wake up in an odd place, and realize "Oh, I slept walked."

This is certainly not "a complete one-off". From the web:

[link] Any One Ever Slept Walked While Pregnant?

[link] Have you ever slept walked?

[link] Who here sleepwalks, or has slept walked before?

[link] My brother told me I slept walked into his bedroom and told him "winter is coming" then went back to bed. Impending ice age?

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

On the ChaCha forum, someone asked "Is it sleep walked or slept walked?" The official response: "The answer would be slept walked."

Of course there are plenty of hits for "sleeped walked", and even more for "sleep walked", which I take to be the standard form. But my favorite is the top-rated response on Yahoo! Answers for the question "What is the past tense of 'sleep walk'?" — "Slapped Whelks".


  1. Craig Sailor said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:07 pm

    A friend of mine consistently says "blew dried" for the past tense of "to blow dry (one's hair)".

  2. Adrian said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

    The standard form is sleep walked/sleep-walked/sleepwalked (depending on your taste in punctuation), surely?

  3. Shirley Steele said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:09 pm

    I heard this too and was amazed. I was particularly surprised to hear the irregular form, since even in my lifetime, its use seems to be diminishing for several different verbs. (I can't remember the last time I heard "swum", or even "pled".)

  4. Jon Weinberg said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:15 pm

    I'm finding at least a small number of ghits for "kicked started", "hanged glided", "hung glided", "blowed dried", "slammed dunked", "spelled checked", and "breaked danced".

  5. dw said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    Why "slept walked" but not "sleeps walks" in the third example?

    [(myl) I wondered that too. Maybe because irregular preterite and past-participle forms are common, but irregular 3rd-singular-present forms are rare?]

  6. Martha said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    I'm sure that if I heard someone say "slept walked" I'd think it was a slip of the tongue. "Blew dried" is equally weird, but "blew dry" would be okay, but in that case "dry" would be an adjective, rather than a verb.

    "Slept walked" reminds me of how people will add an -er to both parts of a phrasal verb to describe someone who does the action (or at least, I can't think of a way to do it off the top of my head that doesn't involve a phrasal verb), so that someone who puts something on is a "put-er on-er." People who do that, however, seem to be doing it pretty self-consciously, since they know there isn't really a word for what they're describing.

  7. Josef Fruehwald said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    Even more interesting, to me, is "slep walked": http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20110304110239AAoG7KR

    What's interesting about "slep walked" is that while it may be doubly marked, it still conserves the number of transformations caused by the past tense in "sleep".

    sleep + past -> slep + t
    sleep walk + past -> slep walk + t

    I'd be almost tempted to say that "slept walked" is some kind of (sociolinguistic) correction, or (linguistic) repair of "slep walked", but that's pure speculation without the benefit of evidence.

    The case of "blew dried" is more difficult to accomodate, because that's really the case of extra bits of tense showing up. Just by conserving the number of changes caused by adding past tense, you might expect

    blow + past -> blew
    blow dry + past -> blew dry


    dry + past -> dry + d
    blow dry + past -> blow dry + d

  8. Jonathon said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:19 pm

    Craig Sailor: My brother says he once heard a friend say "blew drew" for the past tense of "blow dry".

  9. Arnold Zwicky said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

    I caught it too, and blogged about it just a little while before Mark did, here, with some discussion of internal inflection, external inflection, and double inflection, plus the possibly parallel case of stir-fry.

  10. Theophylact said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:28 pm

    I've seen "flew out" instead of "flied out" used in reporting a baseball game. But that's really just hypercorrection.

  11. Mark F. said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:31 pm

    I think you would have to be enunciating fairly carefully to make the 't' in "slept walked" audible, so I'm not sure a grammatical analysis is really needed there.

  12. HP said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

    This is why I refuse to sleepwalk. Last night, I somnambulized.

  13. Philip said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:45 pm

    Theophylact: "He flew out to center" is what would naturally come out of my mouth. I'd really have to stop and think before I could say "flied out," and even then, I'm not sure it's "correct."

  14. Josef Fruehwald said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

    @Mark F, The girl in the audio clip above managed it. And in the Yahoo answers I linked to, the author wrote out "slep walked", unencumbered by a the need to enunciate in any fashion. And just in case we might wonder if they don't know how to spell "sleep," they wrote out "sleepwalking" in the title, suggesting they know how to spell "sleep", and intentionally wrote "slep" to indicate the shortened vowel and missing /t/.

  15. Clay Beckner said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

    I just found another example of "sleptwalked" I remembered from spoken (British) English. It's at around 17:20 in this episode of This American Life.

  16. Clay Beckner said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 1:09 pm

    I've also observed a large number of usages like "sleptwalked" in an experiment I'm running. There's lots of time pressure in the experiment, which often causes speakers to say things like "sleeps-walks," "blows-dries," "leaps-frogs," "spoons-feeds," etc. (There are also cases where the affix moves inside the compound without being double-marked, as in "sleeps-walk_.") The double-marking/shift does seem to be more common when the first word in the compound is a verb, but it also shows up when there are improbable word-internal phonotactics ("blacks-mails", "safes-guards"). These patterns weren't the main point of my experiment, but they're giving me some interesting serendipitous findings.

  17. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 1:16 pm

    Leaving aside the question of whether "to sleepwalk" is best analyzed/understood as a V+V compound, how unusual is this sort of double inflection in any context? Are there many examples where N+N compounds are pluralized (even non-standardly, but often enough to be noticeable?) as N-pl+N-pl? I can google up some instances of "micetraps," but that could just be a plural form of the variant singular "micetrap."

  18. Eugene said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

    In baseball, the past of fly out is flied out. In trying to find more examples, I learned that in hockey the past of to high-stick is high-sticked, not *high-stuck. There's some tendency to use regular morphology with new senses of irregular forms. Pinker says it has to do with denominal verbs. http://stevenpinker.com/publications/why-no-mere-mortal-has-ever-flown-out-center-field
    So what would two police officers be called: two flat-foots or *two flat feet? I think the first would be a law enforcement team and the latter would be a medical condition.

  19. perry said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 1:38 pm

    under the same umbrella: dreamed or dreamt?

  20. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 1:56 pm

    Note for Eugene's examples that it might also be relevant that the etymology of "high-stick" as a verb is pretty transparently (to those who follow hockey) from the noun "[hockey] stick," rather than the polysemous verb "to stick," and that I think similarly to "fly out" in baseball derives pretty transparently from a noun (clipped form of "fly ball") rather than being an extended sense of the more general verb "to fly." So "high-stuck" and "flew out" might require a reanalysis that would be more likely if the etymology were more opaque to the relevant speakers than it probably is. At this point the etymology of "sleepwalk" (in terms of the "sleep" being from the N or the V) is probably quite opaque, thus contributing to the phenomenon described above.

    For "high-sticking" there's perhaps a further obstacle to reanalysis in that as I understand it if you "stick" your "stick" at your opponent and make contact with him you are at risk of being penalized for a more serious infraction known variously as "spearing" or "butt-ending/stabbing," depending on which end of your stick you used. High-sticking, by contrast, covers using your stick to make unpermitted contact with your opponent in a fashion that the various sense of the verb "to stick" don't seem to cover particularly naturally.

  21. Andy Averill said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

    It can't be entirely explained as an oral phenomenon, something people say when they're trying to mentally compose a sentence on the fly. It also shows up in Google Books, usually in fiction:

    Paul never mentioned finding his father's belt to Susan. He was not sure what to say to her or how she would even receive it. Susan believed that David had slept walked and scratched his back in someway. It was best to leave it at that for now.

    That night he slept walked, and woke chewing, taste of old ice at his tongue, refrigerator light bulb yellow on his bare feet and the wood floor.

    Recollection had departed once again. Uneasiness joined befuddlement. Where was she? Rational said recollection was not the problem. She had walked in her sleep. Was lucky not to have strolled into the river. But she'd never slept walked before, so why now?

    He must be sleepwalking. Craig had told me once about an incident he had as a kid, where pillow in hand, he slept-walked out of his parents' house, down the block, and onto the beach. Luckily, this was before he started sleeping in the nude.

  22. Joseph F Foster said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 2:43 pm

    Not exactly what we usually think of as serial verbs, either. Although had she had Cheerios instead of, er, Oreodoze, it might be a cereal verb.

  23. Roy S said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    Shirley Steele's remarks reminded me of a fellow I worked with long ago who used "skun" as the past tense of "to skin", as in "to flay". He told me how he "skun his knuckles" changing a tire on his car…

    Non-standard, surely, but creatively so.

  24. Steve Kass said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

    People have also "slept talked," and more rarely, "slep talked." At least two report having both "slept talked and slept walked."

  25. Brett said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

    @J.W. Brewer: I have heard "jacks in the pulpits," for more than one of the flower.

  26. The Ridger said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 6:24 pm

    Arnold Zwicky posted on this, too.

  27. Variation in inflectional morphology said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 9:13 pm

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

  28. J.W. Brewer said,

    August 27, 2012 @ 9:27 pm

    Brett – interesting although I wonder if the prepositional phrase is creating additional issues there. Certainly when it comes to sausage-dough combinations, "pigs in blankets" seems to coexist with "pigs in a blanket," and "toads in the holes" is Out There on the internet.

  29. Schroduck said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 3:21 am

    @J.W. Brewer "trades unions" is sometimes used as the plural form of "trade union" (the rationale I've heard is that it emphasises that they represent different groups – you could call two teaching unions "trade unions", but a teaching union and a train-drivers' union would be "trades unions"). I think that's very old fashioned now, even in the kind of circles where preciseness about trade(s) unions is encouraged.

  30. Spectre-7 said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 3:58 am


    So what would two police officers be called: two flat-foots or *two flat feet? I think the first would be a law enforcement team and the latter would be a medical condition.

    Reminds me of the apparent ongoing challenge of pluralizing son of a bitch. In off-the-cuff speech, it seems that most people produce son of a bitches, while I try personally to stick to sons of a bitch in cases where the ne'er-do-wells in question share parentage, and sons of bitches whenever they do not.

  31. Mike Briggs said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 5:46 am

    @Spectre-7: sumbitches.
    @Perry: dreamed/dreamt is AmE/BrE, like spelled/spelt and leaped/leapt.

  32. John Walden said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 7:45 am

    "Spin dry" and "tumble dry" seem to cause confusion. Chambers Dictionary mentions both "spun dry" and "spin dried" and ghits for "tumbled dry" number around 50,000.

    It's really only "spin dryer" and "tumble dryer" that settle which is 'right'.

  33. Brian T said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 8:53 am

    I remember my brothers and me saying "He slepwalked" when we were pre-teens in Virginia in the '60s/'70s.

  34. Ben said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 9:05 am

    @ J.W. B: Here's a common case of double-inflection in speech (at least, I hear it a lot), though not a verb: your guys's as the possessive of you guys.

  35. Mark F. said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 10:30 am

    Josef Fruehwald – Good point.

  36. L said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 11:11 am

    I can accept either "flew out" or "flied out" in the context of baseball. However, it is "struck out" and "grounded out" but never "striked out" or "grind out."

    A team can, of course, grind out a victory, and a batter might, by fouling off a large number of pitches, grind out a walk. The pitches were fouled off or fouled-off but never foul-offed; unless they were foul-tipped, which happens.

    A batter who was walked (not walken) on purpose was intentionally walked, not intentionallyed walked. For that matter, no pitcher has ever balken, not even if he's Balkan.

    Also, a team is never "double playen."

  37. Mr Punch said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 11:57 am

    Unlike L, I regard "flew out" as incorrect. "Foul" can be an adjective, noun or verb, and in "foul tip" it's an adjective. That's an interesting case because all tips are foul (i.e., not in fair territory), but they are foul balls only if they are not caught by the catcher.

  38. L said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    With any specialized jargon, the real test is the usage employed by the relevant specialists – in this case, baseball players, coaches, managers, and the like; or, looking at it slightly differently, as a jargon employed by baseball broadcasters, writers, and fans – – – many of whom are former players.

    The problem in documenting specialist usage in baseball is twofold:

    (1) Yogi Berra; and
    (2) Casey Stengel.

  39. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

    Schroduck: The central body which represents trade unions in Britain is the Trades Union Congress – though whether this is a kind of pluralisation I'm not sure: I think I have seen instances of 'a trades union' in older works. Or perhaps the idea is that it is a congress which unites the various trades.

  40. Richard said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

    I never thought about this until I had a sleepwalking incident of my own. I heard and used 'sleptwalked' and debated what was correct until I gave up and referred to it as 'having a sleepwalking incident.'

  41. L said,

    August 28, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

    > That's an interesting case because all tips are foul (i.e., not in fair
    > territory), but they are foul balls only if they are not caught by the
    > catcher.

    Consistent usage is not a hallmark of baseball jargon. MacBethlike, the foul lines are fair, as are the foul poles. If you hit one out, you're safe. If you swing and completely fail to strike the ball, then it's a strike. If you don't even try to strike the ball, it might a strike or it might be a ball. I could go on for hours.

    Each of these (and if you know baseball, you'll know that I'm just getting started) can be readily explained. A few other terms (eg, to be knocked out of the box) refer to old rules no longer in place.

    I don't know that any of this relates to sleepwalking, unless you count the Mets.

  42. Tim J said,

    August 29, 2012 @ 9:26 pm

    It seems to me that sleptwalked becomes completely logical if you treat it as two juxtaposed verbs rather than as one compound word, as follows. To sleepwalk is to simultaneously sleep and walk; it could be punctuated as to sleep–walk or to sleep/walk. Treated this way, it would be strange not to match the tense of both verbs: I slept/walked or I slept–walked.

    Though I'll leave it to others to decide whether this is a plausible explanation of its occurrence.

  43. John Walden said,

    August 30, 2012 @ 1:37 am

    Like "Every day he walked-ran to the bus stop" ?

    Which would suggest "Every day he walks-runs to the bus-stop".

    "He sleeps walks" googles very very satisfactorily, quite a number with the / between the words.

    So does "she sleeps walks" though the ghits are inflated by being the lyrics of a song by the Kooks (a beat music combo, I believe).

    So I think you're on to something.

  44. Hans Adler said,

    September 1, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

    Not sure if this is helpful, but with such phenomena I tend to think of jocular usage as a possible factor. In Germany, quite a few young people playfully apply strong conjugation to weak verbs that historically never (or at least not recently) had it, similar to English "Who'd a-thunk it?". I tried to stop this practice when my daughter started speaking, but I'm afraid I wouldn't be surprised to hear an incorrect strong conjugation with a rarish verb out of her mouth.

    I wonder if something similar is at play here, with some people genuinely analysing sleepwalking as a verb combination sleeping/walking which in some situations behaves irregularly (sleep/walking, maybe also sleep/walks, but regular slept/walked), and others considering this to be a joke and following the practice for fun. This would then help to perpetuate the error.

  45. Maryellen MacDonald said,

    September 1, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

    DW & myl: The avoidance of "sleeps walks" in the third example seems a generalization of avoidance of -s inflection in compounds, in which people generally don't like inflected modifiers (e.g. *rats eater, referring to a monster that eats rats) but tolerate irregularly inflected modifiers such as mice eater. True, this phenomenon refers to noun compounds rather than verb compounds, and the -s inflection here is plural rather than 3rd person singular as in sleeps walks. However, language production, particularly in agreement and production of inflected forms, is full of surfacy generalizations like this.

  46. Bernd said,

    September 3, 2012 @ 7:07 am

    Today I heard one of my students say she wanted to contact the "Pressenstellen" instead of "Pressestellen" (German for press office). Nice catch, she wouldn't listen to the corrections of her class mates. A quick Google offers 61 more hits.

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