Question from Kayoko

The past tense of ‘overcome’ is ‘overcame’.
But I hardly hear people use ‘overcame’.  Instead, I hear “I have overcome the problems”.
Is this correct?

Hello Kayoko. Well this is just a confusion about tenses. You are quite right that the past tense of ‘overcome’ is ‘overcame’, by the way it follows the same form as the verb ‘to come’ – ‘come’,’came’ – the simple past, and ‘come’ the past participle. Take a look at the list of irregular verbs on English4Today – the link is at the end of the text to remind yourself of the simple past form and the past participle.

Now let’s see if we can overcome your problem!

First a couple of sentences where you would use the simple past ‘overcame’:

  • She overcame all of the obstacles in her way and became an Olympic champion.
  • David overcame a serious illness when he was young and is now an active adult.

In both sentences the use of the simple past is perfectly correct as we are refering to a completed past action.

Now let’s look at the sentence that you hear frequently: ‘I have overcome the problems’. If you look at it the first thing you notice is that there is the auxiliary verb ‘have’ in there – ‘I have overcome’ – this tells you that it is in the present perfect tense and therefore uses the past participle of ‘overcome’ which is, confusingly, ‘overcome’! The present perfect is used as there is no clear reference to a completed act in the past and the speaker is saying ‘up until this moment I have overcome all of the problems’.

If you are still a bit confused take a look through the sections on the use of the simple past and the present perfect in the English4Today Online Grammar and check the irregular verb list.

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