Bit or Bitten - which is correct usage?



"Spiderman was bit by a radioactive spider" versus "Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider" - which one is correct usage ?

Not sure if "bitten" is formally recognized as English or just a colloquial extension.


Posted 2014-09-07T07:36:04.177

Reputation: 171

2Have you looked in a dictionary? – Janus Bahs Jacquet – 2014-09-07T07:55:52.983

Verb - simple past: 'bit', past participle: 'bitten'. However, that didn't help me with the question. – None – 2014-09-07T08:20:27.480

Thank you @Mari-LouA, for the constructive suggestion. I wasn't aware of ELL. In the meantime, and after reading around a bit more, especially at a site pointed to by another ESE member on another question I asked, I think I have the answer.

While I am not still one hundred percent sure, but I think the first sentence is correct, but the second one would have been correct if it said "Spiderman had been bitten by a radioactive spider". – None – 2014-09-07T08:59:30.667

Your analysis is correct, well done! :) – Mari-Lou A – 2014-09-07T09:01:10.850

Hmm. But simple past is bit: "A radioactive spider bit Spiderman." Was <verbed> requires the past participle, so actually both was and had been require bitten. I'll send this over to ELL as they'll be able to explain what's going on. – Andrew Leach – 2014-09-07T09:07:13.697



It's the opposite. "Bitten" is standard. "Bit" is a more-or-less common non-standard form.

As Andrew Leach's comment explains,

Simple past is bit: "A radioactive spider bit Spiderman." Was requires the past participle, so actually both was and had been require bitten.

The Photon

Posted 2014-09-07T07:36:04.177

Reputation: 8 487


I don't understand why this was downvoted. Bit as a past participle is, I think, generally considered nonstandard, but it's surprisingly common (see e.g. GloWbE) so it's worth describing to learners.

– snailplane – 2014-09-07T22:32:02.487

1@snailplane, I can see someone thinking this answer is a bit terse. I thought the other answer explained a lot about why the answer is what it is, but never actually explicitly answered the question, so I was trying to fix that. – The Photon – 2014-09-08T00:10:21.963

I did not downvote the answer (I always leave a comment when I do)- to be make the point. But I find saying the other answer does not "explicitly answer the question" is a bit "over the top". If a form is in a dictionary doesn't it mean it is recognized as English and "sometimes" and "also" are clear aren't they? We are encouraged to give sources and examples on ELL. – None – 2014-09-08T06:08:57.680

@snailplane sorry you're right. deleted. – None – 2014-09-08T06:09:35.270

The only thing I could have said but did not say for ELL is that some (not all) EFL teachers will cross past participle "bit" out as a mistake: it is not in most irregular verbs lists. And that would be very useful to ELL students. But I'm not sure we are encouraged to do so. – Laure 5 mins ago – None – 2014-09-08T06:10:00.760

@Laure, you give lots of useful information about the p.p. of bite, but you never explicitly say that the p.p. is needed in op' s example. – The Photon – 2014-09-08T14:31:02.703

1@ThePhoton: OP's question is clear: do we say "was bit" or "was bitten" ..."Not sure if "bitten" is formally recognized as English". It is clear they knew past participle is needed, and that was not their question. But since lots of dictionaries only give "bitten" they could not understand why "bit" is sometimes encountered, which I think I have answered with as much info as I could find - except the ngram. And OP did not seem to say I answered another question. – None – 2014-09-08T15:11:04.590


Among the grammar books and dictionaries I have just consulted only A grammar of Contemporary English (Quirk & al) and Longman's Dictionary of the English Language mention past participle of bite to be "sometimes" (Quirk) "also" (Longman) bit. OED (1994 CDrom edition) says "also bit".

The free dictionary has both forms.
Cambridge on line gives both forms for past participle for US English and only "bitten" for UK English.

Most online lists of irregular verbs I've consulted do not mention the bit form for the past participle.

The question appears on forums:

Quoting @AndrewLeach on our sister site ELU :

Bit is not a past participle of bite in Standard English; it's dialectal. The answer implies that both have equal validity and application. has a Bit vs. bitten entry

Still, even though bitten is conventional in such uses, bit is sometimes used as the past participle [...] But such instances are rare. In edited writing, bit is usually the past tense...

A long discussion - apparently among English natives on the subject here.


Posted 2014-09-07T07:36:04.177

Reputation: 4 934

Thanks for sharing the sources and the last link to the extended discussion. – bdutta74 – 2014-09-07T17:14:28.463

Here is an ngram comparing the two wrt BrE and AmE. – Drew – 2014-09-07T21:27:16.653

@Drew thanks for ngram. Interesting to see there's hardly ant difference between us and gb English. – None – 2014-09-08T08:06:33.887