Pet vs. petted

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The verb pet is usually inflected petted in the past tense and as a past participle. This has been the case for as long as the word has been a verb (about 500 years). The uninflected form (e.g., he pet the cat) is fairly common in informal contexts, especially in the U.S., but it usually gives way to petted in edited writing. Pet is gaining ground, though, and there is some precedent for it in the uninflected verbs let, set, and bet, so it may someday gain broader acceptance. For now, petted remains the safer choice.


Here are examples of petted in texts spanning the last few centuries:

And indeed, some familiar Horses love to be so petted, and will by that means eat twice as much as they would do if they were left to themselves. [A New Treatise on the Diseases of Horses, William Gibson (1754)]

[S]he, provoked at the apparent indifference of her petted darling, positively declared he should come to her, or be sent out of the room. [The Decision: A Novel (1811)]

We agreed, without any more consultation, that we would both go, and that Dora was a little Impostor, who feigned to be rather unwell, because she liked to be petted. [David Copperfield, Charles Dickens (1849)]

The stately donkeys were much petted and patronized, not by children only, but by that class of sight-seer whom the French denominate badaud. [Atlantic Monthly (1890)]

Whenever Truls saw any of them he would come leaping and bounding up, expecting to be given milk and to be petted.[Grass of the Earth, Aagot Raaen (1950)]

When Juneau seemed to understand that this tall stranger would not hurt him and hesitantly let himself be petted, things looked up. [Denver Post (2012)]

Meanwhile, instances of pet as the past tense or past participle are either nonexistent or very rare until the 21st century (re-create two of our historical searches here and here—most or all of the results are scanning errors), and those from this century are mostly from American sources that are not very well edited—for example:

Simon turned to mush as he pet Panda, but he still saved enough venom to spit “excruciating” after she finished singing. [MTV (2008)]

“You’re a good boy. Are you a good boy? Yeah you are,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Jay O’Neil as he pet his partner Thor on the head. [WMTV (2009)]

As she pet the wolf, he slowly opened his mouth as if he was about to speak. [The Werewolf Curse, Heather Citulsky (2010)]

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