‘Shined’ versus ‘shone’

As part of my long-running series on the quirks of the English language, I have been struck by the frequency of the use of the word ‘shined’ in the US in situations where I would have used the word ‘shone’. For example, one frequently hears the sentence “He shined a bright light on topic X” whereas I would have said “He shone a bright light on topic X”.

If you Google the phrase “He shined a bright” you get 2,430 hits whereas you get 5,600 hits for “He shone a bright”, so it would seem that the latter form is more common. But when you look more closely, the ‘shined’ formulation appears in popular contemporary articles while ‘shone’ is found in more niche publications, many of them quite old, such as from the 19th century, suggesting that it is more archaic.

It is not that I would never use the word ‘shined’. I use it when it denotes a certain type of action involved in actually making something shine, as in, for example, “He shined his shoes until it shone brightly.” Is my usage a relic of the British colonial English I grew up with? Would someone who grew up in American never use the word ‘shone’ and instead say “He shined his shoes until it shined brightly”?

Inquiring minds (with nothing better to do) want to know.


  1. says

    “Shined” in reference to shoes is akin to “flyed” in baseball. I don’t have a problem with specialized usage, only with people who warp and try to change standard grammar.

    Teaching ESL in Asia, I meet people from many countries, including the US. Almost always it is only Americans who adopt altered spellings and uses of verbs (e.g. spelled when they mean spelt). People from most other countries tend to use proper spellings, though some younger Canadians have adopted Americanisms because of pop culture.

  2. Friendly says

    [puts on editor hat]
    When the verb “to shine” is used in its transitive sense of “to polish something to a reflective gloss” (for example, when we’re talking about having shined shoes), “shined” is the correct past tense. When the verb is used in its intransitive senses (for example, when we’re talking about how the sun shone) or in its transitive sense of “to aim a light source” (for example, when we’re talking about how a muckraking newspaper shone the glare of truth on a dangerous industry), “shone” is the correct past tense. I might be willing to accept constructions such as “She shined a flashlight around in the garage,” but people who use clauses such as “The stars shined brightly” are mangling English no matter what dialect they’re using.
    [takes off editor hat]

  3. Reginald Selkirk says

    … and instead say “He shined his shoes until it shined brightly”?

    They probably would say that, but they would be wrong since shoes is plural and it is singular.

  4. raym says

    And then there is ‘dove’ (rhymes with ‘stove’) instead of ‘dived’. Our common language -- such a rich source of frustration and argument 🙂

  5. cartomancer says

    The original Anglo-Saxon verb “to shine” was “scinan”, which is classified in grammatical terms as a “strong” verb (class 1 in this case). “Strong” verbs in Anglo-Saxon (and their descendents in modern English) change their tense by changing the vowel quality of the stem, as opposed to “weak” verbs, which change their tense by the addition of a -t or a -d sound to the stem. So the original past tense form of “scinan” was “scan”. “Shone” is a direct descendent of “scan”.

    “Shined” came much later. Some etymological dictionaries say 17th century, others 19th century, but they generally agree it was originally used only in the context of polishing boots. It seems to be a non-standard past form, formed as if “shine” were a weak Anglo-Saxon verb, not a strong one. I was not aware that Americans now used it in non boot-related contexts, but I suppose that’s their prerogative.

  6. Holms says

    I think the first time I heard ‘shined’ was in a Tenacious D song, Tribute: “…there shined a shiny demon, in the middle of the road.” Since that sentence contains not just shined but also shiny, I thought they were taking comedic approach with the lyrical style, and thought nothing further of it. It is only later that I found out people might actually use the word shined in that sense without it being intended to be funny, and as far as I have seen, only in America. It has only been shone here in the Au that I have seen.

    I put this alongside such constructions as ‘I could care less’, ‘I’ll write you’, and ‘there’s’ (as a contraction for ‘there are’) in the basket of horrible American english.

  7. Holms says

    There are many variations on the general idea of a game revolving around a ball and the kicking of that ball; I see is as being completely reasonable to use different names to differentiate between these various football sports. It amuses me when someone gets angry at the use of The Name That Must Not Be Spoken, as it it were personally offensive.

  8. k1mpatsu says

    The difference is easy, Mano. British people are so polished that we shine through, whereas colonials don’t know shit from shinola.

  9. Trickster Goddess says


    The American game hardly seems to belong in that category of games, since there is only one player on each team whose foot ever comes into contact with the ball, and only several times during each match at that.

  10. Holms says

    Assuming you were replying to my #10, I was thinking more of the games called football here in Australia -- Rugby (two types) and Australian Rules Football (meaning, the Australian ruleset to football).

  11. Acolyte of Sagan says

    As a scientist, Mano, how do you feel about Americans rhyming ‘laboratory’ with ‘lavatory’?

    As for the general use of ‘shined’ instead of ‘shone’, I am reminded of. speaking with children just beginning to use tenses. They will say “I finded my hat”, “We wented to the park”, “I swimmed a long way”, “Mummy teached me to tie my laces”, and so on.
    I find myself irked by the use of ‘legos’ when referring to Lego bricks, and another that I have heard used several times; when talking about somebody (an illusionist, for example) making another person disappear is “he disappeared the assistant”.

  12. Mano Singham says

    Acolyte of Sagan,

    I tend to ignore differences in pronunciation because those habits, like accents, are regional and hard to change. There is no reason to think that one dialect is the correct one over all the other dialects. Also, over time, I have come to the position that language evolves and usage changes, so there is no fixed right and wrong ways of writing and saying things. What is important is to be clear. Avoiding ugliness is a good thing if one is seeking to persuade others, but that is an aesthetic judgment that may not get universal assent.

    For example, “I could care less” is exactly opposite in the plain meaning of the words to “I couldn’t care less” but they are now used synonymously. I think that is here to stay, however much the former may grate on my ears. The same is true with the word ‘unique’ now used to signify ‘very rare’ as opposed to one of a kind. I will continue to use both in the ‘correct’ way but will refrain from criticizing the alternative usage.

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