SIR: A newspaper headline said officials "strived" to do such-and-such. Strived? My dictionary says "strove," no alternatives. - Sally T.

ANSWER: That brings up the whole matter of regular and irregular verbs. Irregular verbs form their past tense by vowel changes (strive, strove), while regular verbs form theirs by adding -d or -ed or -t at the end (talk, talked). There are, of course, exceptions. Verbs, in general, were becoming regular until 18th-century grammarians resisted strongly, so that now we still have perhaps 140 verbs that are, according to authorities, in some degree irregular."Strive" is one of them. The irregular past is "strove," but the regular past is "strived," and of four dictionaries I checked, "strived" was given as an alternative form in three of them. In short, it is permissible to use either. I prefer "strived" just as I prefer "helped" to "holp." But I suppose it's a matter of choice; I still prefer "blew" to "blowed" and "drank" to "drinked." At any rate, don't blame your headline writer. He (or she) had a choice.

SIR: In regard to your recent discussion of "feed a cold and starve a fever," I have heard an ancient doggerel supposedly connected with the British College of Surgeons that goes: "His patients they shall never grow old/Who starves a fever and stuffs a cold." - E.R.S.

ANSWER: Thank you. If, as agreed here, the couplet makes no sense, this explains it: Feeding colds and starving fevers were never meant to be good practice. Unless, of course, you wished never to grow old.

STARTLING STATEMENT of the week (Storming Chairs Division), gleaned from a recent book and passed along by Jerry T.:

"He froze so abruptly that his chair went flying and stormed out of the room."

Send questions, comments, and good and bad examples to Lydel Sims, Watch Your Language, P.O. Box 161280, Memphis, TN 38186 If you quote a book, please give author, title and page number. Sorry, but questions can be answered only through this column.)

- Lydel Sims of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis writes this column weekly.