The verb 'to abide', which is rare outside formal written English, has developed (and lost) different meanings over time. The original meaning was 'to wait, stay, remain'. This came to mean 'to stay in a particular place', 'to reside or dwell [in a particular house]'. It gives rise to the noun 'an abode', "Habitual residence, dwelling" (OED), and the phrase used in legal proceedings to describe the homeless: 'of no fixed abode'. The meaning developed to include the notion of 'remaining in a particular condition': a woman can abide faithful to her husband, even if he is a proven adulterer; and further, to the idea of abiding by a law, or some set of rules: some people abide by the moral code of the previous generation. The sense of 'waiting patiently' gave rise to the idea of 'putting up with, enduring or tolerating'; now "the dominant sense" (Burchfield's Fowler). This is most commonly heard in contexts such as "She cannot abide him", to indicate great dislike.
- 'To abide' is common in the Authorised Version. Two famous instances are: "And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity" (1 Corinthians, 13, 13) and "And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night" (Luke, 2, 8)
'To abide' is an irregular verb. Its forms are given here:
|Base form||past tense||-ed participle||Remarks|
|abide|| abode (traditional)
| abided (traditional)
(or archaic abidden)
- This is one of the "the 250 or so irregular verbs" listed in Quirk 1985. The list "contains most of the irregular verbs in present-day English ... but is not meant to be exhaustive, particularly with regard to derivative verbs." AWE has copied most of the entries in that list. The verb 'to abide' belongs to Quirk's Class 6
- The noun '(an) abode' nowadays means 'dwelling place', 'house', 'home'. The phrase "of no fixed abode" is used in legal contexts to mean 'homeless'.
- Etymological notes: "The historical conj[ugation] is abide, abode, abidden, but pa[st] tense and pa[st] p[articiple] have been variously assimilated to each other, and to the weak conjugation" (OED).
- Burchfield's Fowler says, in giving a fine figurative idea of semantic change (and a mixed metaphor): "A verb in retreat does not always show its full plumage. Except in a few senses, abide has fallen somewhat into disuse and its conjugational forms have become reduced." Sir Ernest Gowers, in the 2nd edition of Fowler, gave this advice: "For a[bide] in its current sense (abide by = keep) abided is usual, but in its archaic sense of remain or dwell it makes abode only." In the first edition, Fowler did not see fit to include an article on abide, which suggests that at that time mistakes in its use were not common - or not commonly spotted.