Word Choice – Beat Versus Beaten

Paulo’s question: “A famous supermarket announces that ‘We won’t be beat’ when referring to their unbeatable prices. Why beat and not beaten?”

BizWritingTip response: Beat is more commonly used in conversational English. However, a grammatical purist would say the phrase “can’t be …” must be followed by the past participle beaten. Therefore, the supermarket should say its prices “can’t be beaten.”

But as our language evolves, some of the things that would have caused red marks on our school essays are now acceptable.

One of these is a store’s right to brag its “prices can’t be beat.” It does have a nice ring to it.

In addition, “beaten” is now often used to denote a physical action or to imply defeat.

The victim was beaten about the head and shoulders.
Our team was beaten in the final game.