English grammar

Module 3, Verbs: Types, Tenses, and Moods, Lesson 7:

Irregular Verbs

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English grammar

Definition: In Lesson 5 you learned about the regular past forms, which always end in -ed. Irregular verbs don't follow this pattern. Most of the time, verbs are irregular only in their past tense and past participle forms, but there are a handful of verbs that have one or more irregular present tense forms. This lesson is going to cover the irregular past forms only.

Note:
Even if a verb is irregular, the present participle is still formed by adding -ing to the end of the base—no exceptions. Yes, you read that correctly: there are no irregular present participles in the English language. Sometimes you may have to tweak the spelling a little, but the ending will always be -ing.

Irregular Past Tense and Past Participles

Here are a few basics you'll want to remember about the irregular past tense and past participle forms.

  • They all have one important characteristic in common: they never end in -ed. Some examples are ate, fought, swam, and given.
  • It's very common for a vowel (or pair of vowels) to be different from the base form. Began (base form, begin) and froze (base form, freeze) are a two good examples.
  • Most irregular verbs follow a specific pattern. You'll learn more about this concept later in this lesson.

Let's take a closer look at how the irregular past tense and past participles are formed.

Past Tense

With the irregular past tense, it is common for a vowel in the middle of the verb to change instead of the verb's ending. The verb drive, for example, changes to drove in the past tense.

Other verbs require you to change a vowel and add a new ending. Eat, for example, turns into ate in the past tense.

One of the most common irregular past tense endings is -t (sweepswept). Sometimes you'll add -d (sellsold) or -ght (catchcaught) instead.

Often, when the base ends in -ck, -e, -g, -ght, or -n, the past tense will keep that final letter or set of letters.

stick → stuck
drive → drove
ring → rang
fight → fought
run → ran
Past Participles

Just like the irregular past tense, irregular past participles can be formed by changing a vowel, adding a new ending, or doing both. However, the vowel or ending is often (but not always) different from the past tense form. For example, many irregular past participles require you to add an -en, -n, or -ne ending (drivedriven).

Many irregular past participles end in -en, but, similarly to the past tense, they can also end in -t, -ck, -d, -e, -g, or -ght.

In the table below you'll find several examples of how the irregular past tense and past participles are formed. Pay special attention to the vowel changes and different endings.

Base Regular
Present Participle
Irregular
Past
Irregular
Past Participle
drive driving drove driven
begin beginning began begun
sleep* sleeping slept slept
run running ran run
freeze* freezing froze frozen
eat* eating ate eaten

*For some verbs, such as sleep, freeze, and eat, a pair of vowels changes instead of just a single vowel.

Irregular Verb Patterns

Now that you have an idea of how to form the irregular past tense and irregular past participles, let's take a look at some patterns that an irregular verb may follow.

Common Patterns
  • Sometimes the past tense and past participle are the same. All the verbs in this category have at least one of the following characteristics:

    • The most common past tense and past participle endings you will add to these verbs are -t, -ght, and -d (sweep/swept/swept; catch/caught/caught; sell/sold/sold).
    • You will never add an -en, -n, or -ne ending to these verbs. The only time the past forms end in -n or -ne is when that ending is already part of the base form (shine/shone/shone).
    • Sometimes the base, past, and past participle endings are all the same. This happens most often when the base ends in -ck, -g, -ght, or -ne.

    You'll want to keep these characteristics in mind as you study irregular verbs, but don't worry about memorizing them all. Use the table below to help you start recognizing all the patterns.

    Base Past Past Participle
    sweep swept swept
    catch caught caught
    sell sold sold
    shine shone shone
    swing swung swung
    fight fought fought
    stick stuck stuck
  • It is common to form the past participle by adding -en, -n, or -ne to the end of the base or past tense form.

    Base Past Past Participle
    eat ate eaten
    give gave given
    do did done
    freeze froze frozen
  • For some verbs, the base, past tense, and past participle are all the same. The base form of these verbs almost always ends in -t (a couple of them end in -d, but that's very unusual).

    Base Past Past Participle
    put put put
    set set set

    Keep in mind that this pattern does not apply to all verbs ending in the letter -t—there are quite a few, such as connect, visit, and lift, that are regular verbs. Also, verbs with a base form ending in -ght never follow this pattern.

  • Sometimes, the final vowel changes from i in the base to a in the past, and then to u in the past participle.

    Base Past Past Participle
    begin began begun
    ring rang rung
Rare Patterns and Stand-Alone Irregulars
  • With the verbs run, come, become, and overcome, the base and past participle are the same. These are the only four verbs that follow this pattern, so keep an eye out for them—people often make the mistake of thinking that the past tense and past participle forms are the same.

    Base Past Past Participle
    run ran run
    come came come
  • The base, past tense, and past participle are all completely different. This doesn't happen very often. The verb fly is a good a example.

    Base Past Past Participle
    fly flew flown
  • With the verb beat - and only the verb beat - the base and the past tense are the same, but the past participle is different.

    Base Past Past Participle
    beat beat beaten

    Keep in mind that any other verb that has the same base and past tense will also have the same exact past participle (for example, put/put/put).

Note:
Knowing these patterns will help you recognize the different verb forms, but it's not the best way to memorize them. Most people learn the irregular verb forms by hearing, reading, and practicing them or by being corrected at home or in school.
Hint:
If you aren't sure whether a verb is irregular or not, the easiest solution is to look it up in the dictionary. If the verb is irregular, the dictionary will give you all of the irregular forms.

Present Tense: Irregular Third Person Singular

Verbs that are irregular in the present tense are almost always irregular only in the third person singular form (he, she, it). There are very few verbs that fall into this category; they are to have, to do, and to go. These verbs also have an irregular past tense and past participle.

Regular Present Irregular Present
(third person singular only)
Regular Present Participle Irregular Past
(all forms)
Irregular Past Participle
(all forms)
I/you/we/they have he/she/it has (not haves) having had had
I/you/we/they do he/she/it does (not dos) doing did done
I/you/we/they go he/she/it goes (not gos) going went gone
Hint:
There are certain verbs that have do, go, or have as their root.1 These verbs will have the same irregular forms as the root verb.

The verb forgo, which has the root go, has an irregular past tense form and past participle (forwent, forgone).

The verb undo, which has the root do, is irregular in the third person singular form of the present tense and has an irregular past tense and past participle (undoes, undid, undone).

The Verb To Be

The verb to be is the most irregular verb in the English language. It is irregular in all forms of the present and past tenses, and it has an irregular past participle.

Present Tense Present Participle Past Tense Past Participle
I am
you/we/they are
he/she/it is
being I/he/she/it was
you/we/they were
been

Try it out:

Fill in each column with the correct form of the given verb. Then check your work. Practice the ones you miss.

Base Regular
Present
Participle
Irregular
Past
Tense
Irregular
Past
Participle
seek
seeking
sought
sought
swing
swinging
swung
swung
choose
choosing
chose
chosen
get
getting
got
gotten
drink
drinking
drank
drunk
swim
swimming
swam
swum
bring
bringing
brought
brought
ride
riding
rode
ridden
begin
beginning
began
begun
drive
driving
drove
driven
know
knowing
knew
known
write
writing
wrote
written
sink
sinking
sank
sunk
burst
bursting
burst
burst
cost
costing
cost
cost
become
becoming
became
become

  1. A root is the most basic part of a word. Sometimes a root is a stand-alone word, and sometimes it's just part of a word. You can combine the root with other elements to make new words. Elements you add to the beginning of a word are called prefixes, and elements you add to the end of a word are called suffixes.

    for + go = forgo
    under + go = undergo
    re + do = redo
    un + do = undo

    The roots in the examples above are go and do. The other elements are all prefixes.

Practice What You've Learned

English grammar
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Directions:
Choose the correct form of the verb to complete the sentence.
1.
In the past I have flew/flown on airplanes many times.
2.
Mother cut/cutted herself while she was cooking dinner.
3.
My grandmother has knew/known her best friend for sixty years.
4.
If our train hadn't been late, we would have went/gone to the Vatican today.
5.
I wish you had keeped/kept my secret.
6.
I looked all over for my homework, but it must have been throwed/thrown away.
7.
After buying a new set of golf clubs, Ron quit/quitted playing golf.
8.
I am excited to report that our school's team winned/won the math competition.
9.
I was sure you knew/knowed the answer to that question.
10.
When the wind blew/blowed the tree down, we knew it was sick.
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