Irregular Verbs

May 21, 2021

Definition: In Lesson 5 you learned about the regular past forms, which always end in -edIrregular 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 atefoughtswam, 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 (sweep → swept). Sometimes you’ll add -d (sell → sold) or -ght (catch → caught) 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 (drive → driven).

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.

BaseRegular
Present Participle
Irregular
Past
Irregular
Past Participle
drivedrivingdrovedriven
beginbeginningbeganbegun
sleep*sleepingsleptslept
runrunningranrun
freeze*freezingfrozefrozen
eat*eatingateeaten

*For some verbs, such as sleepfreeze, 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/sweptcatch/caught/caughtsell/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.BasePastPast Participlesweepsweptsweptcatchcaughtcaughtsellsoldsoldshineshoneshoneswingswungswungfightfoughtfoughtstickstuckstuck
  • It is common to form the past participle by adding -en-n, or -ne to the end of the base or past tense form.BasePastPast Participleeatateeatengivegavegivendodiddonefreezefrozefrozen
  • 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).BasePastPast ParticipleputputputsetsetsetKeep in mind that this pattern does not apply to all verbs ending in the letter -t—there are quite a few, such as connectvisit, 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.BasePastPast Participlebeginbeganbegunringrangrung
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.BasePastPast Participlerunranruncomecamecome
  • 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.BasePastPast Participleflyflewflown
  • With the verb beat – and only the verb beat – the base and the past tense are the same, but the past participle is different.BasePastPast ParticiplebeatbeatbeatenKeep 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.


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