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Using Irregular Verbs

Understand the problem.

All verbs, whether regular or irregular, have five forms (often called principal parts). These forms are the infinitive, simple present, simple past, past participle, and present participle.

The difference between regular and irregular verbs is the formation of the simple past and past participle.

Regular verbs are dependably consistent—the simple past ends in ed as does the past participle.

Review this chart:

Infinitive Simple
to laugh laugh(s) laughed laughed laughing
to start start(s) started started starting
to wash wash(es) washed washed washing
to wink wink(s) winked winked winking

In contrast, the simple past and past participle of irregular verbs can end in a variety of ways, with no consistent pattern.

Here are examples:

Infinitive Simple
to drive drive(s) drove driven driving
to feel feel(s) felt felt feeling
to put put(s) put put putting
to swim swim(s) swam swum swimming

With irregular verbs, writers make two frequent errors. They either 1) add an incorrect ed to the end of the past tense or past participle or 2) confuse one form with the other.

Read this sentence:

Olivia feeled like exercising yesterday, so she putted on her bathing suit and drived to the city pool, where she swum so far that only an extra-large pepperoni pizza would satisfy her hunger.

What are the problems with this sentence? First, feeled should be felt. Next, putted needs no ed. The correct past tense of drive is drove. And we must change swum to swam.

Know the solution.

To avoid making mistakes with irregular verbs, learn the very long chart below. (Or bookmark this page in your web browser for future reference!)

Comprehensive List of Irregular Verbs
Infinitive Simple
to arise arise(s) arose arisen arising
to awake awake(s) awoke or awaked awaked or awoken awaking
to be am, is, are was, were been being
to bear bear(s) bore borne or born bearing
to beat beat(s) beat beaten beating
to become become(s) became become becoming
to begin begin(s) began begun beginning
to bend bend(s) bent bent bending
to bet bet(s) bet bet betting
to bid (to offer) bid(s) bid bid bidding
to bid (to command) bid(s) bade bidden bidding
to bind bind(s) bound bound binding
to bite bite(s) bit bitten or bit biting
to blow blow(s) blew blown blowing
to break break(s) broke broken breaking
to bring bring(s) brought brought bringing
to build build(s) built built building
to burst burst(s) burst or bursted burst or bursted bursting
to buy buy(s) bought bought buying
to cast cast(s) cast cast casting
to catch catch(es) caught caught catching
to choose choose(s) chose chosen choosing
to cling cling(s) clung clung clinging
to come come(s) came come coming
to cost cost(s) cost cost costing
to creep creep(s) crept crept creeping
to cut cut(s) cut cut cutting
to deal deal(s) dealt dealt dealing
to dig dig(s) dug dug digging
to dive dive(s) dived or dove dived diving
to do do(es) did done doing
to draw draw(s) drew drawn drawing
to dream dream(s) dreamed or dreamt dreamed or dreamt dreaming
to drink drink(s) drank drunk or drank drinking
to drive drive(s) drove driven driving
to eat eat(s) ate eaten eating
to fall fall(s) fell fallen falling
to feed feed(s) fed fed feeding
to feel feel(s) felt felt feeling
to fight fight(s) fought fought fighting
to find find(s) found found finding
to flee flee(s) fled fled fleeing
to fling fling(s) flung flung flinging
to fly flies, fly flew flown flying
to forbid forbid(s) forbade or forbad forbidden forbidding
to forget forget(s) forgot forgotten or forgot forgetting
to forgive forgive(s) forgave forgiven forgiving
to forsake forsake(s) forsook forsaken forsaking
to freeze freeze(s) froze frozen freezing
to get get(s) got gotten or got getting
to give give(s) gave given giving
to go go(es) went gone going
to grow grow(s) grew grown growing
to hang (to suspend) hang(s) hung hung hanging
to have has, have had had having
to hear hear(s) heard heard hearing
to hide hide(s) hid hidden or hid hiding
to hit hit(s) hit hit hitting
to hurt hurt(s) hurt hurt hurting
to keep keep(s) kept kept keeping
to know know(s) knew known knowing
to lay lay(s) laid laid laying
to lead lead(s) led led leading
to leap leap(s) leaped or leapt leaped or leapt leaping
to leave leave(s) left left leaving
to lend lend(s) lent lent lending
to let let(s) let let letting
to lie (to rest or recline) lie(s) lay lain lying
to light light(s) lighted or lit lighted or lit lighting
to lose lose(s) lost lost losing
to make make(s) made made making
to mean mean(s) meant meant meaning
to pay pay(s) paid paid paying
to prove prove(s) proved proved or proven proving
to quit quit(s) quit quit quitting
to read read(s) read read reading
to rid rid(s) rid rid ridding
to ride ride(s) rode ridden riding
to ring ring(s) rang rung ringing
to rise rise(s) rose risen rising
to run run(s) ran run running
to say say(s) said said saying
to see see(s) saw seen seeing
to seek seek(s) sought sought seeking
to send send(s) sent sent sending
to set set(s) set set setting
to shake shake(s) shook shaken shaking
to shine (to glow) shine(s) shone shone shining
to shoot shoot(s) shot shot shooting
to show show(s) showed shown or showed showing
to shrink shrink(s) shrank or shrunk shrunk or shrunken shrinking
to sing sing(s) sang or sung sung singing
to sink sink(s) sank or sunk sunk sinking
to sit sit(s) sat sat sitting
to slay slay(s) slew or slayed slain slaying
to sleep sleep(s) slept slept sleeping
to sling sling(s) slung slung slinging
to sneak sneak(s) sneaked or snuck sneaked or snuck sneaking
to speak speak(s) spoke spoken speaking
to spend spend(s) spent spent spending
to spin spin(s) spun spun spinning
to spring spring(s) sprang or sprung sprung springing
to stand stand(s) stood stood standing
to steal steal(s) stole stolen stealing
to stick stick(s) stuck stuck sticking
to sting sting(s) stung stung stinging
to stink stink(s) stank or stunk stunk stinking
to stride stride(s) strode stridden striding
to strike strike(s) struck struck striking
to strive strive(s) strove striven striving
to swear swear(s) swore sworn swearing
to sweep sweep(s) swept swept sweeping
to swim swim(s) swam swum swimming
to swing swing(s) swung swung swinging
to take take(s) took taken taking
to teach teach(es) taught taught teaching
to tear tear(s) tore torn tearing
to tell tell(s) told told telling
to think think(s) thought thought thinking
to throw throw(s) threw thrown throwing
to understand understand(s) understood understood understanding
to wake wake(s) woke or waked waked or woken waking
to wear wear(s) wore worn wearing
to weave weave(s) wove or weaved woven or wove weaving
to weep weep(s) wept wept weeping
to win win(s) won won winning
to wring wring(s) wrung wrung wringing
to write write(s) wrote written writing

Know the difference between the simple past tense and the past participle.

In addition to learning the chart above, you must also understand the difference between the simple past tense and the past participle.

Simple Past Tense

A simple past tense verb always has just one part. You need no auxiliary verb to form this tense.

Read these examples:

Because dinner time was near, my dog Oreo bit the spine of Moby-Dick and pulled the novel off my lap.

Since Denise had ignored bills for so long, she wrote checks for an hour straight.

Despite the noise, jolts, and jerks, Alex slept so soundly on the city bus that he missed his stop.

Past Participle

The past participle, on the other hand, follows one or more auxiliary verbs.

Read these sentences:

Raymond had bitten into the muffin before Charise mentioned that it was her infamous chocolate-broccoli variety.

Had = auxiliary verb; bitten = past participle.

Once Woody has written his essay for Professor Stover, he plans to reward himself with a hot fudge sundae.

Has = auxiliary verb; written = past participle.

Cynthia might have slept better if she had avoided The Nightmare on Elm Street marathon.

Might, have = auxiliary verbs; slept = past participle.

Where the Confusion Lies

For regular verbs, knowing the distinction between the simple past and past participle is unnecessary because both are identical, reliably ending in ed.

Consider these two sentences:

Diane giggled as her beagle Reliable pushed his cold, wet nose into her stomach, searching for cookie crumbs.

Giggled = simple past.

Until the disapproving Daniela elbowed Latoya in the ribs, the young woman had giggled without stop at the toilet paper streamer attached to Professor Clemens's shoe.

Had = auxiliary verb; giggled = past participle.

When you choose an irregular verb for a sentence, however, the simple past and past participle are often different, so you must know the distinction.

Here are two examples:

Essie drove so cautiously that traffic piled up behind her, causing angry drivers to honk their horns and shout obscenities.

Drove = simple past.

Essie might have drove driven faster if she had remembered her glasses and saw more than big colored blurs through the windshield.

Might, have = auxiliary verbs; driven = past participle.

Past Participles as Adjectives

In addition, past participles function as adjectives, describing other words. When you use a past participle in this manner, you must choose the correct form.

Read these sentences:

The calculus exams gave given by Professor Ribley are so difficult that his students believe their brains will burst.

The leg of the relay race swam swum by Delores put the team ahead.

The solo sang sung by Bianca uplifted everyone’s spirit.

Remember that you can always consult a dictionary when you have a question about the correct form of an irregular verb.

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