Blog Grammar Rules What Are Irregular Verbs?

What Are Irregular Verbs?

Hannah Yang

Hannah Yang

Speculative Fiction Author

Published Feb 21, 2022
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Irregular Verbs cover

You may have come across verbs where the past tense isn’t what you’d expect it to be. For example, the past tense of “drive” isn’t “drived,” and the past tense of “beat” isn’t “beated.”

If you’ve seen such a verb that doesn’t fit the typical past-tense pattern, then you’ve encountered something called an irregular verb.

What exactly is an irregular verb?

The short answer is that a verb is irregular if you can’t change it to past tense just by adding “-ed” or “-d” to the end.

In order to use these verbs correctly, you have to memorize their past simple and past participle forms, since they don’t fit into the usual pattern.

This article will explain how irregular verbs work and give you a list of the most common ones in English.

Contents:
  1. What Is an Irregular Verb?
  2. How Many Irregular Verbs Are There in English?
  3. What Are the Most Common Irregular Verbs in English?
  4. How Many Different Types of Irregular Verbs Are There?
  5. What’s the Best Way to Learn and Remember Irregular Verbs?
  6. Why Are Some Verbs Irregular While Others Are Not?
  7. Final Words

What Is an Irregular Verb?

Let’s start by talking about what a regular verb is. A regular verb is one that forms its past simple or past participle form by adding “-ed” or “-d” to its base form.

For example, “to jump” is a regular verb, because to change it to past tense, you simply add “-ed” to form the word “jumped.”

What is a regular verb

You would say “I jump over the fence” (present tense), “I jumped over the fence” (past simple), or “I have jumped over the fence” (past participle).

Other examples of regular verbs include:

  • to love: “loved” (past simple and past participle)
  • to finish: “finished” (past simple and past participle)
  • to paint: “painted” (past simple and past participle)

An irregular verb, on the other hand, is any verb that doesn’t follow that rule. Its past simple and/or past participle forms are created in a way that doesn’t involve adding a “-d” or “-ed” at the end.

The verb “to bite” is irregular, because its past tense is “bit,” not “bited.” It breaks the normal rule for how you change a verb to past tense.

You would say “I bite the apple” (present tense), “I bit the apple” (past simple), or “I have bitten the apple” (past participle).

What is an irregular verb

Other examples of irregular verbs include:

  • to sleep: “slept” (past simple and past participle)
  • to write: “wrote” (past simple) and “written” (past participle)
  • to read: “read” (past simple and past participle)

How Many Irregular Verbs Are There in English?

There are over 200 irregular verbs in English. These include some of the most commonly used verbs in the language, such as “to be,” “to have,” and “to say.”

British English actually has more irregular verbs than American English, because some conjugations are spelled differently.

For example, “to spell” is a regular verb in American English, where the past tense is “spelled,” but an irregular verb in British English, where the past tense is “spelt.”

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What Are the Most Common Irregular Verbs in English?

Let’s take a look at the most common irregular verbs we use in English.

In the following table, the first column shows you the base form, also known as the infinitive form, of each verb.

The second column shows the past simple tense of the verb. The past simple tense is the conjugation you use to show that an action took place in the past.

The third column shows the past participle of the verb. The past participle is the conjugation you use to show that an action took place prior to some other event, or in a way that has some connection to the present.


Base Form

Past Simple

Past Participle

arise

arose

arisen

be

was / were

been

bear

bore

borne / born

beat

beat

beaten

become

became

become

bend

bent

bent

begin

began

begun

bend

bent

bent

bet

bet

bet

bid

bid / bade

bid / bidden

bind

bound

bound

bite

bit

bitten

bleed

bled

bled

blow

blew

blown

break

broke

broken

breed

bred

bred

bring

brought

brought

build

built

built

burn

burned

burnt

burst

burst

burst

buy

bought

bought

can

could

could

catch

caught

caught

choose

chose

chosen

cling

clung

clung

come

came

come

cost

cost

cost

creep

crept

crept

cut

cut

cut

deal

dealt

dealt

dig

dug

dug

dive

dived / dove

dived / dove

do

did

done

draw

drew

drawn

dream

dreamt / dreamed

dreamt / dreamed

drink

drank

drunk

drive

drove

driven

dwell

dwelt / dwelled

dwelt / dwelled

eat

ate

eaten

fall

fell

fallen

feed

fed

fed

feel

felt

felt

fight

fought

fought

find

found

found

flee

fled

fled

fling

flung

flung

fly

flew

flown

forbid

forbade

forbidden

foresee

foresaw

foreseen

forget

forgot

forgotten

forgive

forgave

forgiven

forsake

forsook

forsaken

freeze

froze

frozen

get

got

got / gotten

give

gave

given

go

went

gone

grind

ground

ground

grow

grew

grown

hang

hung

hung

have

had

had

hear

heard

heard

hide

hid

hidden

hit

hit

hit

hold

held

held

hurt

hurt

hurt

keep

kept

kept

kneel

knelt / kneeled

knelt / kneeled

know

knew

known

lay

laid

laid

lead

led

led

leave

left

left

lend

lent

lent

let

let

let

lie

lay

lain

light

lit

lit

lose

lost

lost

make

made

made

mean

meant

meant

meet

met

met

overcome

overcame

overcome

partake

partook

partaken

pay

paid

paid

prove

proved

proven

put

put

put

quit

quit

quit

read

read

read

ride

rode

ridden

ring

rang

rung

rise

rose

risen

run

ran

run

say

said

said

see

saw

seen

seek

sought

sought

sell

sold

sold

send

sent

sent

set

set

set

shake

shook

shaken

shine

shone

shone

shoot

shot

shot

show

showed

shown

shut

shut

shut

sing

sang

sung

sink

sank

sunk

sit

sat

sat

sleep

slept

slept

slide

slid

slid

speak

spoke

spoken

speed

sped

sped

spend

spent

spent

spin

spun

spun

spit

spat / spit

spat / spit

spread

spread

spread

spring

sprang

sprung

stand

stood

stood

steal

stole

stolen

stick

stuck

stuck

sting

stung

stung

stink

stank

stunk

strike

struck

struck

strive

strove

striven

swear

swore

sworn

sweep

swept

swept

swim

swam

swum

swing

swung

swung

take

took

taken

teach

taught

taught

tear

tore

torn

tell

told

told

think

thought

thought

throw

threw

thrown

undergo

underwent

undergone

understand

understood

understood

wake

woke

woken

wear

wore

worn

weep

wept

wept

win

won

won

wind

wound

wound

withdraw

withdrew

withdrawn

wring

wrung

wrung

write

wrote

written

How Many Different Types of Irregular Verbs Are There?

You may have noticed that for some of the verbs in the table, all three columns are the same. For others, two of the columns are the same. And for others still, all three of the columns are different.

It can be helpful to think of irregular verbs in different groups depending on how many columns are the same.

You can split irregular verbs into the following four types:

The types of irregular verbs

Type 1: Verbs with the Same Base Form, Past Simple, and Past Participle

This type includes irregular verbs for which all three columns are the same.

Examples include “cut / cut / cut,” “hurt / hurt / hurt,” and “put / put / put.”

Irregular Verb Type one

Type 2: Verbs with the Same Past Simple and Past Participle

This type includes irregular verbs for which the first column is different, but the second and third columns are the same.

Examples include “bring / brought / brought,” “catch / caught / caught,” and “sell / sold / sold.”

Irregualr verbs type two

Type 3: Verbs with the Same Base Form and Past Participle

This type includes irregular verbs for which the second column is different, but the first and third columns are the same.

Examples include “come / came / come,” “become / become / become,” and “run / ran / run.”

Irregular verb type three

Type 4: Verbs with a Different Base Form, Past Simple, and Past Participle

This type includes irregular verbs for which all three columns are different.

Examples include “begin / began / begun,” “break / broke / broken,” and “write / wrote / written.”

Irregular verb type four

Type 1 is the easiest because you only need to memorize one form that works in all tenses, while Type 4 requires the most memorization.

Using these types, you can easily see how many forms you have to memorize for each verb. It also makes it easier to learn each verb, because you can learn it as part of a pattern.

What’s the Best Way to Learn and Remember Irregular Verbs?

If you’re a native English speaker, you probably have a natural grasp of which verbs are irregular. Most children pick up on these patterns without thinking consciously about them.

If you’re in the process of either teaching or learning English, there’s no easy trick for remembering how to use irregular verbs. Each one is different, and the only way to master them is by memorizing them intentionally.

Extra help is always good. ProWritingAid’s grammar checker will highlight and suggest corrections if you mix up your conjugations.

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There are various different methods you can use to memorize these words.

One useful method is to use flash cards. If you practice 10 to 15 a day, you can memorize all the irregular verbs in the table within less than a month.

It’s also helpful to pay attention whenever you see a verb that doesn’t have a regular conjugation. Write it down in a notebook and review your notebook words regularly.

Finally, it’s a great idea to practice creating your own example sentences with each new irregular verb you learn. That way, you can start building intuition for how these verbs sound in past tense.

Tips for learning irregular verbs

Why Are Some Verbs Irregular While Others Are Not?

Most irregular verbs exist as remnants of older words that have been part of the English language for a long time.

Grammar has changed significantly over the history of the English language, so conjugations worked differently then than they do now. We kept some of those archaic conjugations even after the rules fell out of use.

For example, in Middle English, there used to be a group of verbs for which you created the past tense by shortening the vowel. That’s why the past tense of “keep” is “kept,” the past tense “weep” is “wept,” and the past tense of “leap” is “leapt.”

Final Words

Now you know what irregular verbs are, and you have a table of the most common ones to start memorizing.

Was this article helpful? Let us know in the comments.


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Hannah Yang

Hannah Yang

Speculative Fiction Author

Hannah is a speculative fiction writer who loves all things strange and surreal. She holds a BA from Yale University and lives in Colorado. When she’s not busy writing, you can find her painting watercolors, playing her ukulele, or hiking in the Rockies. Follow her work on hannahyang.com or on Twitter at @hannahxyang.

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