How to Study Irregular Verbs

Table

Most verbs in English are regular verbs, meaning that they add the ed ending to form both the simple past and the past participle forms, which are identical, such as play-played-played. However, there is a considerable number of irregular verbs (about 450, but only about 200 are in common use) that form their simple past and past participle forms with a vowel change, such as in see-saw-seen (see table below). Some irregular verbs do not change form at all (let-let-let). Irregular verbs originate mostly from Old English, while any new verb coined in later periods tends to be regular. Still, the ten most used verbs in English are irregular.

Another distinction is between weak and strong verbs. In weak verbs, the simple past and past participle forms are identical, bearing a d or t ending (buy-bought-bought). In strong verbs the simple past and past participle are usually distinct, with the past participle having an en ending (speak-spoke-spoken). The classification of verbs to weak and strong in Modern English is less important for learners, so you can suffice with the regular-irregular distinction.

A user-friendly way to study English irregular verbs:


Regardless of the linguistic distinctions and classifications, which tend to be too complicated for learners, we suggest that you use the following tables, clustering together irregular verbs with similar change patterns in small groups. This kind of clustering aids your memory, which will strengthen with practice. Read through the tables and make note of the verbs you find useful for your purposes. You could also read the table headings if it helps you, or simply focus on the verbs themselves. You may consider creating flash cards with the different groups and study them, as explained on our vocabulary strategies pages. Remember that for looking up irregulars verbs after you have learned them, you have an alphabetical list in any dictionary for easy referencing.

You may notice that in some verb parts there are two correct forms. A general rule of thumb here is that the regular verb option (with ed, no vowel change) is more commonly used in American English, whereas the irregular option (vowel change) is still in use in British English. Moreover, there may also be finer nuances in meaning pertaining to the usage of the former or the latter. In any case, consult your dictionary if you are not sure about the exact usage.

The following irregular verb tables are sorted according to V1,V2, and V3 forms. Here is a quick reminder for these verb forms:

• Uses of the 3 main verb forms:
V1=base form     • Present Simple
• “Future Simple”     • I write in English every day.
I will write an English essay tomorrow.
V2=Past Simple     • Past Simple only!     • Yesterday, I wrote 2 poems in English.
V3=Past participle     • perfect tenses
• passive forms
• passive adjective     • I have already written my English paper.
This novel was written by Charles Dickens.
This story is well-written.

Category 1: irregular ending with no vowel change, V2=V3

group 1: d ending changes to t, ent changes to end

bend     bent     bent
build     built     built
lend     lent     lent
send     sent     sent
spend     spent     spent

group 2: the verbs have and make

have \ has    had     had
make     made     made

group 3: regular (V2, V3) in US English, irregular in UK English

learn    learned \ learnt     learned \ learnt
burn    burned \ burnt     burned \ burnt
dwell     dwelled \ dwelt     dwelled \ dwelt
smell     smelled \ smelt     smelled \ smelt
spell     spelled \ spelt     spelled \ spelt
spill     spilled \ spilt     spilled \ spilt
spoil     spoiled \ spoilt     spoiled \ spoilt

group 4: ay ending changes to aid

*said is pronounced /sed/
lay
(the table,
clothes, eggs)    laid     laid
pay    paid     paid
say    *said
(/sed/)    *said
(/sed/)

Category 2: Vowel change, irregular ending, V2=V3

 

group 5: vowel change , d or t ending

creep     crept     crept
feed     fed     fed
feel     felt     felt
keep     kept     kept
kneel     knelt \ kneeled     knelt \ kneeled
meet    met     met
sleep    slept     slept
sweep    swept     swept
weep    wept     wept
*leave    left     left


group 6: different pronunciation of the same vowel

d or t ending
deal    dealt    dealt
dream    dreamed \ dreamt     dreamed \ dreamt
lean    leaned \ leant    leaned \ leant
leap    leapt    leapt
mean    meant    meant
read    read (/red/)    read (/red/)
hear    heard    heard

group 7: ell turns to old

sell    sold    sold
tell    told    told

group 8: vowel change with ought (or *aught) ending

d or t ending
bring     brought     brought
buy     bought     bought
fight     fought     fought
seek     sought     sought
think     thought     thought
*catch     caught     caught
*teach     taught     taught

Category 3: Verbs with the same form V1=V2=V3

 

group 9: Verbs that do not change

d or t ending
bet     bet     bet
bid (to offer)    bid     bid
broadcast     broadcast \
broadcasted     broadcast \
broadcasted
burst     burst     burst
cost     cost     cost
cut     cut     cut
fit    fit
(was the right size)
fitted
(tailored, changed size)    fit
(was the right size)
fitted
(tailored, changed size)
hit     hit    hit
hurt    hurt     hurt
let     let     let
put    put     put
set     set     set
shut     shut     shut
spread    spread    spread
quit     quit     quit

Category 4: Vowel change, V3 ending with (e)n

 group 10: V2 and V3 with long /o / sound        

break     broke     broken        
choose     chose     chosen        
freeze     froze     frozen        
speak     spoke     spoken        
steal     stole     stolen        
awake     awoke \ awaked     awoken \ awaked        
wake     woke \ waked     woken \ waked        
weave     wove     woven     
 

group 11: V2 long o sound, V3 shirt /i/ sound        

arise     arose     arisen        
rise     rose     risen        
*ride     rode     *ridden        
drive     drove     driven        
*write     wrote     *written     
 

group 12: The following verbs:       

*bite     bit     *bitten        
*hide     hid     *hidden        
eat     ate     eaten        
give     gave     given        
forgive     forgave     forgiven        
forbid *     forbad(e)     forbidden        
* bid
( to command, farewell)    bade     *bidden        
* forget     forgot     *forgotten        
get     got     * gotten (AmE) \ got (BrE)        
shake     shook     shaken        
take     took     taken        
see     saw     seen        
beat     beat     beaten        
fall     fell     fallen        
lie
( down to rest)    lay     lain     

Pay attention!
Do not confuse lie (tell a lie, regular), lie (down to rest, irregular), and lay (the table, irregular).
 

*lie
(tell a lie)    lied     lied        
lie
(down to rest)    lay     lain        
lay
(the table, eggs)    laid     laid     
 

group 13: the ear-ore-orn pattern       

bear     bore    born        
swear     swore    sworn        
tear    tore    torn        
wear    wore    worn       

group 14: V1 with ow, V2 with ew, V3 with own        

blow     blew     blown        
               
grow     grew     grown        
               
know     knew     known        
               
throw     threw     thrown        
               
fly     flew     flown        
draw    drew     *drawn        
            

Category 5: regular V2, regular or irregular V3

 group 15        

show     showed     showed \ shown        
sow    sowed     sowed \ sown        
mow     mowed     mowed \ mown        
swell     swelled     swelled \ swollen        
sew     sewed     sewed \ sewn        
*shine
(the shoes)    shined    shined        
*shine
(brightly)    shone     shone    

Category 6: vowel change, no ending, V2=V3

 group 16: vowel change pattern, no ending        

dig     dug     dug        
stick     stuck     stuck        
spin     spun     spun        
sting     stung     stung        
strike     struck     struck        
swing     swung     swung        
*hang
(a man)    hanged     hanged        
*hang
(a picture)    hung     hung        
slide     slid     slid        
light     lighted \ lit     lighted \ lit        
shoot     shot     shot     

group 17: vowel change pattern i - ou - ou       

bind     bound     bound        
find     found     found        
grind     ground     ground        
wind     wound     wound     
 

group 18: vowel change ee - e - e       

bleed     bled     bled        
feed     fed     fed        
flee     fled     fled        
*lead     led     led        
*speed     speeded \ sped     speeded \ sped     

Category 7: The craziest verbs!

 group 19: vowel change pattern i - a - u       

begin     began     begun        
drink     drank     drunk        
ring     rang     rung        
shrink     shrank     shrunk        
sing     sang     sung        
sink     sank     sunk        
spin     span \ spun     spun        
spring     sprang     sprung        
swim     swam     swum     
 

group 20: vowel change, V1=V3        

come     came     come        
become     became     become        
run     ran     run     
 

group 21: miscellaneous        

the verb to be        
am
is
are     was
was
were     been        
go     went     gone        
*dive
(jumped head first)    dove     dived       
*dive
(scuba-diving)    dived     dived        
do     did     done       
can     could            
may     might            
hold     held    held        
stand     stood     stood        
understand     understood     understood        
sit     sat     sat        
babysit     babysat     babysat        
win     won     won        
lose     lost     lost     


Summary


This has been a review about the irregular verbs in English grammar. As these verbs are highly used in both spoken and written language, you should master their usage rather early on as you progress with your English writing. Reviewing the irregular verbs is not enough to make you use them correctly. The more you notice them up in your reading, and more importantly, use them properly in your writing, the better you will use them.

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