The Irregular Verbs in English (Part 1)

A User-Friendly Classification According to Change Patterns – Part 1

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 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.

 

Study Tables for the Irregular Verbs in English – Part 1

The following irregular verb categories 1-3 are complemented by categories 4-7, found in Part 2.

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
build
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

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
*l eave 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
heared
heared


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
c aught
c aught
*teach
t aught
t aught


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

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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