English Grammar Review
Verbs and Verbals

Irregular Verbs

To help you learn how to use verbs in all their forms, teachers often show you lists of words:

present . past . present participle . past participle

offer . offered . offering . offered

occur . occurred . occurring . occurred

talk . talked . talking . talked

try . tried . trying . tried

They do the same for verbs with irregular forms:

forgive . forgave . forgiving . forgiven

make . made . making . made

mean . meant . meaning . meant

understand . understood . understanding . understood

These lists are more useful than the lists for regular verbs, because they help us see how each irregular verb is constructed—and they are all different.

However, we don't just remember words we see; we remember sounds that we hear.

And remembering sound patterns is even easier:

[ee] . [eh] . [eh]

lead . led . led

read . read . read

Note: The present participle is always the present tense with an ing added at the end. So why bother memorizing the words when we know the constant rule?

Similarly, we have:

say . said . said

lend . lent . lent

bring . brought . brought

These are irregular verbs for which the past tense sounds like, and is usually spelled like, the past participle.

For a few of these verbs, the past tense might not seem natural in sound or in spelling. Memory aids can help:

We led you to zed,
since your numbers have fled.

We lent you the rent,
much more than a cent.

The most common sound pattern for irregular verbs is an n sound at the end of the past participle:

begin . began . begun

choose . chose . chosen

do . did . done

forget . forgot . forgotten

get . got . gotten

give . gave . given

know . knew . known

see . saw . seen

speak . spoke . spoken

take . took . taken

write . wrote . written

Of course, this being English, there are verbs so irregular that they refuse to change their sounds and their spelling:

bet . bet . bet

bid . bid . bid

cost . cost . cost

cut . cut . cut

quit . quit . quit

set . set . set

(Trouble makers.)

Now let's talk about the most common errors we make with irregular verbs.

(1) We use the past tense when we should have used the past participle.

Mwangi has began commuting to Nairobi. [wrong]

Mwangi has begun commuting to Nairobi. [right]

(2) We use the past participle when we should have used the past tense.

I run all around Mombassa yesterday. [wrong]

I ran all around Mombassa yesterday. [right]

(3) We make a wrong choice between present tense and past tense.

Rehema found it difficult to chose the best plan. [wrong]

Rehema found it difficult to choose the best plan. [right]

This is often more than just a spelling error. It can also be an error in remembering the proper sound patterns of the irregular verb:

[uze] . [oze] . [oze]

choose . chose . chosen

(4) We adopt a colloquialism but forget to correct it in our writing at work.

I seen it with my own eyes!

I saw it with my own eyes.

Lesson: Irregular Verbs
Module: Verbs and Verbals
Course: English Grammar Review