Grammar Irregular Verbs Can Be a Regular Pain |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Irregular Verbs Can Be a Regular Pain

English verbs are either regular or irregular. We call a verb regular when we add ed (wanted, looked) or sometimes just d (created, loved) to form what are called the simple past tense and the past participle (see third and fourth paragraphs below). A regular verb’s simple past tense and past participle are always identical.

Not so with irregular verbs. They form the simple past tense and the past participle in any number of unpredictable ways. Some irregular verbs, like let, shut, and spread, never change, whether present or past. Others, like feel and teach, become modified versions of themselves (felt, taught) to form both the past tense and the past participle. Still others, like break and sing, change to form the past tense (broke, sang) and change again to form the past participle (broken, sung). And then there are a few really weird ones, like go: its past participle (gone) is recognizable enough, but its simple past tense is a strange new word (went).

Let’s get back to the irregular verb break. The simple past tense is broke, which we use in sentences like I broke your dish. We use the past participle, broken, to form compound verbs in sentences like I have broken your dish. The compound verb have broken is so called because we’ve added a helping verb (have) to the main verb’s past participle (broken). Be careful never to add a helping verb to the simple past form of an irregular verb—I have broke your dish is an embarrassing confession in more ways than one.

The past participle of an irregular verb can also function as an adjective: a broken dish. But the simple past form, if it differs from the participle, cannot function as an adjective: a broke dish is substandard English.

There are far fewer irregular verbs than regular ones, but we use them all the time. “The ten commonest verbs in English (be, have, do, say, make, go, take, come, see, and get) are all irregular,” notes Steven Pinker, an American experimental psychologist and linguist, “and about 70% of the time we use a verb, it is an irregular verb.” Pinker acknowledges 180 irregular English verbs, but the website has an Extended Irregular Verb Dictionary which contains over 470 irregular verbs, including rare ones such as bestrew, enwind, and hagride.

Proper use of irregular verbs requires old-fashioned memorization—there are no secret formulas or shortcuts. This is why these words can create havoc for conscientious speakers of English. See how you do on the irregular verb quiz below—and please, no peeking at the answers till you complete the last question.

Irregular Verb Pop Quiz

1. He should have definitely ___ it before sunset.

A) did
B) done
C) have did
D) have done

2. This year has not necessarily ___ the way they hoped it would.

A) gone
B) went
C) going
D) go

3. He hopes he has finally ___ his last grammar test.

A) took
B) tooken
C) take
D) taken

4. The dry soil has ___ up every last raindrop.

A) drank
B) drunk
C) A and B are both correct.

5. She claims she ___ it happen before it occurred.

A) sees
B) seen
C) saw
D) had saw

6. It looks as if Tanya has actually ___ to visit Reggie.

A) come
B) came
C) coming

7. The Smiths were all ___ by a loud crashing noise.

A) awakened
B) awoken
C) A and B are both correct.

8. It had just ___ to snow when the plane took off.

A) began
B) begin
C) beginning
D) begun

9. Don’t they know I’m already ___ up?

A) shook
B) shaken
C) shooken
D) shaked

10. The wind has ___ like this for a week now.

A) blow
B) blowed
C) blown
D) blew


1: B) done

2: A) gone

3: D) taken

4: B) drunk

5: C) saw

6: A) come

7: C) awakened and awoken are both correct

8: D) begun

9: B) shaken

10: C) blown

If the article or the existing discussions do not address a thought or question you have on the subject, please use the "Comment" box at the bottom of this page.

6 responses to “Irregular Verbs Can Be a Regular Pain”

  1. Randall B. says:

    This is not in regard to an error in the quiz, but a grammatical error in the newsletter itself. In the 6th paragraph of the newsletter “Irregular Verbs,” you use the word “formulas” as the plural form of “formula.” The correct plural form is “formulae.” You can find linguistic guides that say either form is correct, but these are typically written by the same lazy folk who would use “octopuses” rather than “octopi.” Please, don’t be lazy.

    • As we understand it, formulae is preferred in scientific contexts, formulas in more everyday applications. The AP stylebook does not even acknowledge formulae under any circumstances. May we ask how you reached the conclusion that all linguists who endorse formulas are lazy? English does not have to slavishly emulate a dead language.

      Since octopus comes from Greek, not Latin, octopi is resoundingly incorrect. The proper plural is octopuses.

      • Randall B. says:

        Thank you for correcting me. I apologize for the insinuation, particularly now that you have pointed out that it is I who was in error. If my grade school teacher who taught me these things is still alive, I’ll have to correct her on those points. I believe it was also she who put the notion in my head that those who didn’t follow proper grammar rules were just lazy. I’ve carried this my whole life. This just goes to show how those early teachings can stay with you for a long time. I had also thought that “antennae” was always the correct plural form of “antenna,” but found that to be incorrect a few years ago. “Antennae” is used for animals, while “antennas” is used for manufactured devices. Thank you for also correcting me on the plural of “octopus.”

  2. Richard D. says:

    Please explain the proper use of the past tense of “awoke”

    I always understood it to be “awakened.” Now I see notable authors using “awoken” or “awokened.”
    Thank you

  3. grammarpuzzle says:

    Hi Grammarbook

    aged vs age

    Can you please correct me if I’m wrong on the following sentences below:
    1) Her father died aged 44 when she was just aged 16.
    2) Her mother is aged 80. She lives in Wales with her father who is aged 86.

    When can I use age?

    Please be kind enough to elaborate on the usage of both.

    Thanks a lot!!!!!

    • The word aged can be used as an adjective in certain contexts; however,
      your examples have an awkward sound to the American ear. Here are a few

      1) Her father died at 44 when she was just 16.
      Her father died at the age of 44 when she was just 16.
      Her father died at 44 when she was just 16 years of age.

      2) Her mother is 80 and lives in Wales with her father, who is 86.
      Her mother is 80 years old and lives in Wales with her father, who
      is 86.

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