Grammar Staying Regular with Irregular Verbs |
The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation

Staying Regular with Irregular Verbs

English includes several hundred irregular verbs with an estimated 180 of them in regular use. While many users have likely grasped most of the common irregular conjugations, several of the verbs remain elusive and trip even those who are fluent.

We have visited this subject multiple times in the past (see the links at the end of this article). Considering that our last discussion was in 2016, we thought now would be a good time for a review to refresh.

As a recap, an irregular verb is one that does not form its simple past tense and past participle with the standard addition of -d or -ed to the infinitive (the base form of the verb that follows to, as in to bake). Just two examples of standard conjugation of regular verbs are bake, baked, have baked and grasp, grasped, have grasped.

While some irregular verbs form their own singular categories (e.g., go, be), most are often grouped into common types:

Vowel changed: begin, began, have begun
-en added to form the past participle: beat, beat, have beaten
Vowel(s) changed, -en added to form the past participle: speak, spoke, have spoken
Vowel changed to a consonant, -t added to form the past tense and the past participle: feel, felt, have felt
-d changed to -t: send, sent, have sent
Final consonant repeated,  -ed added to form the past tense and the past participle: drop, dropped, have dropped
No change: cut, cut, have cut

These diverse conjugation patterns can make irregular verbs challenging for any English speaker. Mastery of them comes only through correct, consistent use.

The wrong form of an irregular verb is considered sub- or non-standard English. On occasion we might still read or hear usage such as he had stole the keys, she had went yesterday, or the radio was broke. To develop and maintain precise and eloquent English, we want to remain alert to such solecisms.

The following table includes examples of common irregular verbs, including several that are misused the most often. Note that some allow for two forms; either would be correct.

Infinitive Simple Past Past Participle
arise arose arisen
bear bore borne/born*
break broke broken
broadcast broadcast(ed) broadcast(ed)
burn burnt/burned burnt/burned
burst burst burst
cast cast cast
creep crept crept
dive dove/dived dived
draw drew drawn
dream dreamt/dreamed dreamt/dreamed
drive drove driven
eat ate eaten
forbid forbade forbidden
forgo forwent forgone
hang hung/hanged hung/hanged
lay laid laid
lie lay lain
prove proved proved/proven
sell sold sold
shine shone/shined shone/shined
show showed showed/shown
stink stank stunk
stride strode stridden
strive strove striven
swim swam swum
think thought thought
wake woke/waked woken/waked
*Use borne for meanings other than physical birth. For meanings involving physical birth, use borne when the focus is on a mother bringing forth her young (She had borne two daughters). When the focus is on the offspring or something else brought forth as if by birth, use born (He had been born before the 60s; Her passion was born of her knowledge); such usage will always be in passive constructions.

Verbs are vital to communicating in English, and irregular verbs are among those we use the most. Committing to correct usage makes us more effective in our missions to express ourselves.

Past Discussions of Irregular Verbs
Irregular Verbs (July 2008)
Why Irregular Verbs Are Strong (October 2015)
Irregular Verbs Can Be a Regular Pain (July 2015)
Irregular Verbs: Handle with Care (May 2016)
More Fun with Irregular Verbs (August 2016)
Lie vs. Lay (December 2016)


Pop Quiz

Using what you’ve learned in this article, choose the correct form of the irregular verb in each sentence.

1. The children were [forbid/forbidden] from climbing onto the roof.

2. That cologne you were wearing last night really [stank/stunk].

3. Jack [burst/bursted] the balloon when he sat on it.

4. Susan said she was tired, so she [laid/lay] down in the guest room.

5. I have [strived/striven] to get better grades ever since I entered college.


Pop Quiz Answers

1. The children were forbidden from climbing onto the roof.

2. That cologne you were wearing last night really stank.

3. Jack burst the balloon when he sat on it.

4. Susan said she was tired, so she lay down in the guest room.

5. I have striven to get better grades ever since I entered college.

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.

5 responses to “Staying Regular with Irregular Verbs”

  1. Erik Seifert says:

    Isn’t to hang also “hanged” in the past tense when we are talking executions? “They hanged him shortly before daybreak.”

    • Yes, if you click the link on past participle hung/hanged, it will take you to our post I’ll Be Hanged! Or, Have I Just Gone Missing? There you will find the following:

      Speakers and writers who value precision know that the past tense of hang, when it means “to put to death using a rope,” is hanged, rather than hung. This applies to both the active and passive voice: They hanged the prisoner and The prisoner was hanged.
      For inanimate objects, use hung. Under unusual conditions, people also hung or are hung, e.g., He hung from the tree with one hand or He found himself hung upside down.

  2. Jayne says:

    The article did not mention the verb “sneak”. I have firmly held to the belief that the past tense of sneak is “sneaked”, but now “snuck” has come into popular use and no one uses “sneaked” anymore. Please elucidate.

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