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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
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 Englishpage.com 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
Irregular Verb Pop Quiz
1. He should have definitely ___ it before sunset.
C) have did
D) have done
2. This year has not necessarily ___ the way they hoped it would.
3. He hopes he has finally ___ his last grammar test.
4. The dry soil has ___ up every last raindrop.
C) A and B are both correct.
5. She claims she ___ it happen before it occurred.
D) had saw
6. It looks as if Tanya has actually ___ to visit Reggie.
7. The Smiths were all ___ by a loud crashing noise.
C) A and B are both correct.
8. It had just ___ to snow when the plane took off.
9. Don’t they know I’m already ___ up?
10. The wind has ___ like this for a week now.
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
Because of the e-newsletter’s large readership, please submit your English usage questions through GrammarBook.com’s “Grammar Blog.”
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Let’s face it—English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, no ham in hamburger. There’s neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England, nor were french fries invented in France. Sweetmeats are candies, while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square, and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.
And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t beeth the plural of booth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?
If teachers have taught, why haven’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes it seems as if all English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?
How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out, and in which an alarm goes off by going on.
English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out they are visible, but when the lights are out they are invisible.
Learn all about who and whom, affect and effect, subjects and verbs, adjectives and adverbs, commas, semicolons, quotation marks, and much more by just sitting back and enjoying these easy-to-follow lessons. Tell your colleagues (and boss), children, teachers, and friends. Click here to watch.