Irregular Verbs

irregular-verbsIrregular verbs. They can be nasty for native English speakers, never mind people learning the language. Making matters worse, very few languages have more irregular verbs than English does. Outside of Italian, and possibly German, English reigns supreme when it comes to irregular verbs. And there’s little you can do other than memorize them.

Regular verbs are easy, with only five basic constructions. You have the base form (i.e. I smile), the –s form (he smiles) the –ing present participle (I am smiling), the past tense (I smiled), and the past participle (I have smiled). Note that in regular verbs, the past tense and past participle are exactly the same, making it that much easier to remember them. This is why He would have drunk is correct and He would have drank is incorrect; when using “have,” you use the past participle.

Irregular verbs mostly vary in the past tense and past participle–the –s form and –ing present participle forms are generally the same. But not always. There are commonly-used verbs–bet, hit, put, upset–that are irregular only in the sense that they don’t change at all for the past tense or past participle. For example: I put it down can be in either present or past tense. Then, there are some verbs that are regular, but change their spelling. “Pay,” for example, is not payed in the past tense, but paid. Same sound, different spelling.

Still, most of the irregular verbs you find will vary just in the past tense and past participle. It’s not drive and drived, but drove and driven. Unfortunately, there’s not much of a trick here other than to memorize them. But there is a bright side: the top 50 irregular verbs account for more than 85% of all irregular verb usage. In most of your everyday writing, these top 50 will be enough. Memorize those, and you’ll be in good shape. Here is a list of the fifty most common irregular verbs in English:

Rank

Base Form

Past Tense Form

Past Participle

1

say

said

said

2

make

made

made

3

go

went

gone

4

take

took

taken

5

come

came

come

6

see

saw

seen

7

know

knew

known

8

get

got

got/gotten (US)

9

give

gave

given

10

find

found

found

11

think

thought

thought

12

tell

told

told

13

become

became

become

14

show

showed

shown

15

leave

left

left

16

feel

felt

felt

17

put

put

put

18

bring

brought

brought

19

begin

began

begun

20

keep

kept

kept

21

hold

held

held

22

write

wrote

written

23

stand

stood

stood

24

hear

heard

heard

25

let

let

let

26

mean

meant

meant

27

set

set

set

28

meet

met

met

29

run

ran

run

30

pay

paid

paid

31

sit

sat

sat

32

speak

spoke

spoken

33

lie

lay

lain

34

lead

led

led

35

read

read

read

36

grow

grew

grown

37

lose

lost

lost

38

fall

fell

fallen

39

send

sent

sent

40

build

built

built

41

understand

understood

understood

42

draw

drew

drawn

43

break

broke

broken

44

spend

spent

spent

45

cut

cut

cut

46

rise

rose

risen

47

drive

drove

driven

48

buy

bought

bought

49

wear

wore

worn

50

choose

chose

chosen

For a list of more irregular verbs, check this page out. For the majority of your writing, though, keeping the top 50 in mind will help you navigate most of the treacherous irregular waters.

photo credit: bixentro via photopin cc

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