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Introduction to Irregular Verbs in English

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Although fewer than 200 verbs are classified as "irregular," these include some of the most common words in English. Here we'll look at the principal parts of irregular verbs.

Review of Regular Verbs

Regular verbs have three basic forms: the present (or base form), the past (ending in -ed), and the past participle (also ending in -ed). These three forms are referred to as the principal parts of a verb. Here's how we might list the principal parts of the regular verb laugh:

  • I always laugh at her jokes. (present)
  • She laughed nervously during her speech. (past)
  • We have often laughed together. (past participle)
The past participle form works with different auxiliary verbs (has or have; had) to form different tenses. (See Forming the Past Tense of Regular Verbs.)

What Are Irregular Verbs?

Irregular verbs are those verbs that do not end in -ed in the past tense. Though their endings differ from those of regular verbs, irregular verbs rely on the same auxiliary verbs (also called helping verbs) to indicate past, present, and future time.

Principal Parts of Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs have three principal parts:

  • I tell a joke. (present)
  • I told a joke. (past)
  • I have told a joke. (past participle)
Some irregular verbs, such as tell, have the same form in the past and the past participle. Others, however, have different forms:
  • I wear a cap. (present)
  • I wore a cap. (past)
  • I have worn a cap. (past participle)
With irregular verbs such as wear, we need to learn the different forms for the past and the past participle.

Auxiliaries with Irregular Verbs

Just like regular verbs, irregular verbs are used with various auxiliaries to form different tenses. For instance, we use has or have with the past participle of an irregular verb to form the present-perfect tense:

    Tom has worn out his welcome.
Similarly, we use had with the past participle of an irregular verb to form the past perfect tense:
    I had never worn a seat belt before you told me why I should.
And we use will with the present form of an irregular verb to form the future tense:
    I will wear a seat belt from now on.
In short, irregular verbs work the same way as regular verbs; they just have different endings.

Tables of Irregular Verbs

The tables linked below contain the most common irregular verbs in English. Although you are probably familiar with many of them already, study the verbs in all three lists and look for patterns that will help you remember the forms of all these verbs.


See also: Exercise in Using the Correct Forms of Irregular Verbs.


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