Irregular Verb Forms

By Mark Nichol

An irregular verb is one that does not follow the standard progression for various forms. Regular verbs are treated as shown below:

Simple present: talk (I talk.)
Simple past: talked (I talked.)
Present participle: talking (I am talking.)
Past participle: talked (I had talked.)
Infinitive: to talk (I like to talk.)

Irregular verbs take the same form in three of these categories, but their simple-past and past-participle forms are irregular, and there lies the difficulty.

However, notice a common feature among verbs with the long i sound:

Simple present: ride, drive, write
Simple past: rode, drove, wrote
Past participle: had ridden, had driven, had written

In the simple past, the vowel changes to a long o sound, while the vowel becomes a short i sound in the past-participle form. Therefore, you can extrapolate for the progression from simple present to simple past to past participle for other words, as with rise, rose, had risen.

For many verbs with vowels that sound like a long e or a short i, the progression is as follows:

Simple present: drink, sink, sing
Simple past: drank, sank, sang
Past participle: had drunk, had sunk, had sung

From this pattern you can deduce that shrink will change to shrank or had shrunk, while begin progresses to began and had begun and swim changes to swam and had swum.

Of course, there are many exceptions: Bind progresses to bound, not bond, and to had bound, rather than had binden. Likewise, the progression from blow to blew to had blown is not matched by show, showed, and had shown. When in doubt, search online for a list of irregular verbs to note the correct forms for your problem verb.

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3 Responses to “Irregular Verb Forms”

  • Birion

    …the progression from blow to blew to had blown is not matched by show, shew, and had shown…

    …unless you’re Susanna Clarke.

  • Dale A. Wood

    Many times, looking for patterns in irregular English verbs is just impossible and thankless: that is why they are called “irregular”.
    Also, reference books have been written on irregular English verbs, so looking for information about them on the Internet is not a necessity.

    English has more irregular verbs than does any other common language. That is a good reason to use a reference book if you are not a native speaker of English – and a good one.
    (Note that “I had went”, “I have did”, “I have knew”, and “I seen” are all incorrect, despite the illiterate Americans who say them.)

    German is the common language that is in second place for the number of irregular verbs in it. Most irregular verbs in German are also irregular in English, but not always, and vice-versa. English and German both have hundreds of irregular verbs.
    A great pair of sets of verbs are as follows:
    English: sing, sang, sung
    German: singen, sang, gesungen.
    Thus the shift in vowels is identical, and the simple past tense is also exactly the same.

    D.A.W.

  • Dale A. Wood

    “Shew” is an antiquated form of the past tense of “show” in English.
    Antiquated in that it is no longer used by educated people.
    The verb “shew” can be found in books and documents from over 400 years ago. I don’t know if Shakespeare even used it.
    D.A.W.

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