35 Troublesome Irregular Verbs

background image 40

In English, many verbs adapt simply to the past tense with the attachment of either -d or -ed, as in walk/walked or brake/braked. These are called regular verbs.

Many other verbs, however, undergo more significant alterations to transform from references to present-tense actions to those representing actions performed in the past. Such words are called irregular verbs.

The simple past, the tense form that describes what has previously occurred, is fairly straightforward once one assimilates the forms for each irregular verb. But complications set in when the past participle — a verb assisted by an auxiliary verb, or a past-tense form of the verb to be — is employed.

Some past-participle forms are easily distinguished from their simple-past counterparts, as in the case of ate/eaten, for example, or saw/seen (“I ate already”/“I had eaten already”; “We saw the movie”/“We had seen the movie”). Others, however, often literally give writers pause. Many of them are presented below in sample sentences with simple-past usage for comparison:

“A problem arose.”
“A problem had arisen.”

“They beat the odds.”
“They had beaten the odds.”

“She bore it well.”
“She had borne it well.”

“He broke the record.”
“He had broken the record.”

“My friend drank three beers already.”
“My friend had drunk three beers already.”

“You forsook us.”
“You had forsaken us.”

“The boy hid the ball.”
“The boy had hidden the ball.”

“I lay on the floor for a moment.”
“I had lain on the floor for a moment.”

“We rode far.”
“We had ridden far.”

“The phone rang.”
“The phone had rung.”

“She rose to the occasion.”
“She had risen to the occasion.”

“She sang.”
“She had sung.”

“He shook it loose.”
“He had shaken it loose.”

“The shirt shrank when I dried it.”
“The shirt had shrunk when I dried it.”

“We strode along merrily the entire way.”
“We had stridden along merrily the entire way.”

“The team strove to come back from behind.”
“The team had striven to come back from behind.”

“I swore that I had not taken it.”
“I had sworn that I had not taken it.”

“They swam to the other end and back.”
“They had swum to the other end and back.”

“He took her back home.”
“He had taken her back home.”

“My sister tore the paper up.”
“My sister had torn the paper up.”

Hanged and Hung
The past-participle form of hang is a special case. When referring to an object, hung is employed for both simple past and past participle:

“They hung the stockings with great care.”
“They had hung the stockings with great care.”

In reference to execution by hanging, however, hanged is often (but not always) used in both forms:

“The horse thief was summarily hanged.”
“The horse thief had been summarily hanged.”

Hung in the latter sense is more likely to appear in a more casual context, as in a jocular usage or when referring to hanging in effigy:

“I’ll be hung by my feet over an open fire if I don’t finish this in time.”

Many other verbs offer writers alternative forms for past tense, past-participle tense, or both:

“I awaked (or awoke or awakened) to a deafening hum.”
“I had awoken (or awaked or awakened) to a deafening hum.”

“She forgot to call back.”
“She had forgotten (or forgot) to call back.”

“The swimmer quickly dove (or dived) into the pool.”
“The swimmer had quickly dived into the pool.”

“I got nothing in return.”
“I had gotten (or got) nothing in return.”

“She lighted (or lit) another cigarette.”
“She had lit (or lighted) another cigarette.”

“He proved that I was right.”
“He had proven (or proved) me right.”

“The boat sank.”
“The boat had sunk (or sank).”

“She showed him the door.”
“She had shown (or showed) him the door.”

“The medallion shined (or shone) in the sunlight.”
“The medallion had shone (or shined) in the sunlight.”

“I sneaked (or snuck) out last night.”
“I had snuck (or sneaked) out last night.”

“The tiger sprang (or sprung) noiselessly.”
“The tiger had sprung noiselessly.”

“The car’s interior stank (or stunk) of stale fast food.”
“The car’s interior had stunk of stale fast food.”

“My dog waked (or woke) me up.”
“My dog had woken (or waked) me up.”

“My aunt weaved (or wove) the scarf.”
“My aunt had woven (or weaved) the scarf.”

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

16 thoughts on “35 Troublesome Irregular Verbs”

  1. As a native British-English speaker, some of the examples seem rather grating…

    25 ‘gotten’…
    28 ‘the boat had sank’…
    31 ‘snuck’…
    33 ‘stunk’…
    22 and 34 ‘waked’…

    Maybe it’s an American-English thing.

    “My dog had waked me up” or “My dog waked me up”. Really? To my ear that sounds only marginally better than “My dog getted me up”.

  2. I second Jon. In any British school or British publication
    25 ‘gotten’…
    28 ‘the boat had sank’…
    31 ‘snuck’…
    33 ‘stunk’…
    22 and 34 ‘waked’…

    …would all be marked as errors. Also note that ‘weave’ describing a way of moving is a weak verb: ‘He weaved his way uncertainly down the street’.

  3. How about read/read and lead/led?
    How many times have you seen “lead” used incorrectly instead of “led”?

  4. As a US-resident Brit, I feel your pain, previous commenters. But the reality is that there are divergences, and American English is just as valid as English English.

    I can’t resist submitting my favorite Chicagoism, which is to use “went” instead of “gone” in the past participle. As in “I should have went to school instead of goofing off at the Cubs game.”

    It ranks alongside “a couple two, three” “true dat” and the use of “at” at the end of a sentence (where’s your house at?), all expressions I treasure.

  5. I third Jon, and I’m an American English speaker. But in American English “gotten” is okay. I’d add:

    30 the medallion shined
    32 the tiger sprung
    35 my aunt weaved

  6. I love strong verbs!

    The US, not always, but often keeps the older words, the older forms, and the older usage. Thus, “… had gotten” is the more common form in the US.

    @Jane … “… had went” is heard but it isn’t taught as right. Folks also say “it don’t” … but it is still wrong.

    “… had sank” is bad even to my ears.

    “stunk” … stunk for both simple past and pp has been umbe since the Old English (OE) days so I’m good with either stank or stunk for the simple past.

    “snuck” … That’s a long post that I just may blog one of these days but to give you a hint, in ME someone wrote “sneaked” for the pp and it was glossed as “sniken” … betokening that sneaked was wrong. Sneak was a strong verb in OE.

    Anent awake … for me, it’s “awoke” and “awoken” … awaken is it’s own verb … and is weak … awaken, awakened, awakened.

    I’m amazed that first three comments didn’t find “dove” to be wrong! It’s not, but usually the Brits bemoan loudly about it.

  7. I thought that I only hated irregular verbs in French. Now I understand that I also hate them in English. Have hated them? Have had hated them.

    Another thing -is it just me or does the tone of the past-participle form sound outdated and even a bit archaic?

  8. I find the simple-past sentence in no. 5 awkward and unpleasant:
    “My friend drank three beers already.”

    It’s the ‘already’ that causes the problem for me, because it implies present tense, and is thus at odds with ‘drank’. Drop the ‘already’ and I have no issue with it.

    Is this perhaps a British thing, or just a me thing?

  9. I agree with my fellow ‘Commonwealth’ speakers:

    ‘waked/awaked’ sounds barbarous to me, as does ‘dove’ for ‘dived.’

    ‘Weave’ is at present shifting.

    ‘Shined’ is transitive here in Australia (“The schoolgirl shined her shoes…”) while ‘shone’ is intransitive (…’til they shone).

    @ Jane Steen: Not putting down US dialects … merely pointing out that they are ‘standard’ only in US.

    @ AnWulf: I too – sadly strong verbs have been ‘weakening’ for a very long time in the history of English … analogy is a powerful mistress.

    @ FurryCanary: It rings funny to me too … in fact, I associate it with a Yiddish/German structural pattern.

  10. ‘Gotten’ however is useful in conveying distinctions of an aspectual nature – process that leads to successful achievement (My grades have gotten better”).

    One can use it to make such distinctions as “I’ve got the answer = I have it” vs “I’ve gotten the answer = I’ve worked it out,”

    OR “I’ve got to go = I have/need to/must go” vs “I’ve gotten to go = I’ve managed to/have permissio to go.”

  11. @Sally … I don’t know why “dove” sounds barbarous to you. Athwart the mythos, Americans didn’t invent “dove” as a past tense for dive. Dive (intransitive) was a strong verb in Old English. The US just kept it.

  12. I have to agree with the abhorrence of “dove” as a past tense for dive. I know of no reason it is unacceptable, but it sounds as bad as thank and thunk.

    As an American, I also agree that only “gotten” sounds correct in the past participle. Gotten is standard American, but I know it is not in British. “He had got a new dog” just sounds wrong to US ears.

    But some of these I have to really look askance at: The tiger sprung? The boat had sank? The car’s interior stunk? Waked– seriously? Snuck– is that even a word? I think another entry on the site gives a thumbs-down to snuck as legitimate.

  13. The past participle of the verb “to hide” (#7) is actually a choice. It could be hid or hidden.
    Exempli gratia: He had hid/hidden it.

  14. Mike: Where? Who says that’s an alternative? I don’t know of any reason that “had hid” would be any more accpetable than “I had rid a horse”, or “He has spoke about that” or “We were drove to succeed”. The -en so indicative of English past participles seems to get slighted by the semi-literate with far too routinely. “I had showed him my toe was broke! “

  15. Snig – To drag a log along the ground by means of a chain fastened at one end.

    Snug – past tense of snig. “I snug the log out of the way.”

    I’ve heard Australian farmers use the term ‘snug’ this way. Someone who wasn’t familiar with this idiom might think that by somehow making the log warm and comfortable, it was able to be moved out of the way.

Leave a Comment