English Grammar: Irregular Verbs

The English language has a large number of irregular verbs. In most cases, the irregularity concerns the past tense (also called preterite) or the past participle.


The other inflected parts of the verb – the third person singular present indicative in V(s)/V(es), and the present participle and gerund form (V-ing) are formed regularly in most cases. There are a few exceptions: the verb be has irregular forms throughout the present tense; the verbs have, do and say have irregular -(e)s forms; and certain defective verbs (such as the modal auxiliaries) lack most inflection.

The irregular verbs include many of the most common verbs: the dozen most frequently used English verbs are all irregular. New verbs (including loans from other languages, and nouns employed as verbs, such as to facebook) follow the regular inflection, unless they are compound formations from an existing irregular verb (such as housesit, from sit).

Irregular verbs in Modern English typically derive from verbs that followed more regular patterns at a previous stage in the history of the language. In particular, many such verbs derive from Germanic strong verbs, which make many of their inflected forms through vowel gradation, as can be observed in Modern English patterns such as sing–sang–sung. The regular verbs, on the other hand, with their preterites and past participles ending in -ed, follow the weak conjugation, which originally involved adding a dental consonant  (-t  or-d). Nonetheless, there are also many irregular verbs that follow or partially follow the weak conjugation.

Groups of Irregular Verbs

The irregular verbs of Modern English form several groups with similar conjugation pattern and historical origin.

These can be broadly grouped into two classes – the Germanic weak and strong groups – although historically some verbs have moved between these groups. There are also a few anomalous cases: the verbs be and go, which demonstrate suppletion; the verb do; and the defective modal verbs. 

Strong verbs:

A large number of the irregular verbs derive from Germanic strong verbs, which display the vowel shift called ablaut, and do not add an ending such as -ed or -t for the past forms. These sometimes retain past participles with the ending  -[e]n, as in give–gave–given and  ride–rode–ridden, but in other cases this ending has been dropped, as in come–came–come and  sing–sang–sung. This verb group was inherited from the parent Proto-Germanic language, and before that from the  Proto-Indo-European language. It was originally a system of regular verbs, and in Old English  and modern German  the system remains more or less regular; however in Modern English relatively few verbs continue to follow such a pattern, and they are classed as irregular.

Verbs that retain a strong-type inflection in modern English and add -[e]n  in the past participle include bear, beat, beget, bite, blow, break, choose, cleave, draw, drive, eat,  fall,  fly,forbid,  forget,  forsake, freeze, give, grow, know, lie, ride, rise, see, shake, shear, slay, smite, speak, steal, stride, strive, swear, take, tear, throw, tread, wake, weave, and write.

Those that do not add -[e]n in the usual past participle include become, begin, bind, burst, cling, come, drink, fight, find,  fling, get(but with past participle gotten in American English), grind, hang, hold,let,  ring,  run,shed,  shine, shit,  shoot,shrink,  sing,  sink,sit,  slide,  sling,slink,  slit,  spin,spring,  stand,  sting, stink, strike,  swim, swing, win, wind and wring.

The verbs sow and swell are now usually regular in the past tense, but retain the strong-type past participles sown and swollen. Other verbs retain participles in -n for certain adjectival uses, such as drunken and sunken. The verb crow is now regular in the past participle, but the strong past tense crew is sometimes used.

Some originally weak verbs have taken on strong-type forms by analogy with strong verbs. These include dig, dive (when  dove is used as the past tense),  hide, mow,  prove  (when proven  is used as the past participle), saw (past participle sawn), sew (past participle sewn), show (past participle shown), spit, stick, strew, string, and wear (analogy with bear).

Weak verbs:

Some other irregular verbs derive from Germanic weak verbs, forming past tenses and participles with a -d or -t ending (or from originally strong verbs that have switched to the weak pattern). The weak conjugation is also the origin of the regular verbs in -ed; however various historical sound changes (and sometimes spelling changes) have led to certain types of irregularity in some verbs. The main processes are as follows (some verbs have been subject to more than one of these).

  • Some weak verbs with long vowels in their present tense stems (such as keep) took a short vowel in the past tense and past participle (kept).
  • In some weak verbs ending in a final -t or -d, this final consonant coalesced (contracted) with the weak past ending to leave a single -t or -d in the past forms.
  • Some verbs ending in l or n had their past ending irregularly devoiced to -t, and in a few verbs ending with a /v/ or /z/ sound (leave, lose), both that sound and the past ending were devoiced. (The regular ending -ed is also devoiced after voiceless consonants in regular verbs, as described under English verbs: Past tense, but this is not now shown in the spelling – for example, the -ed in blessed and whipped is pronounced as a /t/, and these words were formerly written blest and whipt. The spelling -t following a voiceless consonant is retained for verbs that display an irregularity, as in kept and cost.)
  • Some weak verbs continue the vowel shift called Rückumlaut ("reverse umlaut"). Details of the history of these verbs can be found under Germanic weak verb; those with -gh- in the spelling were also affected by the Germanic spirant law.
  • A few weak verbs have undergone additional contractions or vowel shortenings in their past or present tense forms.
  • A few verbs are regular in their spoken forms, but have irregular spelling.

The irregular weak verbs (being in normal use) can consequently be grouped as follows:

  • Verbs with vowel shortening: creep, flee, hear, keep, leap, shoe (when shod is used), sleep, sweep and weep. (Or these, creep, flee, leap, sleep and weep derive from verbs that were originally strong.)
  • Verbs with vowel shortening and devoicing of the ending: deal, dream, feel, kneel, lean, leave, lose (originally strong) and mean. Some of the verbs in this and in the preceding group have alternative regular forms, such as dreamed and leaped.
  • Verbs with coalescence of consonants: bet, bid, cast, cost, cut, fit, hit, hurt, knit, put, quit, rid, set, shed, shut, split, spread, thrust, wed and wet. Some of these verbs have alternative regular forms, such as wedded and wetted.

(The verb hoist behaves similarly to verbs in this group, but this was originally itself a past form of the now obsolete verb hoise; similarly clad was originally – and sometimes still is – a past form of clothe.)

  • Verbs with coalescence of consonants and devoicing of the ending: bend, build, lend, rend, send, spend.
  • Verbs with coalescence of consonants and vowel shortening: bleed, breed, feed, lead, light, meet, read (past tense and past participle also spelt read, but pronounced with a short vowel), and speed.
  • Verbs with devoicing of the ending and no other irregularity: burn, dwell, learn, smell, spell, spill and spoil. Most of these have regular -ed forms as alternatives.
  • Verbs continuing the Rückumlaut pattern: bring–brought, buy–bought, seek–sought, sell–sold, teach–taught, tell–told, and think–thought. The borrowed verb catch (caught) has also fallen into this pattern as a result of analogy.
  • Verbs with additional contractions and shortenings: have–has–had, make–made, say–says–said (where says and said are pronounced with a short vowel /ɛ/). (The verb do has a similar vowel shortening in does and done.)
  • Verbs irregular only in spelling: lay–laid, pay–paid (although in the meaning "let out", of a rope etc., pay may have the regular spelling payed).


List of Irregular Verbs

  •  be (am, is, are) – was, were – been
  • bear – bore – borne [spelt born in passive and adjectival uses relating to birth]
  • beat – beat – beaten
  • become – became – become
  • beget – begot – begot(ten) [Biblical past tense: begat]
  • begin – began – begun
  • bend – bent – bent
  • bet – bet – bet [past tense and participle also sometimes betted]
  • beware – defective verb [see anomalous cases above]
  • bid – bid – bid [as in an auction]
  • bid – bade/bid – bidden/bid [meaning "request"]
  • bide – bided/bode – bided/bidden [but abide mostly uses the regular forms only]
  • bind – bound – bound
  • bite – bit – bitten
  • bleed – bled – bled
  • blow – blew – blown
  • break – broke – broken
  • breed – bred – bred
  • bring – brought – brought
  • build – built – built
  • burn – burnt/burned – burnt/burned
  • burst – burst – burst
  • buy – bought – bought
  • can – could [defective; see anomalous cases above]
  • cast – cast – cast [prefixed forms broadcast, forecast, etc. sometimes take -ed
  • catch – caught – caught
  • choose – chose – chosen
  • clad – clad/cladded – clad/cladded [clad is also sometimes used as past form of clothe]
  • cleave – clove/cleft – cloven/cleft [but regular when meaning "adhere"]
  • cling – clung – clung
  • come – came – come
  • cost – cost – cost [but regular when meaning "calculate the cost of"]
  • creep – crept/creeped – crept/creeped
  • crow – crowed/crew – crowed [crew normally used only of a cock's crowing]
  • cut – cut – cut
  • dare – regular except for possible third person singular present dare (see anomalous cases a
  • deal – dealt – dealt
  • dig – dug – dug
  • dive – dived/dove – dived [the form dove is chiefly American]
  • do (does /dʌz/) – did – done
  • drag – dragged/drug – dragged/drug [the form drug is chiefly dialectal]
  • draw – drew – drawn
  • dream – dreamed/dreamt – dreamed/dreamt
  • drink – drank – drunk
  • drive – drove – driven
  • dwell – dwelt/dwelled – dwelt/dwelled
  • eat – ate – eaten
  • fall – fell – fallen
  • feed – fed – fed
  • feel – felt – felt
  • fight – fought – fought
  • find – found – found
  • fit – fit/fitted – fit/fitted
  • flee – fled – fled
  • fling – flung – flung
  • fly – flew – flown
  • for(e)- : for forgo, foresee, etc. see go, see, etc.
  • forbid – forbade/forbid – forbidden
  • forget – forgot – forgotten
  • forsake – forsook – forsaken
  • freeze – froze – frozen
  • get – got – gotten/got [past participle got in British English, gotten in American, but see have got]
  • gild – gilded/gilt – gilded/gilt
  • give – gave – given
  • go – went – gone [see also have been]
  • grind – ground – ground
  • grow – grew – grown
  • hang – hung/hanged – hung/hanged [the form hanged is more common in the sense of execution by hanging
  • have (has) – had – had
  • hear – heard – heard
  • hew – hewed – hewn/hewed
  • hide – hid – hidden
  • hit – hit – hit
  • hoist – hoist/hoisted – hoist/hoisted
  • hold – held – held
  • hurt – hurt – hurt
  • in- : for inlay, input, etc. see lay, put, etc.
  • inter- : for interlay, interweave, etc. see lay, weave, etc.
  • keep – kept – kept
  • kneel – knelt/kneeled – knelt/kneeled
  • knit – knit/knitted – knit/knitted
  • know – knew – known
  • lay – laid – laid
  • lead – led – led
  • lean – leaned/leant – leaned/leant
  • leap – leaped/leapt – leaped/leapt
  • learn – learned/learnt – learned/learnt
  • leave – left – left
  • lend – lent – lent
  • let – let – let
  • lie – lay – lain [but regular when meaning "tell an untruth"]
  • light – lit/lighted – lit/lighted
  • lose – lost – lost
  • make – made – made
  • may – might [defective; see anomalous cases above]
  • mean – meant – meant
  • meet – met – met
  • mis- : for misspeak, mistake, etc. see speak, take, etc.
  • mow – mowed – mowed/mown
  • must – defective [see anomalous cases above]
  • need – regular except for possible third person singular present need (see anomalous cases above
  • off- : for offset see set, etc.
  • ought – defective [see anomalous cases above]
  • out- : for outbid, output, etc. see bid, put, etc.
  • over- : for overbid, overdo, etc. see bid, do, etc.
  • pay – paid – paid [but sometimes spelt regularly when meaning "let out" (rope etc.)]
  • plead – pleaded/pled – pleaded/pled
  • pre- : for prepay, preset, etc. see pay, set, etc.
  • prove – proved – proved/proven
  • put – put – put
  • quit – quit – quit
  • re- : for redo, remake, etc. see do, make, etc.
  • read /riːd/ – read /rɛd/ – read /rɛd/
  • rend – rent – rent
  • rid – rid/ridded – rid/ridded/ridden
  • ride – rode – ridden
  • ring – rang – rung
  • rise – rose – risen
  • run – ran – run
  • saw – sawed – sawn/sawed
  • say (says /sɛz/) – said – said
  • see – saw – seen
  • seek – sought – sought
  • sell – sold – sold
  • send – sent – sent
  • set – set – set
  • sew – sewed – sewn/sewed
  • shake – shook – shaken
  • shall – should [defective; see anomalous cases above]
  • shear – sheared/shore – shorn/sheared
  • shed – shed – shed
  • shine – shone/shined – shone/shined
  • shit – shat/shit/shitted – shat/shit/shitted
  • shoe – shoed/shod – shoed/shod
  • shoot – shot – shot
  • show – showed – shown/showed
  • shrink – shrank/shrunk – shrunk
  • shut – shut – shut
  • sing – sang – sung
  • sink – sank – sunk
  • sit – sat – sat
  • slay – slew/slayed – slain/slayed
  • sleep – slept – slept
  • slide – slid – slid
  • sling – slung – slung
  • slink – slunk – slunk
  • slit – slit – slit
  • smell – smelled/smelt – smelled/smelt
  • smite – smote – smitten
  • sneak – sneaked/snuck – sneaked/snuck [snuck is chiefly American, and it is regarded as informal]
  • sow – sowed – sown/sowed
  • speak – spoke – spoken
  • speed – sped/speeded – sped/speeded
  • spell – spelled/spelt – spelled/spelt
  • spend – spent – spent
  • spill – spilled/spilt – spilled/spilt
  • spin – spun – spun
  • spit – spat/spit – spat/spit [the form spit rather than spat is common in America]
  • split – split – split
  • spoil – spoiled/spoilt – spoiled/spoilt
  • spread – spread – spread
  • spring – sprang/sprung – sprung
  • stand – stood – stood
  • stave – staved/stove – staved/stove
  • steal – stole – stolen
  • stick – stuck – stuck
  • sting – stung – stung
  • stink – stank – stunk
  • strew – strewed – strewn/strewed
  • stride – strode – stridden/strode
  • strike – struck – struck
  • string – strung – strung
  • strive – strove/strived – striven/strived
  • swear – swore – sworn
  • sweat – sweated/sweat – sweated/sweat
  • sweep – swept – swept
  • swell – swelled – swollen/swelled
  • swim – swam – swum
  • swing – swung – swung
  • take – took – taken
  • teach – taught – taught
  • tear – tore – torn
  • tell – told – told
  • think – thought – thought
  • throw – threw – thrown
  • thrust – thrust/thrusted – thrust/thrusted
  • tread – trod – trodden/trod
  • un- : for unbend, unweave, etc. see bend, weave, etc.
  • under- : for underlie, undergo, understand, etc. see lie, go, stand, etc.
  • up- : for upset see set, etc.
  • wake – woke – woken
  • wear – wore – worn
  • weave – wove – woven
  • wed – wed/wedded – wed/wedded
  • weep – wept – wept
  • wet – wet/wetted – wet/wetted
  • will – would [defective; see anomalous cases above]
  • win – won – won
  • wind – wound – wound [but regular in the meanings connected with air and breath]
  • with- : for withdraw, withhold, withstand, see draw, hold, stand
  • wring – wrang/wrung – wrung
  • write – wrote – written

10 Common Verbs that Don't Change in the Past Tense

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English Grammar: Irregular Verbs

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