What Are Irregular Verbs? List And Examples

It is time for an auction! This particular auction sells paintings, and they usually set the starting bids very high. Just yesterday, they set the starting bid at $1 million dollars. According to rumors, they have set the starting bid even higher today. Wait a minute. Something fishy is going on at this auction—and it isn’t just the ridiculous prices.

Did you notice that the word set was acting strangely in those sentences? As you may know, the word set is a verb, a word that we use to refer to actions or states of being. However, the verb set didn’t change at all when it was used in the simple past tense!

Is set a shady verb planning to steal the paintings at the auction? No, the verb set is just one example of a special type of verb known as an irregular verb.

Before we explore irregular verbs, it is important to briefly explain regular verbs. Regular verbs follow the general rules of verbs when we use them in the simple past tense or turn them into a past participle of the verb. In both cases, we typically add -ed, -d, or, sometimes, a -t to the root form of the verb to make the simple past tense or to create a past participle. For example, both the simple past tense and past participle of climb is climbed. The past participle is used in the present perfect, past perfect, and future perfect verb tenses and follows the words has, have, had, and will have.

What is an irregular verb?

An irregular verb, however, is “a verb in which the past tense is not formed by adding the usual -ed ending.” So, how do we turn irregular verbs into simple past tense or into a past participle? Well … this is where things get complicated. For example, the simple past tense of the irregular verb run is ran, and the simple past tense of the irregular verb take is took. The fun doesn’t stop there, though. The past participles of irregular verbs don’t follow the rules either. For example, the past participle of run is … run, and the past participle of take is taken.

Irregular verbs are one of the trickiest types of verbs—and words—to use. For the most part, there is no general rule or pattern that helps you figure out how to conjugate an irregular verb. You will simply need to learn how to conjugate each irregular verb as you find them—thanks a lot, English! Fortunately, our incredible dictionary will help you discover which verbs are irregular verbs and what each of their forms looks like.

List of irregular verbs

Unfortunately, there are a lot of irregular verbs. We can’t list all of them here, but we will look at some of the more common ones you are likely to find.

The verb be 

Without a doubt, the most commonly used irregular verb is the verb be. This verb is used so often, that it deserves its own time in the spotlight. Not only does the verb be not follow the rules for simple past tense or a past participle, but it likes to act strange in the simple present tense, too! The forms of the verb be are: be, am, is, are, was, were, been, and being. In order, here is how each of these forms are used:

 

  • be:
    form: infinitive
    example: Jenny wants to be a good student.
  • am:
    form: first person singular (present tense)
    example: I, Jenny, am a good student.
  • is:
    form: third person singular (present tense)
    example: Jenny is a good student.
  • are:
    form: second person singular all plurals (present tense)
    example: Jenny and Kenny are good students.
  • was:
    form: first and third person singular (past tense)
    example: Jenny was a good student when she was younger.
  • were:
    form: second person singular and all plurals (past tense)
    example: Jenny and Kenny were good students when they were kids.
  • been:
    form: past participle
    example: Jenny has always been a good student.
  • being:
    form: present participle and gerund
    example: Nothing stops Jenny from being a good student.

The past is anything but simple, so let’s review the simple past tense.

Other common irregular verbs

Listed below are some more irregular verbs you are likely to see very often. The root form of the verb is followed by first the simple past tense and then the past participle.

 

  • buy, bought, bought
  • bring, brought, brought
  • catch, caught, caught
  • drink, drank, drunk/drank
  • do, did, done
  • eat, ate, eaten
  • fall, fell, fallen
  • fly, flew, flown
  • get, got, got/gotten
  • give, gave, given
  • go, went, gone
  • grow, grew, grown
  • know, knew, known
  • lie, lay, lain
  • ride, rode, ridden
  • ring, rang, rung
  • set, set, set
  • sing, sang, sung
  • sit, sat, sat
  • teach, taught, taught

Irregular verb examples

Irregular verbs love to trip us up. For the most part, many (but not all) irregular verbs do follow the rules when used in the simple present tense. For example, the following sentences all use irregular verbs in the simple present tense. You will notice that none of these verbs are breaking the typical rules of verbs.

 

  • I run three miles every day.
  • She always gives money to charity.
  • My friends forgive my constant mistakes.

It can be hard to recognize that a verb is in fact an irregular verb when using the simple present tense. However, things become easier when we see or hear sentences that use the simple past tense or verb tenses that use the past participle. Because they love to break the rules, irregular verbs are usually easy to spot when they are used in the simple past tense or as past participles in sentences. For example, see if you can spot which of the verbs used in the following three sentences is an irregular verb.

 

  • Jack jumped over a candlestick.
  • Luisa knew the answer to the question.
  • I tasted the cupcakes.

Of these three verbs, knew is clearly not following the general rules of using a verb in the past tense (it doesn’t end in –ed, –d, or –t) and so it must be an irregular verb.

When deciding if a verb is an irregular verb, be careful of verbs that use the -t variant in the past tense. Although they look unusual, the words dreamt, slept, and bent are the past tense of the regular verbs dream, sleep, and bend. Some irregular verbs also end in a T when used in the past tense or as a past participle, however these irregular verbs often take on much more drastic spelling changes than -t variant verbs do. Listed below are the simple past tense forms of some -t variant and irregular verbs. You’ll notice that the irregular verbs change much more drastically than the verbs that use the -t variant do:

 

  • t variant: burn becomes burnt, spend becomes spent, creep becomes crept
  • irregular verbs: catch becomes caught; seek becomes sought; think becomes thought

Irregular verb rules & best practices

While irregular verbs can be very frustrating to conjugate, they are still used in sentences the same way as other verbs are. As with all other verbs, irregular verbs must follow subject-verb-agreement and match the subject of the sentence or clause they are used in. Like regular verbs, irregular verbs can be action verbs, stative verbs, or linking verbs. Just like regular verbs, irregular verbs can also be used as either transitive or intransitive verbs.

Don’t get in an argument over verbs, head over to this article on subject-verb agreement instead.

Let’s look at all of the different ways that we can use irregular verbs. Take special note that each of these verbs is correctly conjugated so that it matches the subject.

 

  • Action verb: Carmello caught the basketball.
  • Stative verb: She became a lawyer after college.
  • Linking verb: I have been itchy for days.
  • Transitive verb: They bought ice cream from the truck.
  • Intransitive verb: The birds flew over the lake.

Let’s make grammar simple

Don’t stress over irregular verbs and their use! Let Thesaurus.com’s Grammar Coach™ do the hard work. This writing tool catches grammar and spelling errors and provides Thesaurus-powered synonym suggestions. Using machine learning, Grammar Coach™  can spot the difference between the different verb tenses, their correct and incorrect uses—and much more! Whether you’re writing in the past, present, or future, perfect grammar has never been easier.

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