Regular and irregular verbs explained: Your ultimate guide to regular and irregular verbs

Regular and irregular verbs article cover

Regular and irregular verbs explained: Your ultimate guide to regular and irregular verbs

Regular and irregular verbs article cover

In English, each verb has four forms: base, gerund (-ing), past simple, and past participle. These forms serve different purposes in sentences, helping convey various tenses and actions.

Base and gerund forms are a breeze, but past forms can trip up English learners. The issue? Not all of them play by the same rules when it comes to formation.

By understanding how past forms are created, we can distinguish between regular and irregular verbs.

In this article, we’ll dive into everything about regular and irregular verbs, explore why irregular verbs exist, and share top tips for mastering them.

Everything you should know about regular verbs

Regular verbs are verbs that always follow the same rule when making their past tense and past participle forms.

These are like the reliable buddies you can always count on in English. Every time, they stick to simple rules, making them super easy to work with. 

Here’s your instruction to forming the past tense and past participle of regular verbs with examples:

  • Add “-ed” to the end of the base form of the verb if it doesn’t end with “e” or “y”. For example: “add” becomes “added”, “judge” becomes “judged”, and “work” becomes “worked”. 
  • Add “-d” to the end of the base form of the verb if it ends with “e”. For example: “joke” becomes “joked”, “exercise” becomes “exercised”, and “lie” becomes “lied”. 
  • Change “y” to “i” and add “-ed” if the base form of the verb ends with “y”. For example: “cry” becomes “cried”, “carry” becomes “carried”, and “worry” becomes “worried”. 
  • Double the last letter and add “-ed” to the end of the verb if the base form of the verb is short and only has one vowel followed by one consonant. This helps keep the verb’s sound the same when adding “ed”. For example: “hop” becomes “hopped”, “plan” becomes “planned”, and “jog” becomes “jogged”. 

Depending on the last letter of the base form of the regular verb, you’ll have to pronounce “-ed” as:

  •  /t/ — regular verbs that end in -k, -ss, -f, -ch, -sh, -x. For example: “kicked”, “clicked”, “confessed”, or “smashed”.
  •  /id/ — regular verbs that end in -d or -t. For example: “painted”, “funded”, “rounded”. 
  •  /d/ — the rest of regular verbs. For example: “bribed”, “paired”, “stared”. 

Luckily, the majority of verbs in the English language are regular verbs. 

But life would’ve been too easy if all of them were, right? 

The next category of verbs is irregular verbs. And, unfortunately, those are much less user-friendly. 

Everything you should know about irregular verbs

Irregular verbs are a special group of verbs in English that do not follow the typical pattern for forming past tense and past participle forms. Unlike regular verbs, which usually add “-ed” to form these forms, irregular verbs have unique past tense and past participle forms that must be memorised individually. 

These verbs often change their spelling or pronunciation entirely when conjugated, making them unpredictable and challenging to learn.

The good news is, there are only about 200 irregular verbs across four different groups:

  1. Irregular verbs that have the same base, past, and past participle forms. For example: “cut—cut—cut”, “put—put—put”, “cost—cost—cost”. 
  2. Irregular verbs that have the same past and past participle forms, but a different base form. For example: “find—found—found”, “catch—caught—caught”, “fight—fought—fought”. 
  3. Irregular verbs that have the same base and past participle forms, but a different past tense form. For example: “run—ran—run”.
  4. Irregular verbs all three forms of which are different. For example: “do—did—done”, “choose—chose—chosen”, “swear—swore—sworn”. 

Make sure you learn the correct pronunciation of irregular verbs! While you might think that “read—read—read” falls into the first group of irregular verbs, it actually belongs to the second group, as the past tense and past participle forms of this verb is /rɛd/. What a trap!

Commonly used irregular verbs list

When learning irregular verbs, refer to this list of the most commonly used irregular verbs in English:

Table of irregular verbs

Commonly used irregular verbs list; Source

You can discover the full list of irregular verbs in dictionaries, English textbooks, and online resources. Like EMERY, for example 🙂 

Give EMERY a try now!

Why do irregular verbs exist? 

Just like London’s a melting pot of cultures, English is famous for blending different languages. When you stumble upon a word that sounds odd, breaks grammar rules, or has a surprising pronunciation, chances are it’s borrowed from another language.

Back in the day, there were even more of these borrowed words, thanks to the rich history of the British Isles and Great Britain!

It all began with the Celtic languages—there were five of them, to be precise—chattering away across the land. Then came the Anglo-Saxons, Romans, and the French, invading left, right, and centre and bringing their languages along. The Celtic languages got all mixed up with the newcomers, creating this crazy mishmash we now call Old English.

By the 11th century, things got so messy that people from different regions—even neighbouring cities—couldn’t understand each other. They needed a solution, and the only one was to create rules to standardise the language and bring some order to the chaos.

A map of invasions of England

Invasions of England and British Islands; Source]

That’s how regular verbs were created. 

Now, what about irregular verbs? Where did those come from?

Turns out, while most people were fine with the new “-ed” rule for forming past tense verbs, there were a few favourites they didn’t want to let go of. The verbs that people were all about back in the day remained unchanged. It was a blessing for folks in the 11th century, but a bit of a headache for modern English learners.

Isn’t it funny how as humans, we’ve always loved to ”sing—sang—sung”, “drink—drank—drunk”, and “eat—ate—eaten” but not “work—worked—worked” or “study—studied—studied”.

How to learn verbs irregulars and regulars: Best practices, tips, and tricks

When you first see the list of irregular verbs, you might feel somewhat intimidated by it. But fear not! We know just the right tips and tricks to make your studies easier. 

Learn and recognize common patterns in irregular verbs 

Make your work easier by identifying a list of irregular verbs that follow common patterns:

  • Vowel changes, for example, “sing—sang—sung”, “ring—rang—rung”, “swim—swam—swum”. 
  • Adding “-en”, for example, “break—broke—broken”, “wake—woke—woken”, “steal—stole—stolen”. 
  • No change, for example, “put—put—put”, “bet—bet—bet”. 

Create flashcards with the most used irregular verbs 

Make flashcards or a list of irregular verbs with their past tense and past participle forms. Review them regularly, even in short bursts throughout the day. Going over them repeatedly helps you remember the patterns of irregular verbs better.

You can also spice things up by mixing irregular verbs with some regular ones. Then, go through the list and identify whether each verb is irregular or regular. 

Come up with stories that include regular and irregular verbs

Make up fun stories where irregular verbs play important roles. For instance, picture a brave knight who “fought” dragons and “sang” songs of victory. Tying irregular verbs to exciting tales can make them more interesting and simpler to remember.

A medieval knight fighting a dragon

A medieval knight fighting a dragon; Source

Practise using regular and irregular verbs with native speakers 

Talk to English speakers using regular and irregular verbs. Engaging in conversations with native speakers provides authentic opportunities to apply what you’ve learned and gain confidence in using both types of verbs effectively. 

Talk to native speakers using EMERY

Frequently Asked Questions about regular verbs and irregular verbs

What is a regular and irregular verb with examples?

A regular verb follows a predictable pattern when forming its past tense and past participle forms by adding “-ed” to the base form (“walk—walked—walked”).

An irregular verb does not follow this pattern and has unique past tense and past participle forms (“go—went—gone”). 

How do I know if a verb is regular or irregular? 

There’s no way to tell, you have to memorise the list of irregular verbs to differentiate them from regular verbs. 

Can a verb be both regular and irregular?

Yes, some verbs can be both regular and irregular, depending on the dialect of English—British English or American English. For example the verbs “learn” and “dream” are regular in American English but irregular in British English. 

Will there be more regular and irregular verbs in the English language?

Potentially, yes. As more people—specifically, adults— learn English, the language becomes more and more simplified.