Irregular verbs in English

by Laura Jones
January 25, 2021
woman studying irregular verbs in English

Do you want to learn more about irregular verbs in English? This is the blog for you! We can’t talk about all of the irregular verbs in English because there are far too many, but today you’re going to learn about the most common ones. 

What is a regular verb in English?

Before we can talk about irregular verbs, we need to know what regular verbs look like. That way, we have something to compare them to. With regular verbs in English, we form the past tense and past participle by adding –ed to the end. For example:

Base formPast tensePast participle
borrowborrowedborrowed
playplayedplayed
watchwatchedwatched

Regular verbs are the easiest types of verbs to use in the past tenses. And, the good news is that there are 1000s of regular verbs in English – far more verbs are regular than are irregular. But, a lot of the verbs we use in everyday speech are irregular, so we need to learn them. 

What is an irregular verb in English?

Irregular verbs in English do not use –ed to form the past tense and the past participle. There are about 200 irregular verbs in common use – that means that we use them a lot. In fact, the 12 most commonly used verbs in English are irregular. So, if you’re looking for somewhere to start, you definitely need to learn those. 

How to use an ellipsis in English

How to learn irregular verbs

Wouldn’t it be great if there were an easy way to learn or remember the irregular verbs in English? Unfortunately, and I’m sure you know this already, there isn’t. Learning irregular verbs in English means memorising them. We’re going to break them down into four categories to make them a bit easier to learn, but before we do that, let’s look at the irregular verbs you can’t speak English without.

The 12 most common irregular verbs in English

The next 12 verbs are ones that we use pretty much every day in English. Like we said, they’re not only the 12 most common irregular verbs, but they’re the most common verbs we use. Without knowing how to form the past tenses of these verbs, your English will be quite limited. So let’s dive in. 

Base formPast tensePast participle
bewas / werebeen
havehadhad
dodiddone
saysaidsaid
gowentgone
getgotgot / gotten*
makemademade
knowknewknown
thinkthoughtthought
taketooktaken
seesawseen
comecamecome

*gotten is the American English form

Four categories of irregular verbs

  1. Irregular verbs with the same base form, past tense and past participle
  2. Irregular verbs with the same base form and past participle
  3. Irregular verbs with the same past tense and past participle
  4. Irregular verbs with a different base form, past tense and past participle

1. Irregular verbs with the same base form, past tense and past participle

Some common irregular verbs are irregular because we don’t change them when we use them in the past. These ones should be easy to learn how to use in the past. Here are some common ones. 

Base formPast tensePast participle
burstburstburst
costcostcost
cutcutcut
hithithit
hurthurthurt
letletlet
putputput
setsetset
shutshutshut

2. Irregular verbs with the same base form and past participle

Our next set of verbs is irregular because these verbs have the same base form and past participle, but the past tense is different. 

Base formPast tensePast participle
becomebecamebecome
comecamecome
runranrun

3. Irregular verbs with the same past tense and past participle

Some irregular verbs are only irregular once. The base form is different, but the past tense and past participles are the same. So you only have to remember one change. 

Base formPast tensePast participle
bringbroughtbrought
buyboughtbought
buildbuiltbuilt
feelfeltfelt
findfoundfound
keepkeptkept
leaveleftleft
leadledled
loselostlost
meanmeantmeant
meetmetmet
read*read*read*
sellsoldsold
sendsentsent
sleepsleptslept
teachtaughttaught
understandunderstoodunderstood
winwonwon

*read, read and read look the same but they are pronounced differently: /riːd/ (reed), /red/ (red), /red/ (red).

4. Irregular verbs with a different base form, past tense and past participle

These verbs might seem like the hardest ones to remember, but many of them are ones we use really often in English. So, you probably already know quite a few of them and if you watch films, YouTube or listen to music in English, you’ll hear them all the time. You will see that a lot of these verbs end in -en but this isn’t a rule for this type of verb. The irregular verbs be, have, and do fit in this category too! 

Base formPast tensePast participle
beginbeganbegun
bitebitbitten
breakbrokebroken
choosechosechosen
drawdrewdrawn
drivedrovedriven
eatateeaten
flyflewflown
freezefrozefrozen
givegavegiven
hidehidhidden
lielaylain
rideroderidden
riseroserisen
shakeshookshaken
singsangsung
sinksanksunk
speakspokespoken
throwthrewthrown
writewrotewritten

Irregular verb differences between British and American English

Some verbs are irregular in British English but not in American English. And others are regular in British English but not in American. If you spend more time with Brits and watching UK TV, it’s likely you already use the British versions, and vice versa for American.

Is it an adjective or an adverb? The ultimate guide!

Verbs that are irregular in British English

These verbs are regular in American English but irregular in British. So, in American English the past tense and past participle end in -ed. In British English, they end in -t. Here are some of them:

Base formPast tensePast participle
BritishAmericanBritishAmerican
burnburntburnedburntburned
dreamdreamtdreameddreamtdreamed
kneelkneltkneeledkneltkneeled
learnlearntlearnedlearntlearned
spellspeltspelledspeltspelled
spoilspoiltspoiledspoiltspoiled

Which of these is British and which is American?

Oh no, I burnt the Queen’s dinner! 

I have never burned the President’s dinner. We’re better cooks over here. 

Verbs that are irregular in American English

These verbs are regular in British English, so they end in -ed in the past. But, they are irregular in American English. 

Base formPast tensePast participle
BritishAmericanBritishAmerican
divediveddovediveddived
quitquittedquitquittedquit
wetwettedwetwettedwet

In Britain, I always wetted my hair under the shower, but when I lived in the US I always wet it in the bathtub. 

Get – differences in British and American English

We saw above that the verb get is irregular in British and American English. Americans sometimes use gotten as the past participle, though they might also use got

She was so happy she had gotten the tickets. 

How many of these verbs can you already use correctly? Which ones are you going to learn next?

Ready to start learning with Lingoda?

Customise your learning experience and enjoy the journey to fluency.
Related articles
Follow us
Choose your language and take your free Lingoda placement test

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This