Understanding regular vs irregular verbs is a great place to start if you want to get to know verbs better. In this article, we'll explore in depth the difference between the two.
This guide is part of our free online Grammar Book.
I guess the best place to start is to establish what a verb is. And that's not as straightforward as you might think.
In school, we're often taught that verbs are doing words, and while there's some truth to that, it's not the whole truth.
For example, when you say:
"The dog is pretty,"
The verb 'is' describes the dog's state and not what the dog is doing since the dog isn't doing anything.
There are also many different types of verbs - transitive, intransitive, auxiliary, helping... the list goes on. If you'd like to learn more about the different types of verbs, check out this article. For the purposes of this article, however, we'll just focus on regular vs irregular verbs.
I will say one more thing before we move on, though, and that's that verbs are the one and only thing that is always needed in a sentence. No other part of speech is indispensable the way a verb is, not even a subject. Here's an example of a full sentence using just one word:
Okay, so now we're clear on what a verb is, let's get to the question at hand:
What are regular and irregular verbs, and what's the difference?
What you need to know first is that the three tenses that have regular and irregular verbs are:
Regular verbs are:
Let's go over each tense and learn its regular and irregular forms.
The present indefinite tense - also known as the present simple - is used to talk about a general truth or fact. It doesn't necessarily mean that the thing is happening right now; it just means the statement is true today.
The 321 bus takes the Northern route through the city.
Now let's look at how to conjugate a verb in the present indefinite tense.
The present indefinite tense is pretty easy to put together: it's identical to the root form of the verb for all pronouns except the third person singular, for which you add an -s.
Here's an example:
I'll show you another example so you can see the consistency.
Let's have a look at some sentence examples that use regular verbs in the present indefinite tense.
She always cycles to work in the summertime.
Those new sneakers look very comfortable.
I almost always wear black at work.
The good news is that it's just the third-person singular pronoun that's affected when a verb's irregular in the present indefinite tense.
In terms of irregular verbs, you've got two kinds:
With the present indefinite tense, we're dealing with the first kind.
See the following example with the verb ‘to catch’:
For example, with the verb ‘to worry’:
Then you've got the verb 'be' whose first-person singular conjugation is also different and quite random.
And the verb 'have' for which the third person singular is 'have,' instead of what it should logically be if it were regular: 'haves.'
Let's have a look at some sentence examples that use irregular verbs in the present indefinite tense.
Why do you always bury your bones, Rex?
She watches the boy cycle by and wishes she had a bike that big.
The house is for sale.
Now we'll look at how verbs are influenced by regularity or irregularity when they're in the past indefinite and past participle forms.
The past participle, when paired with an auxiliary verb, can form one of the following verb tenses:
Either way, both verb forms have a regular conjugation and an irregular one.
To put a regular verb into past indefinite tense or past participle form, just follow this rule:
That's it! Super straightforward, right?
Let's see how that looks.
check → checked → checked
Let's test this in sentences. First in a past indefinite sentence:
Yes, I'm sure the door is locked because I double checked.
And now a sentence in the present perfect tense (which requires the auxiliary verb 'have' and the past participle of the verb 'check'):
They have already checked in.
As you can see, it checks out! (pun intended)
Here are some sentence examples that use regular verbs in the past indefinite tense form.
She passed the ball to her teammate but it was intercepted.
We looked at each other with surprise.
The two boys played together every day after school.
And here are some examples of regular verbs in the past participle form.
We will have lived here 20 years next month.
I had been watching TV for hours when you arrived.
Where have you been? I was looking all over for you.
Now let's take a look at irregular verbs being transformed into the past indefinite tense or past participle form. Remember earlier when I said there are two types of irregular verbs, the ones that still follow a pattern and those that don't? With the past tense irregulars, you're dealing with both.
Here are the ones that follow a pattern.
Simply add -d if the verb already ends with an -e.
If the verb ends in the consonant y, change the –y to –i and add –ed:
If the verb ends in consonant + vowel + consonant, double the final consonant and then add -ed:
For verbs ending in -c, add a –k, then –ed.
If the last syllable of a verb is stressed and ends [consonant-vowel-consonant], double the last consonant, then add -ed:
Except if the final consonant is w, x, or y, then don't double it:
That's it for the irregular verbs that follow a pattern. As for those that don't follow a pattern, the only way to know these is to learn them and practice. This isn't something that will happen all at once, so you need to be patient. Lots of reading is key, as well as lots of writing, and keep coming back to this article to make sure you're getting it right (don't forget to bookmark it!).
Here's a list of just some irregular verbs (it goes root verb → past indefinite (V2) → past participle (V3)). You'll notice sometimes V2 and V3 are the same, and sometimes not.
Here are some sentence examples that use irregular verbs in the past indefinite tense form.
I began reading this book just before Christmas.
The robbers stole all my jewelry.
Those roses grew really quickly.
And here are some examples of irregular verbs in the past participle form.
You don't have to keep your feelings hidden.
After a long and tiring day, she'd fallen asleep as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Where have you been? I've been looking for you all over.
That concludes this article on regular vs irregular verbs. As I mentioned earlier, the best thing for you to do is to go out and practice so that these eventually become second nature to you.
Let's summarize what we've learned:
If you found this article helpful, head on over to our Grammar Book, a free online database where we simplify complex grammatical concepts.
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