Irregular Verbs in English: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

How do you express an action? Or how you are feeling right now? You use verbs of course! This lesson explains the definition and use of irregular verbs in the English language.


Verbs are an essential component for any language. Verbs show what is happening, has happened or will happen. Verbs tell you how a person feels, thinks or behaves. Run, jump, sit, write, argue, shop, swing, dream, hope, believe and imagine are all examples of verbs.

A verb is a word that shows action or state of being. In the English language we change the structure of our verbs according to how they are used. This lesson discusses irregular verbs, which do not follow the designed rules for structuring verbs.

Verb Tense

Before we can delve further into irregular verbs, we need to review verb tense, which is the time at which an action takes place. The three major verb tenses are present, past, and future. Here are some examples of the verb jump used in each of those three tenses.

  • He jumps over the fence each day.
  • He jumped over the fence yesterday.
  • He will jump over the fence tomorrow.

Each of these sentences shows the same action, but at a different point in time. Look again at the second example. The suffix 'ed was added to the verb jump to make it past tense. This is the general rule for structuring verbs in the past tense. Since jump follows this rule, it is a regular verb. Here are some other examples of regular verbs in past tense.

  • Punched
  • Jogged
  • Linked
  • Connected
  • United
  • Married
  • Worried

You may have noticed some of these verbs have made other changes in addition to the 'ed suffix. For example, jog doubled the letter g and unite only added the letter d. Also, marry and worry replaced the y with an i before adding the 'ed. Even with these spelling changes, these are all examples of regular verbs using the suffix 'ed to create the past tense.

Irregular Verbs

Now that we have reviewed regular verbs, we can look closer at irregular verbs, which do not use the suffix 'ed to create the past tense. Instead, these verbs make different changes from the present tense structure of the verb. Below are listed some irregular verbs in the present and past tense.

  • Is/was
  • Are/were
  • Sleep/slept
  • Bite/bit
  • Run/ran
  • Come/came
  • Shoot/shot
  • Sit/sat
  • Throw/threw

As you can see, there are no set rules for changing these verbs to the past tense. Some change the vowels, whereas others delete or add in letters. That is why these verbs are called irregular; there is not a regular spelling change.

Furthermore, there are some verbs that do not change at all in the past tense. Here are some examples.

  • hurt
  • read
  • quit

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