Using Irregular Verbs in English

Instructor: Valerie Keenan

Valerie has taught elementary school and has her master's degree in education.

Irregular verbs can be a confusing part of the English language, but this lesson will help to provide some clarity on how and when to use them. Learn some simple tips for becoming an irregular verb expert and practice using irregular verbs correctly.

What is an Irregular Verb?

First, consider where irregular verbs come from. They were borrowed from Germanic languages and have been in the English language for a very long time. Their Old English roots designate rules that don't correspond to typical, regular verbs because they are so old and are still used so frequently.

All verbs, whether regular or irregular, can be written in five different forms:

  • Infinitive
  • Simple Present
  • Simple Past
  • Past Participle
  • Present Participle

An irregular verb is written differently in its simple past and past participle forms than a regular verb. A regular verb in these forms will always end in ed, while an irregular verb can end in several different ways.

Irregular Verbs can end in a variety of ways.

Take a look at the following charts to further understand how regular and irregular verbs differ.

Examples of Regular Verbs and their Endings

Infinitive Simple Present Simple Past Past Participle Present Participle
to jump jump (s) jumped jumped jumping
to explore explore (s) explored explored exploring
to create create (s) created created creating
to help help (s) helped helped helping

Examples of Irregular Verbs and their Endings

Infinitive Simple Present Simple Past Past Participle Present Participle
to think think (s) thought thought thinking
to sleep sleep (s) slept slept sleeping
to see see (s) saw seen seeing
to give give (s) gave given giving

Using Irregular Verbs

There are hundreds of irregular verbs, and knowing when a verb is irregular can be tricky. A lot of practice and memorization is the key to learning how to use them correctly. Also, if the verb sounds awkward the way that it's being used, it is probably an irregular verb and should be written differently. For example, if you write or say:

  • I gived her all of my food.

You can tell from the way it sounds that something isn't quite right. Try instead:

  • I gave her all of my food.

For another example, instead of:

  • The funny clown falled down.

You should try:

  • The funny clown fell down.

Further Practice

Read the following paragraph, and see if you can figure out which verbs are being used incorrectly.

  • I was driving to work yesterday, and crazy things started to happen. First, a bird flied into my windshield. It was ok, but I was shocked. Next, a dog runned into the middle of the street and started juggling- and it was standing on one leg! I was so distracted that I nearly drived off the road! After that, a firetruck speeded by with its sirens blaring, and an elephant spraying water all over the place with its trunk was standing on top. Finally, the sirens turned into my alarm clock going off, and I realized that I had sleeped in too late. It was all a dream!

Did that sound pretty awkward to you? Here is the paragraph again, written the correct way:

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