When to Use Begin, Began or Begun

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  • 0:03 An Irregular Word
  • 0:59 Begin
  • 1:28 Began
  • 1:54 Begun
  • 2:58 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature. He has taught college English for 5+ years.

Because 'begin' is an irregular verb, its past tense forms ('began' and 'begun') can be confusing. This lesson explains the difference between the present tense 'begin,' simple past tense 'began,' and past participle 'begun.'

An Irregular Word

We all learned in school that verbs are words that show action, like 'walk' and 'climb.' And we learned that verbs have different verb tenses to show whether the action is happening in the present, past, or future. And we learned that you form the past tense of a verb by adding '-ed' to the end, like 'walked' or 'climbed.'

Well, if that's the case, why are there three forms of the verb 'begin' (begin, began, and begun), and how come none of them end in '-ed'? It turns out that the '-ed' rule only applies to regular verbs, and that 'begin', which means 'to start,' is one of many irregular verbs, so called because they don't follow the rules.

So 'begin' is the present tense form of the verb, and 'began' is the simple past tense of the verb. And 'begun' is the past participle, used in the perfect tenses. What is a perfect tense? Don't worry, we'll get there.


But let's start out simple, with the present tense verb 'begin.' As the name implies, this is used for the simple present tense, when the action described is happening right now, like in the sentences:

  • The game begins right now.
  • I begin my new diet today.

The present tense form can also be combined with the helping verb 'will' to create the future tense, like in the sentences:

  • The film will begin in five minutes.
  • School will begin in August.


So 'begin' gets us to the present and the future, but what about the past? That is where 'began' comes in, which describes things that happen in the simple past tense, meaning before the time you are reading or speaking. We can see this in the sentences:

  • I began studying for this test two weeks ago.
  • World War II began in 1939.
  • I have been hiking for so long I can't remember where I began.

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