English irregular verbs

Spanish version

English has dozens of irregular verbs that you have to learn by heart. However, there are some connections that you can use to your advantage when you study.

There are irregular verbs also in other languages, such as German (DE), Spanish (ES) and others, which we’re not going to cover here.

Use of irregular verbs in English

Each verb (either regular or irregular) has three basic forms:

  • infinitive (the base form)
  • the past form
  • past participle

Regular verbs take the -ed ending, which is identical both for the past form and past participle, and that’s it.

Unlike regular verbs, English irregular verbs are a different story. This is where it starts to get tricky and you simply have to memorize them.

An example of an English regular verb:

  • Infinitive: cook
  • Past simple: cooked
  • Past participle: cooked

An example of an English irregular verb:

  • Infinitive: be (present simple is / am / are)
  • Past simple: was / were
  • Past participle: been

English irregular verbs with regular endings

Sometimes there are multiple forms of a particular English verb, all grammatically correct. That means that in fact irregular verbs might have both regular and irregular forms.

It pays off to know both forms. While it’s true you may actively use just the regular form, you still need to understand the irregular form when you hear or see it.

An example of such a verb is learn.
You can use the regular forms: learn / learned / learned

But there are also irregular ones: learn / learnt / learnt

The same but different

Some irregular verbs look the same in all three forms, e.g. read / read / read. All three forms of this verb are spelt in exactly the same way. However, they differ in pronunciation and the base form is pronounced differently from the past form and past participle: [ri:d] / [red] / [red].

How do I learn irregular verbs?

There are several successful tricks to make your brain remember something. These mental tricks can be very easily applied to learning just about anything, not just irregular verbs. Here are just a few:

Engage multiple sense while you study.

What does that mean in practice:

  • Read and try to memorize the irregular verbs.
  • Next, try and write them down off the top of your head.
  • Find an audio track where the verbs are used and listen to how they’re used by native speakers.
  • And last but not least – speak! Use the irregular verbs in sentences and say them out loud.

Slowly but surely

You can’t possibly learn everything at once. Choose one verb at a time and repeat it for yourself all day. Next morning, start with the revision of the irregular verbs you already know, and add one new to the list.

Create a schedule and be consistent. Select three to four days a week and schedule a specific time to study. This won’t take more than 15 minutes, so you can easily get down to learning the verbs five times a week.

However, be consistent and make sure you study regularly.

Having said that, don’t overstretch yourself trying to study all the time. Your brain needs a rest too, so be sure to have a break. Twice a day, five times a week will do.

Use your imagination

Create a story or a mental picture for each of the verbs.

Take the irregular verb dig [dig], for example. Picture this: you’re digging up in a mine when you suddenly find a giant diamond. As it hits the diamond, your pickaxe makes a loud clunking noise sounding like ‘dig’. The pickaxe will break into a thousand pieces but you’ve found a real gem.

The more interesting, and silly the story is, the more your brain is likely to remember the verb.

In a similar vein, the past form and past participle of this irregular verb are dug. Let’s assume it’s been some time since you found the diamond (it’s the past now) but you can still hear the pickaxe clunking in your ears. It’s not as sharp as before, so now it sounds like [dag].

Divide irregular verbs in logical groups

There are a number of ways to divide irregular verbs in groups. Below you can find two of them. However, feel free to create different groups if you like. As long as it seems logical to your brain, it will help your memorize the verbs.