What Is an Irregular Verb? Definition and Types Explained

Regular verbs are easy to conjugate. For example, when you add -ed to the regular verb walk, you get the past tense verb walked. But irregular verbs don't work quite the same way. So what is an irregular verb? Keep reading for an explanation of irregular verbs, the rules they follow and examples of irregular verbs in sentences.

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Irregular Verbs Definition

Any verb that does not add -ed or -d to its past tense form is considered an irregular verb. The word "irregular" makes it sound like these verbs are rare, but you see them all the time in writing and conversation.

Examples of irregular verbs include:

  • go (went)
  • is (was)
  • swim (swam)
  • drink (drank)
  • bring (brought)

Irregular verbs, sometimes known as strong verbs, are very common in English. In fact, there is a long list of irregular verbs that you probably use every day!

Types of Irregular Verbs

Unlike regular verbs, irregular verbs don't follow patterns when changing tenses. They don't follow the same rules for conjugation. However, there are four main types of irregular verbs, and knowing these types might help you memorize them faster.

Irregular Verbs With Different Forms in Every Tense

To English learners, the trickiest irregular verbs are the ones that have different present tense, past tense and past participle forms, which include the word "have" and the verb. For example, the verb to be is the most irregular verb in the English language. It becomes:

  • is/are in present tense (We are on vacation.)
  • was/were in past tense (We were on vacation.)
  • been in past participle (We have been on vacation.)

More examples of these irregular verbs include:

Present TensePast TensePast Participle
dodiddone
eatateeaten
gowentgone
havehashad
seesawseen

It's hard to remember these verbs because each form is so different. However, native English speakers and those who have been studying for a long time can choose the correct form without thinking about it too much.

Irregular Verbs With the Same Past Tense and Past Participle

Some irregular verbs only change once. Their past tense and past participle forms are the same, making it a little easier to decide how to conjugate them. For example, the verb to keep becomes:

  • keep in present tense (I keep my old yearbooks.)
  • kept in past tense (I kept my old yearbooks.)
  • kept in past participle (I have kept my hold yearbooks.)

More examples of these irregular verbs include:

Present TensePast TensePast Participle
buyboughtbought
findfoundfound
makemademade
saysaidsaid
winwonwon

Once you know the past tense forms of these verbs, learning their past participle forms is simple. The trick is knowing which verbs fall into this category.

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Irregular Verbs That Only Change in Past Tense

Several irregular verbs have the same present tense form and past participle form, but not the same past tense form. For example, the verb to run becomes:

  • run in present tense (They run together every day.)
  • ran in past tense (They ran together last Saturday.)
  • run in past participle (They have run together for years.)

The only other three examples of this type of irregular verbs are:

Present TensePast TensePast Participle
becomebecamebecome
comecamecome
overcomeovercame

overcome

Because this type of irregular verb is not as common, you only need to memorize these four verbs and their changes. Most of the time, the past participle doesn't match the present tense form of a verb.

Irregular Verbs That Never Change

Finally, there are some irregular verbs that never change form. Most of these verbs end in -t, so they're easier to identify when you're confused. For example, the verb to cut remains:

  • cut in present tense (I cut the carrots while she stirs.)
  • cut in past tense (I cut the carrots yesterday.)
  • cut in past participle (I have cut the carrots before.)

More examples of these irregular verbs include:

Present TensePast Tense
Past Participle
fitfitfit
hurthurthurt
letletlet
putputput
setsetset

The third-person present tense form of these verbs adds an -s (such as bets or fits), but other than that, they don't change form in conjugation. That's why readers need to use context clues with these verbs to make sure they know when an action is taking place.

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Irregular Verb Exceptions

While the majority of irregular verbs fall into these categories, a few don't quite fit. These verbs are:

  • beat (becomes beat in past tense and beaten in past participle)
  • read (still spelled the same, but pronounced "red" in past tense and past participle)

With the exception of these two, irregular verbs follow the above types. That's good news for English learners — once you know which verbs go where, you can easily memorize their conjugations.

Good Grammar Doesn't Have to Be Irregular

English is a versatile and expressive language but that can make it tricky to learn. The most common English verbs, like "to go" or "to have" or "to be," are all irregular and take a bit of practice to master. Learn more about the correct use of swam and swum or try kickstarting your practice with an irregular verb game. When you have your irregular verbs memorized, you'll find that you make fewer grammar mistakes overall.