David Appleyard's English Language User Guides and References
Page Contents
Background and Objectives Isolated Cases — 42 Completely Irregular Verbs
General Overview of Verb Inflections Abbreviations Used
152 Irregular Verbs in 26 Identifiable Conjugations Traditional Style Alphabetical Listing

 

 

Background and Objectives

English belongs to the Germanic group of languages descended from Proto-Indo-European. One of the characteristic features of Old Germanic was its utilization of root vowel inflections to indicate changes in verb tense. While modern English makes use of a simpler suffixing system (e.g. call-ed, phone-d, etc.), verbs with irregular vowel inflections still survive for many of the oldest and most basic activities known to man, such as eating, drinking, sleeping, sitting, standing or swimming. This means that even the most elementary of students soon have to get down to the nitty-gritty of committing them to memory and I would very much like to facilitate this process.

Unfortunately, since English orthography has undergone comparatively few reforms in the last 500 years, it fails to reflect the sometimes inconsistent developments in educated pronunciation that have taken place over the same period. Both monophthongal and diphthongal root vowel shifts have endowed modern English with a far greater variety of irregular verb inflections than one finds in other Germanic languages. The verb conjugational patterns of, for example, German or Swedish seem to be much more easily categorized and memorized than those of English. As a consequence, and much to the frustration of overseas learners, most English dictionaries and grammar books seem content merely to provide lengthy alphabetical listings of irregular verbs in an appendix at the back. Surprisingly few attempts appear to have been made to group together verbs of clearly common conjugation for faster and more effective memorization.

This is the gap I have set out to fill with this short survey, the results of which are a little surprising. In spite of the fact that we at the end of my analysis are left with 42 irregular verbs displaying seemingly unique pronunciation patterns, more than 150 others have actually been found to be in good company with other verbs. This means they can be remembered almost as effectively as a nursery rhyme.

Layout

From left to right in the tables, the verbs are shown in their infinitive/present, simple past and past-participle forms. In those cases where more than one past tense form is presented, anything shown in brackets is generally less common. Literary and archaic forms, included here to provide a historical perspective, are indicated in italics.

Sometimes a variant has one specific application (e.g. the nautical hove instead of everyday heaved). Here any such special usage is highlighted in red and the student should refer to a dictionary for further details.

In cases where one irregular verb also forms the root in another (e.g. give in forgive), usually only the basic verb is included here, unless there happens to be an accepted past-tense variant for the derivative (e.g. cast vs. forecast/forecasted). The phonetic symbols used represent the British English RP (Received Pronunciation) standard traditionally spoken by BBC World Service newsreaders or members of the Royal Family.

This survey of regular irregularity in English verbs does not in any way claim to be complete. Rather it should be seen as an attempt to break with tradition in order to facilitate more rapid memorization, which I hope will be to the benefit of students around the world. 

David V. Appleyard

 

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General Overview of Verb Inflections

Conjugation # Inflection Pattern Example
Conjugation 1 [ aɪ ]  →  [ aʊ ]  →  [ aʊ ] find-found-found
Conjugation 2 [ aɪ ]  →  [ ɪ ]  →  [ ɪ ] bite-bit-bitten
Conjugation 3 [ aɪ ]  →  [ əʊ ]  →  [ ɪ ] write-wrote-written
Conjugation 4 [ aɪ ]  →  [ ɔ: ]  →  [ ɔ: ] buy-bought-bought
Conjugation 5 [ e ]  →  [ e ]  →  [ e ] send-sent-sent
Conjugation 6 [ e ]  →  [ e ]  →  [ əʊ ] swell-swelled-swollen
Conjugation 7 [ e ]  →  [ ɒ ]   →  [ ɒ ] get-got-got
Conjugation 8 [ e ]  →  [ əʊ ]  →  [ əʊ ] tell-told-told
Conjugation 9 [ eɪ ]  →  [ eɪ ]  →  [ eɪ ] pay-paid-paid
Conjugation 10 [ eɪ ]  →  [ əʊ ]  →  [ əʊ ] break-broke-broken
Conjugation 11 [ eɪ ]  →  [ ʊ ]  →  [ eɪ ] take-took-taken
Conjugation 12 [ eə ]  →  [ ɔ: ]  →  [ ɔ: ] wear-wore-worn
Conjugation 13 [ ɪ ]  →  [ æ ]  →  [ æ ] sit-sat-sat
Conjugation 14 [ ɪ ]  →  [ æ ]  →  [ ʌ ] sing-sang-sung
Conjugation 15 [ ɪ ]  →  [ eɪ ]  →  [ ɪ ] give-gave-given
Conjugation 16 [ ɪ ]  →  [ ɪ ]  →  [ ɪ ] build-built-built
Conjugation 17 [ ɪ ]  →  [ ɔ: ]  →  [ ɔ: ] think-thought-thought
Conjugation 18 [ ɪ ]  →  [ ʌ ]  →  [ ʌ ] win-won-won
Conjugation 19 [ i: ]  →  [ e ]  →  [ e ] meet-met-met
Conjugation 20 [ i: ]  →  [ əʊ ]  →  [ əʊ ] speak-spoke-spoken
Conjugation 21 [ i: ]  →  [ ɔ: ]  →  [ ɔ: ] teach-taught-taught
Conjugation 22 [ əʊ ]  →  [ əʊ ]  →  [ əʊ ] show-showed-shown
Conjugation 23 [ əʊ ]  →  [ u: ]  →  [ əʊ ] blow-blew-blown
Conjugation 24 [ u: ]  →  [ ɒ ]  →  [ ɒ ] shoot-shot-shot
Conjugation 25 [ ɜ: ]  →  [ ɜ: ]  →  [ ɜ: ] burn-burnt-burnt
Conjugation 26 [ -- ]  →  [ -- ]  →  [ -- ] cut-cut-cut
     
42 truly irregular verbs!    
Abbreviations Used    
Introduction    

Irregular Verbs in Pretty Good Company

I have identified the following 26 groups of irregular English verbs as having some form of shared root-vowel inflection. Although they are not officially recognized, I refer to them here as conjugations:

 

Conjugation 1

[ aɪ ] [ aʊ ] [ aʊ ]
bind bound bound
find found found
grind ground ground
wind wound wound

 

Conjugation 2

[ aɪ ] [ ɪ ] [ ɪ ]
bite bit bitten
chide (chid) chided (chidden) chided
hide hid hidden
light lit (lighted) lit (lighted)
slide slid slid

 

Conjugation 3

[ aɪ ]  [ əʊ ] [ ɪ ]
drive drove driven
ride rode ridden
rise rose risen
shrive shrove (shrived) shriven (shrived)
smite smote smitten
stride strode stridden
strive strove, strived striven, strived
thrive (throve), thrived thriven, thrived
write wrote written

 

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Conjugation 4

[ aɪ ] [ ɔ: ] [ ɔ: ]
buy bought bought
fight fought fought

 

Conjugation 5

[ e ] [ e ] [ e ]
bend bent bent
dwell dwelt dwelt
lend lent lent
rend rent rent
send sent sent
smell smelt, smelled smelt, smelled
spell spelt, spelled spelt, spelled
spend spent spent

 

Conjugation 6

[ e ] [ e ] [ əʊ ]
melt melted (molten), melted   (adj. molten)
swell swelled swollen, swelled

 

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Conjugation 7

[ e ]  [ ɒ ] [ ɒ ]
forget forgot forgotten
get got got,  AmE  gotten
tread trod trodden

 

Conjugation 8

[ e ] [ əʊ ] [ əʊ ]
sell sold sold
tell told told

 

Conjugation 9

[ eɪ ] [ eɪ ] [ eɪ ]
grave graved graved  (graven)
lay laid laid
make made made
pay paid paid
shave shaved shaven, shaved

 

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Conjugation 10

[ eɪ ] [ əʊ ] [ əʊ ]
break broke broken
stave stove, staved stove, staved
wake woke, waked waken, waked

 

Conjugation 11

[ eɪ ] [ ʊ ] [ eɪ ]
forsake forsook forsaken
shake shook shaken
take took taken

 

Conjugation 12

[ eə ] [ ɔ: ] [ ɔ: ]
bear bore born, borne
swear swore sworn
tear tore torn
wear wore worn

 

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Conjugation 13

[ ɪ ] [ æ ] [ æ ]
shit  (!) (shat), shit, shitted (shat), shit, shitted
sit sat sat
spit spat spat

 

Conjugation 14

[ ɪ ] [ æ ] [ ʌ ]
begin began begun
drink drank drunk  (adj. drunken)
ring rang rung
shrink shrank shrunk  (adj. shrunken)
sing sang sung
sink sank sunk  (adj. sunken)
spin ( BrE  span), spun spun
spring sprang, ( AmE  sprung) sprung
stink stank stunk
swim swam swum

 

Conjugation 15

[ ɪ ] [ eɪ ] [ ɪ ]
bid (bade), bid (bidden), bid
forbid forbade, forbad forbidden
give gave given

 

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Conjugation 16

[ ɪ ] [ ɪ ] [ ɪ ]
built built built
gild (gilt), gilded gilded  (adj. gilt)
spilt spilt, spilled spilt, spilled

 

Conjugation 17

[ ɪ ] [ ɔ: ] [ ɔ: ]
bring brought brought
think thought thought

 

Conjugation 18

[ ɪ ] [ ʌ ] [ ʌ ]
cling clung clung
dig dug dug
fling flung flung
sling slung slung
slink slunk slunk
stick stuck stuck
sting stung stung
string strung strung
swing swung swung
win won won
wring wrung wrung

 

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Conjugation 19

[ i: ] [ e ]   [ e ]  
bereave bereft, (bereaved) bereft, (bereaved)
bleed bled bled
breed bred bred
creep crept crept
deal dealt dealt
dream dreamt, dreamed dreamt, dreamed
feed fed fed
feel felt felt
flee fled fled
keep kept kept
kneel knelt knelt
lead led led
lean leant, leaned leant, leaned
leap leapt, leaped leapt, leaped
leave left left
mean meant meant
meet met met
read read read
sleep slept slept
speed sped, speeded sped, speeded
sweep swept swept
weep wept wept

 

Conjugation 20

[ i: ] [ əʊ ] [ əʊ ]
cleave clove (cleft, cleaved) cloven (cleft, cleaved)
freeze froze frozen
heave (hove), heaved (hove), heaved
speak spoke spoken
weave wove woven
wreak (wroke), wreaked † (wroken), wreaked

 

† Note that past tense of wreak is wreaked and not wrought, as many wrongly assume. Wrought is the old past tense of to work and so to wreak havoc means to work havoc. Past tense wroke and past participle wroken can now be regarded as obsolete.

.

Conjugation 21

[ i: ] [ ɔ: ] [ ɔ: ]
beseech besought besought
seek sought sought
teach taught taught

 

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Conjugation 22

[ əʊ ] [ əʊ ] [ əʊ ]
mow mowed mown, mowed
sew sewed sewn, sewed
show showed shown, showed
sow sowed sown, sowed

 

Conjugation 23

[ əʊ ] [ u: ] [ əʊ ]
blow blew blown
crow crew, crowed crowed
grow grew grown
know knew known
throw threw thrown

 

Conjugation 24

[ u: ] [ ɒ ] [ ɒ ]
lose lost lost
shoe shod shod
shoot shot shot

 

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Conjugation 25

[ ɜ: ] [ ɜ: ] [ ɜ: ]
burn burnt, burned burnt, burned
gird (girt), girded (girt), girded
learn learnt, learned learnt, learned

 

Conjugation 26

[ — ] [ — ] [ — ]
bet bet (betted) bet (betted)
bid bid, (bade) bid, (bidden)
broadcast broadcast, ( AmE  broadcasted) broadcast, ( AmE  broadcasted)
burst burst burst
cast cast cast
cost cost cost
cut cut cut
forecast forecast (forecasted) forecast (forecasted)
hit hit hit
hurt hurt hurt
knit knit (knitted) knit (knitted)
let let let
put put put
quit quit (quitted) quit (quitted)
rid rid (ridded) rid (ridded)
set set set
shed shed shed
shut shut shut
slit slit slit
split split split
spread spread spread
thrust thrust thrust
wed wed (wedded) wed (wedded)
wet wet (wetted) wet (wetted)

Isolated Cases — 42 Verbs with Truly Irregular Irregularity

Infinitive or Basic Form Past Simple Past Participle
abide (abode), abided (abode), abided
be was, were been
beat beat beaten
can** could been able to
catch caught caught
choose chose chosen
clothe (clad), clothed (clad), clothed  (adj. clad)
come came come
dare (durst), dared dared
dive ( AmE  dove), dived dived
do did done
draw drew drawn
eat ate eaten
fall fell fallen
fly flew flown
give gave given
go went gone
hang hung, hanged hung, hanged
have had had
hear heard heard
hew hewed hewn, hewed
hold held held
lie lay lain
may** might
must** had to had to
ought**
prove proved (proven), proved
run ran run
saw sawed sawn (sawed)
say said said
see saw seen
shall** should
shear (shore), sheared (shorn), sheared
shine shone shone
slay slew slain
spoil spoilt, spoiled spoilt, spoiled
stand stood stood
steal stole stolen
strew strewed strewn (strewed)
strike struck struck (stricken)  (adj. stricken)
will** would
work (wrought), worked (wrought), worked

 

Abbreviations Used

adj. Adjectival form
 AmE Mainly American English
 BrE Mainly British English
** Modal auxiliary verb with no infinitive form (to...)
(!) Vulgar expression