Back to Basics: Irregular Verbs
We’re finally to the last back to basics post on verbs, the irregular verbs. These are the rule breakers that refuse to follow the same rules as the rest for the different tenses. They can seem intimidating at first, but don’t worry. Although they don’t follow the same rules as most, they do follow their own set.
Let’s start off with the state of being verbs.
Be, am, is, was, and were are all different forms of the same verb, be. Is, am, and was are singular. Are and were are plural. Be itself can work either way, depending on the tense. Are and is are in the present tense. Was and were are past tense verbs.
Note: Even though “you” is sometimes singular, use the plural state of being verbs in second person.
So let’s break down their usage.
What about all the other verbs?
With the rest of the verbs, it’s really the past tenses that cause the hiccups. All verbs, aside from the state of being verbs, will follow the rules for present and future tense we talked about last week. It’s when we go to into the past tenses that things change.
A few verbs add a “t” to the end of the word instead of the usual –ed suffix. Actually most of these verbs can be considered standard nowadays, as you can see in the chart below, and often the standard version is preferred in modern speech and text. However, this does not hold true for every instance.
When one of these words have double vowels in a single syllable, one is generally dropped before the “t” is added. When the verb ends in “d,” swap out the “d” for a “t.”
There are a lot more of these, but this should give you an idea. In every example above where you are given two options, I would suggest using the standard version. The ones ending in “t” are still technically correct, but they are in the process of fading from English and have been for the past century or so.
Languages evolve, or they die out. It’s a slow process, but the rise of modern technology and how it has sped up communication on a global scale is causing the rate of etymological evolution to increase over the past few decades. This is something we as students, authors, and readers need to keep in mind.
It can help to know the antiquated rules of grammar and spelling, but you must know the current ones and keep an eye out for those that are changing.
Some verbs just don’t change, no matter which tense they are in.
Some verbs use the suffix –en when in past perfect.
These irregular verbs can take three different routes. Some of these verbs stay the same in both present and simple past tense before adding the –en suffix to their past perfect forms. Others either change a vowel, or they take a vowel from its long pronunciation to the short one, or vice versa, when going from present to past simple. Whether you add the –en suffix to the present or past tense spelling of the word depends on the word in question.
When in doubt, try saying both versions out loud. One should sound odd. Use the other.
This is nowhere close to a comprehensive list, but it does show several different examples of what we’re talking about.
Awake changes the middle “a” to an “o” when shifting from present to past. Then the –en suffix is added to its past simple spelling to form past perfect. Beat is spelled the same in both present and past tense. Bite goes from the long pronunciation of “i” in present tense to the short pronunciation in past tense, then the “t” is doubled in the past tense spelling before the –en suffix is added for the past perfect tense.
Drive and fall are both examples of verbs that change which vowel is used to move from present to past tense, then they revert to the present tense spelling and add –en to form their past perfect form.
Some verbs just add an “n” to the end of their past perfect forms.
These can work in one of several ways. In the first, they can change a vowel when going from present to past before reverting to their present form with an “n” added to the end in past perfect tense. Others change the way they are spelled when going from present to past tense and then change the verb again and add an “n” onto the end to make it past perfect. A couple are lazy and while they change spelling from present to past tense, they just stick an “n” onto the end to make it past perfect.
Wait a second. This is getting confusing. How can I remember which vowel changes into what?
Go look at the charts again. There’s a pattern with these verbs that change vowels when going present to past and then change back to the present vowel for past perfect.
Some verbs change how they are spelled for the past tenses, but the spelling is the same for both past tenses.
There’s a pattern to these too. Any time a verb’s past tense ends in “ught,” it will be the same for both past and past perfect tenses. Single syllable verbs ending in “ay” in present tense will end in “aid” in both past tenses, and single syllable verbs ending in “ell” in present tense will end in “old” in both past tenses.
Finally, some verbs have a vowel progression from “i” to “a” to “u” as they move from present to past to past perfect.
So there you go. While not exactly simple with how many groups there are, here are a few ways to keep track of irregular verbs and how they change for the tense they are in. I hope you find it useful.
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A. B. England is a novelist, all around geek, avid crafter, and the home-schooling mother of two.
She is an autistic creator with a love of mythology, fantasy, and all flavors of science fiction.
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