If you checked the last article about verb tenses, you may be feeling a sense of achievement by now, and you should. A big part of learning a language is being able to convey meaning, and that is something you can do already, so congrats! Let’s raise the bar a little bit. Just when you finally think you understand the tenses, you run into irregular verbs.
There are over 170 irregular verbs in English, and they all break the standard rules as most words do. Today I play, yesterday I played. Simple, right? The thing with irregular verbs is that there isn’t a rule you can learn for them. The only solution? Memorize them.
How to know if a verb is irregular
Let’s first define what an irregular verb is. Regular verbs have an established pattern through all their tenses. Usually, the only thing you have to do to form one is add -ed at the end of the word and that’s it. For example:
I play, I played, I had played
I study, He studied, He had studied
Irregular verbs, on the other hand, Don’t follow a pattern at all. You can recognize them because they look so different in the past tense. Some examples:
I write, I wrote, I had written
He goes, he went, he had gone
An English verb is irregular when it doesn’t end in -ed in the simple past and past participle tense. Not sure what those are? Check this article to learn about it.
Top tips to learn irregular verbs
Group them together!
Irregular verbs don’t follow any rules, and that makes them really hard to remember. Some of them, though, have a similar pattern. Instead of learning them in alphabetical order, put them in similar groups. How you do it depends on you, but here are some ideas
They stay the same in each form (split, upset, up, shut, cut).
They stay the same in past tense and
past participle (keep, shoot, bring, buy, build).
They change in each form (be, break, flow, begin)
Memorize the most common irregular verbs first
Not all irregular verbs are commonly used, and at this stage of your learning, you don’t want to learn words you don’t practice on a daily basis. Instead of going through a list of irregular verbs, focus on the most commonly used words first.
- Find, found, found
- Go, went, gone
- Fell, felt, felt
- Come, came, come
- Know, knew, known
- Say, said, said
- Get, got, gotten
- Give, gave, given
- Become, became, become
- See, saw, seen
Learn in sentences
It is easier to remember the words when they’re part of a sentence of a phrase. Learn words by putting them into sentences. This way, you will also learn how to use them correctly
To learn the word see, for example, you can use sentences like this: “I see the bee, I saw the snow, but I’ve never seen a bee in the snow!”
Be creative—the weirder the sentences are, the easier they will be to remember. You can use rhymes, keep the sentences short or create an entire story using as many verbs as you can. How you do it is up to you, as long as it helps you remember the verb forms.
Use the internet
It is said that practice makes perfect, and there is nothing more certain in life, especially when learning English. Twenty years ago, people had to learn by writing countless amounts of flashcards and filling their whole house with them. Nowadays, we have at our disposal an infinite number of free online resources to learn. Here’s a list of some of them:
Get familiar with them
This may sound simple, but is one of the best advice I can give. The more you expose yourself to irregular verbs, the faster you will memorize them. So, read as much as you can, watch more television in English and listen to podcasts. This will prove to be useful not only to learn irregular verbs but in your whole English learning process.
Use your dictionary
f you’re not sure whether a verb is irregular or not, look it up in the dictionary. A dictionary entry will provide the past tense and past participle of the word so you can decide if it’s irregular or regular.
Ask for corrections
Nothing beats practice, but practicing correctly is important still! Find a native English speaker you can talk to and ask them if they can correct you when you make a mistake with an irregular verb, or better, find a teacher that corrects you. They will always correct you and will encourage you to get better!
Apply all of these tips, and you will learn irregular verbs in no time!