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Irregular verb
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Irregular verb

In contrast to regular verbs, irregular verbs are those verbs that fall outside the standard patterns of conjugation in the languages in which they occur.

Table of contents
1 English Irregular verbs
2 Irregular verbs in other languages
3 External links

English Irregular verbs

English has 283 irregular verbs, believed to be the most of any widely spoken contemporary language.

Almost all iregular English verbs do not conform to standard methods of forming past participles and/or past tenses. With these verbs other conjunctions and inflections – such as the present 3rd person singular -s or -es, and present participle -ing – broadly follow the same rules of spelling as the regular verbs.

The exceptions is the verb to be and also defective verbs which cannot be conjugated into certain tenses.

All English irregular verbs are native, originating in Old English. They also tend to be the most commonly used verbs. The ten most commonly used verbs in English are all irregular.

All loanwords from foreign languages are regular. So are verbs that have been recently coined and all nouns used as verbs use standard suffixes. Almost all of the least commonlly used words are also regular, even though some of them may have been irregular in the past.

Formation of irregular verbs

Most irregular verbs exist as remnants of historical conjugation systems. In the past what is today an exception actually followed a set rule, when that rule was discontinued some verbs kept the old conjugation. An example of this is the word kept, which before the Great Vowel Shift fell into a class of words where the vowel in keep, then pronounced kehp, was shortened in the past tence. Similar words, such as peep, that arose after the Vowel Shift, use the regular -ed suffix. Groups of irregular verbs include:

Other than historical legacy, other irregular verbs have been changed due to ease of pronunciation so that it is shorter or more closely corresponds to how it is spelt. There are fewer strong verbs and irregular verbs in modern English than there were in Old English. Slowly over time the number of irregular verbs is decreasing. The force of analogy tends to reduce the number of irregular verbs over time. This fact explains why irregular verbs tend to be the most commonly used ones, verbs that are more rarely heard are more likely to switch to being regular. For instance, a verb like ablate was once irregular but today ablated is the standard usage. Today irregular and standard forms often coexist, a sign that the irregular form may be on the wane. For instance, seeing spelled instead of spelt or strived instead of strove is common.

On the other hand, contraction and sound changes can increase their number. Most of the strong verbs were regular, in that they fell into a conventional plan of conjugation, in Old English; there are so few of them left in contemporary English that they seem irregular to us. This has even been observed in languages constructed to not have exceptions. The few people who are native speakers of Esperanto have, after only one generation, been observed to use contractions that have created a group of irregular verbs.

Common irregularities

Common irregularities include:

List of irregular English verbs

The present tense comes first, next the preterite, and the past participle comes last:

  • awoke awoken
  • (, am, is, are) (was, were) been
  • bore born/borne
  • beat beaten
  • became become
  • began begun
  • bent bent
  • beset beset
  • bet bet
  • bade/bid bidden/bid
  • bound bound
  • bit bitten
  • bled bled
  • blew blown
  • broke broken
  • bred bred
  • brought brought
  • broadcast broadcast
  • built built
  • burned/burnt burned/burnt
  • burst burst
  • bought bought
  • could could
  • cast cast
  • caught caught
  • chose chosen
  • clung clung
  • came come
  • cost cost
  • crept crept
  • cut cut
  • dealt dealt
  • dug dug
  • dived/dove dived
  • did done
  • drew drawn
  • dreamt dreamt
  • drove driven
  • drank drunk
  • ate eaten
  • fell fallen
  • fed fed
  • felt felt
  • fought fought
  • found found
  • fit fit
  • fled fled
  • flung flung
  • flew flown
  • forbade forbidden
  • forgot forgotten
  • forewent foregone
  • forgave forgiven
  • forsook forsaken
  • freeze froze frozen
  • get got got/gotten
  • give gave given
  • go went gone
  • grind ground ground
  • grow grew grown
  • hang hung hung (but hanged for a person)
  • have had had
  • hear heard heard
  • hide hid hidden
  • hit hit hit
  • hold held held
  • hurt hurt hurt
  • keep kept kept
  • kneel knelt knelt
  • knit knit knit
  • know knew known
  • lay laid laid
  • lead led led
  • leap leaped/leapt leaped/leapt
  • learn learned/learnt learned/learnt
  • leave left left
  • lend lent lent
  • let let let
  • lie lay lain
  • light lit lighted
  • lose lost lost
  • make made made
  • may might might
  • mean meant meant
  • meet met met
  • misspell misspelt misspelt
  • mistake mistook mistaken
  • mow mowed mowed/mown
  • overcome overcame overcome
  • overdo overdid overdone

  • overtake overtook overtaken
  • overthrow overthrew overthrown
  • pay paid paid
  • plead (pleaded/pled) (pleaded/pled)
  • prove proved (proved/proven)
  • put put put
  • quit quit quit
  • read read read
  • rid rid rid
  • ride rode ridden
  • ring rang rung
  • rise rose risen
  • run ran run
  • saw sawed sawed/sawn
  • say said said
  • see saw seen
  • seek sought sought
  • sell sold sold
  • send sent sent
  • set set set
  • sew sewed sewed/sewn
  • shake shook shaken
  • shall should should
  • shave shaved shaved/shaven
  • shear sheared sheared/shorn
  • shed shed shed
  • shine shone shone
  • shoe shoed shoed/shod
  • shoot shot shot
  • show showed showed/shown
  • shrink shrank shrunk
  • shut shut shut
  • sing sang sung
  • sink sank sunk
  • sit sat sat
  • sleep slept slept
  • slay slew slain
  • slide slid slid
  • sling slung slung
  • slit slit slit
  • smite smote smitten
  • sow sowed sowed/sown
  • speak spoke spoken
  • speed sped sped
  • spell spelled/spelt spelled/spelt
  • spend spent spent
  • spill spilled/spilt spilled/spilt
  • spin spun spun
  • spit spit/spat spit
  • split split split
  • spread spread spread
  • spring sprang sprung
  • stand stood stood
  • steal stole stolen
  • stick stuck stuck
  • sting stung stung
  • stink stank stunk
  • stride strode stridden
  • strike struck struck
  • string strung strung
  • strive strove striven
  • swear swore sworn
  • sweep swept swept
  • swell swelled swelled/swollen
  • swim swam swum
  • swing swung swung
  • take took taken
  • teach taught taught
  • tear tore torn
  • tell told told
  • think thought thought
  • thrive thrived/throve thrived
  • throw threw thrown
  • thrust thrust thrust
  • tread trod trodden
  • understand understood understood
  • uphold upheld upheld
  • upset upset upset
  • wake woke woken
  • wear wore worn
  • weave wove woven
  • wed, wed/wedded, wed
  • weep wept wept
  • wind wound wound
  • will would would
  • win won won
  • withhold withheld withheld
  • withstand withstood withstood
  • wring wrung wrung
  • write wrote written

Irregular verbs in other languages

What counts as an irregular verb is strongly dependent on the language itself. In English, the surviving strong verbs are considered irregular, largely because they are sui generis. In Old English, by contrast, the strong verbs are usually not considered irregular, at least not only by virtue of being strong verbs: there were several recognised classes of strong verbs, which were regular within themselves.

In Latin, similarly, most verbs outside the first or fourth conjugations have three "principal parts," which form part of the lexicon and must be learned. The three principal parts are the present tense stem, the perfect tense stem, and the past participle; a variety of inflections, ablaut, and sometimes reduplication are used to form these parts. For example, the principal parts of spondeo ("I promise") include spopondi ("I promised"), showing reduplication, and sponsus ("promised"); these forms cannot be predicted from the present stem, but when you know all three, the entire system can be constructed from these three parts by rule. This verb is not usually considered irregular in Latin. Latin also exhibits deponent verbs, inflected in the passive voice alone; and defective verbs, missing some principal parts. Truly irregular verbs in Latin are a rather small class; they include esse ("to be"); dare and its derivatives ("to give"); êsse ("to eat"); ferre and its derivatives ("to carry"); volo and its derivatives ("to wish"); ire and its derivatives ("to go"); and fieri ("to become"). Most irregular Latin verbs are themselves vestiges of the athematic conjugations of Indo-European, a surviving (and regular) group found in Greek.

Greek and Sanskrit show even greater complexities, with widely different thematic and athematic inflection sets; which set goes with which verb stem cannot be predicted by rule. In languages of this type, these variations are not usually enough to label a verb "irregular". They instead form a part of the lexicon; when a verb is learned, the various patterns used to conjugate it must also be learned.

By contrast, in modern English, the strong verbs are largely a closed and vestigial class. (Analogy has created a few new strong verbs, such as dive.) All of the surviving strong verbs differ markedly from other verbs, and thus are classified as "irregular;" here, they are conspicuous exceptions in the midst of a much larger class of rule-bound regular verbs.

In some languages, the count of irregular verbs could be greatly expanded if one were to count verbs that are irregular only in their spelling, but not in their pronunciation. For example, in Spanish, the verb rezar ("to pray") is conjugated in the present subjunctive as "rece, reces, rece", etc. The substitution of "c" for "z" does not affect the pronunciation. It is strictly a matter of orthography. Therefore, this verb is not normally considered irregular.

Other issues affecting the count of irregular verbs in various languages are:

Number of irregular verbs in different languages

Thus while the term "irregular verb" is not precisely enough defined to allow a definitive count of the irregular verbs in all languages, the following table is illustrative of how much this phenomenon varies across languages.

Language Count Notes
English 283 Believed to be the most of any widely spoken contemporary language
German 170  
French 81
Spanish 23
Welsh 11  
Finnish >=4 Only the verb olla "to be" has irregular endings, and a few verbs (of which only three are common: tehdä "to do, make", nähdä "to see", and juosta "to run") have irregular stems
Japanese 3 suru "to do", kuru "to come", and iku "to go"; there are also two irregular auxiliary verbs
Chinese 1 you forms its negative with 没 mei rather than with 不 bu in Mandarin and has a separate negative form 冇 mou in Cantonese
Turkish 0  
Esperanto 0 (like most constructed languages)

External links