Some of the irregular verbs in English give trouble to speakers who:
- have learned English as a second language, or
- grew up surrounded by English speakers who did not know how to speak correctly.
Most of the irregularities deal with the formation of the simple past tense or the past participle of strong verbs. (See “Strong Verbs and Weak Verbs” for a definition of these terms.)
Past Tense: An example of incorrect formation of the past tense comes from the verb “sneak.” It is not unusual to hear someone say “snuck” rather than “sneaked.” “Snuck” is, and always has been, wrong; but its wide usage, especially in recent times by the uneducated, has led it to sound “normal” and even to verge on being accepted as having graduated from its long-standing status as a solecism. “Stick,” on the other hand, is properly formed in the past tense as “stuck,” and “sticked” would be wrong.
- Past Participle: An example of incorrect formation of the past participle comes from the verb “lie.” (For more on this most problematic verb, go to Lay versus Lie.) The past participle is “lain,” but surely only a tiny minority of Americans would ask (correctly) “Have you lain in bed all day?” instead of (incorrectly) “Have you laid in bed all day?” (Hint: “laid” is the wrong verb. “Lay” must have a direct object, as in “Have you laid brick for the wall?“)
“Wake” is another example. The long-standing past tense form is “woke,” and the participle is “woken.” But the wrong forms, “waked” (past) and “waked” (participle), have come into such wide use that they verge on acceptability. The verb “awaken” (meaning to wake up) suffers from the same problem: “She awoke at the sound of rain.“) and “awoken” as a past participle (“She has awoken.“) But “awaked” and “awaked” are increasingly accepted forms for the simple past and the past participle.
In fairness, English seems almost capricious in how some of these problematic verbs are formed. Some forms simply have to be memorized or repeated over and over until they come naturally. The past tense of “shrink,” for example, is “shrank,” and the past tense of “stink” is “stank,” but the past tense of “think” is “thought” and the past tense of “blink” is “blinked”!
At the end of this post is a list of 91 irregular verbs. Skim it and see if you find any surprises.
One other aspect of irregularities in verbs deserves mention, though you probably have never had a problem with it, nor even noticed it: Modal verbs (those which indicate likelihood, ability, permission, and obligation) do not add “-s” or “-es” in the third person singular, as do all (or maybe almost all) of the other verbs in English. These “modal verbs” are: “can/could,” “may/might,” “must,” “will/would,” “shall/should” and “ought” + an infinitive. This is a curious sort of exception, but an exception nonetheless.
|Stem||Simple Past||Past Participle|