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Regular and Irregular Verbs

Regular VerbsEnglish regular verbs change their form very little . The past tense and past participle of regular verbs end in -ed, for example:

work, worked, worked

But you should note the following points:

1. Some verbs can be both regular and irregular, for example:

learn, learned, learned
learn, learnt, learnt

2. Some verbs change their meaning depending on whether they are regular or irregular, for example “to hang”:

regular hang, hanged, hanged to kill or die, by dropping with a rope around the neck
irregular hang, hung, hung to fix something (for example, a picture) at the top so that the lower part is free

3. The present tense of some regular verbs is the same as the past tense of some irregular verbs:

regular found, founded, founded
irregular find, foundfound

Irregular verbs
Irregular verbs are an important feature of English. We use irregular verbs a lot when speaking, less when writing. Of course, the most famous English verb of all, the verb “to be”, is irregular.

What is the difference between regular verbs and irregular verbs?

Base Form Past Simple Past Participle
With regular verbs, the rule is simple…
The past simple and past participle always end in -ed: finish finished finished
stop stopped stopped
work worked worked
But with irregular verbs, there is no rule…
Sometimes the verb changes completely: sing sang sung
Sometimes there is “half” a change: buy bought bought
Sometimes there is no change: cut cut cut

One good way to learn irregular verbs is to try sorting them into groups, as above.

Helping Verbs

Helping verbs have no meaning on their own. They are necessary for the grammatical structure of a sentence, but they do not tell us very much alone. We usually use helping verbs with main verb. They “help” the main verb (which has the real meaning). There are only about 15 helping verbs in English, and we divide them into two basic groups:

Primary helping verbs (3 verbs)

These are the verbs bedo, and have. Note that we can use these three verbs as helping verbs or as main verbs. On this page we talk about them as helping verbs. We use them in the following cases:

  • be
    • to make continuous tenses (He is watching TV.)
    • to make the passive (Small fish are eaten by big fish.)
  • have
    • to make perfect tenses (I have finished my homework.)
  • do
    • to make negatives (I do not like you.)
    • to ask questions (Do you want some coffee?)
    • to show emphasis (I do want you to pass your exam.)
    • to stand for a main verb in some constructions (He speaks faster than she does.)

Modal helping verbs (10 verbs)

We use modal helping verbs to “modify” the meaning of the main verb in some way. A modal helping verb expresses necessity or possibility, and changes the main verb in that sense. These are the modal verbs:

  • can, could
  • may, might
  • will, would,
  • shall, should
  • must
  • ought to

Here are examples using modal verbs:

  • can’t speak Chinese.
  • John may arrive late.
  • Would you like a cup of coffee?
  • You should see a doctor.
  • I really must go now.

Main Verbs

Main verbs have meaning on their own. There are thousands of main verbs, and we can classify them in several ways:

Transitive and intransitive verbs

A transitive verb takes a direct object: Somebody killed the President. An intransitive verb does not have a direct object:He died. Many verbs, like speak, can be transitive or intransitive. Look at these examples:


  • saw an elephant.
  • We are watching TV.
  • He speaks English.


  • He has arrived.
  • John goes to school.
  • She speaks fast.

Linking verbs

A linking verb does not have much meaning in itself. It “links” the subject to what is said about the subject. Usually, a linking verb shows equality (=) or a change to a different state or place (>). Linking verbs are always intransitive (but not all intransitive verbs are linking verbs).

  • Mary is a teacher. (mary = teacher)
  • Tara is beautiful. (tara = beautiful)
  • That sounds interesting. (that = interesting)
  • The sky became dark. (the sky > dark)
  • The bread has gone bad. (bread > bad)

Dynamic and stative verbs

Some verbs describe action. They are called “dynamic”, and can be used with continuous tenses. Other verbs describe state (non-action, a situation). They are called “stative”, and cannot normally be used with continuous tenses (though some of them can be used with continuous tenses with a change in meaning).

dynamic verbs (examples):

  • hit, explode, fight, run, go

stative verbs (examples):

  • be
  • like, love, prefer, wish
  • impress, please, surprise
  • hear, see, sound
  • belong to, consist of, contain, include, need
  • appear, resemble, seem

Regular and irregular verbs

This is more a question of vocabulary than of grammar. The only real difference between regular and irregular verbs is that they have different endings for their past tense and past participle forms. For regular verbs, the past tense ending and past participle ending is always the same: -ed. For irregular verbs, the past tense ending and the past participle ending is variable, so it is necessary to learn them by heart.

regular verbs: base, past tense, past participle

  • look, looked, looked
  • work, worked, worked

irregular verbs: base, past tense, past participle

  • buy, bought, bought
  • cut, cut, cut
  • do, did, done

Verb Classification

1. Helping Verbs

Imagine that a stranger walks into your room and says:

  • can.
  • People must.
  • The Earth will.

Do you understand anything? Has this person communicated anything to you? Probably not! That’s because these verbs are helping verbsand have no meaning on their own. They are necessary for the grammatical structure of the sentence, but they do not tell us very much alone. We usually use helping verbs with main verbs. They “help” the main verb. (The sentences in the above examples are therefore incomplete. They need at least a main verb to complete them.) There are only about 15 helping verbs.

2. Main Verbs

Now imagine that the same stranger walks into your room and says:

  • teach.
  • People eat.
  • The Earth rotates.

Do you understand something? Has this person communicated something to you? Probably yes! Not a lot, but something. That’s because these verbs are main verbs and have meaning on their own. They tell us something. Of course, there are thousands of main verbs.

In the following table we see example sentences with helping verbs and main verbs. Notice that all of these sentences have a main verb. Only some of them have a helping verb.

helping verb main verb
John likes coffee.
You lied to me.
They are happy.
The children are playing.
We must go now.
I do not want any.

Helping verbs and main verbs can be further sub-divided, as we shall see on the following pages.

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What are Verbs?

The verb is king in English. The shortest sentence contains a verb. You can make a one-word sentence with a verb, for example: “Stop!” You cannot make a one-word sentence with any other type of word.

Verbs are sometimes described as “action words”. This is partly true. Many verbs give the idea of action, of “doing” something. For example, words like run, fight, do and work all convey action.

But some verbs do not give the idea of action; they give the idea of existence, of state, of “being”. For example, verbs like be, exist, seem and belong all convey state.

A verb always has a subject. (In the sentence “John speaks English”, John is the subject and speaks is the verb.) In simple terms, therefore, we can say that verbs are words that tell us what a subject does or is; they describe:

  • action (Ram plays football.)
  • state (Anthony seems kind.)

There is something very special about verbs in English. Most other words (adjectives, adverbs, prepositions etc) do not change in form (although nouns can have singular and plural forms). But almost all verbs change in form. For example, the verb to work has five forms:

  • to work, work, works, worked, working

Of course, this is still very few forms compared to some languages which may have thirty or more forms for a single verb.

Glossary of English Grammar Terms (2)

In the active voice, a noun or its equivalent that receives the action of the verb. In the passive voice, a noun or its equivalent that does the action of the verb.

The -ing and -ed forms of verbs. The -ing form is called the “present participle”. The -ed form is called the “past participle” (for irregular verbs, this is column 3).

Part Of Speech
One of the eight classes of word in English – noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, preposition, conjunction and interjection.

Passive Voice
In the passive voice, the subject receives the action of the verb (eg The President was killed). See also Active Voice.

A group of words not containing a subject and its verb (eg on the table, the girl in a red dress).

Each sentence contains (or implies) two parts: a subject and a predicate. The predicate is what is said about the subject.

A word like attoinover etc. Prepositions usually come before a noun and give information about things like time, place and direction.

A word like Imeyouhehimit etc. A pronoun replaces a noun.

A group of words that express a thought. A sentence conveys a statement, question, exclamation or command. A sentence contains or implies a subject and a predicate. In simple terms, a sentence must contain a verb and (usually) a subject. A sentence starts with a capital letter and ends with a full stop (.), question mark (?) or exclamation mark (!).

Every sentence contains (or implies) two parts: a subject and a predicate. The subject is the main noun (or equivalent) in a sentence about which something is said.

The form of a verb that shows us when the action or state happens (past, present or future). Note that the name of a tense is not always a guide to when the action happens. The “present continuous tense”, for example, can be used to talk about the present or the future.

A word like (to) work(to) love(to) begin. A verb describes an action or state.

Glossary of English Grammar Terms (1)

Active Voice
In the active voice, the subject of the verb does the action (eg They killed the President). See also Passive Voice.

A word like bigredeasyFrench etc. An adjective describes a noun or pronoun.

A word like slowly, quietly, well, often etc. An adverb modifies a verb.

The “indefinite” articles are a and an. The “definite article” isthe.

Auxiliary Verb
A verb that is used with a main verb. Bedo and have are auxiliary verbs. Canmaymust etc are modal auxiliary verbs.

A group of words containing a subject and its verb (for example: It was late when he arrived).

A word used to connect words, phrases and clauses (for example: andbutif).

The basic form of a verb as in to work or work.

An exclamation inserted into an utterance without grammatical connection (for example: oh!ah!ouch!well!).

Modal Verb
An auxiliary verb like canmaymust etc that modifies the main verb and expresses possibility, probability etc. It is also called “modal auxiliary verb”.

A word like tabledogteacherAmerica etc. A noun is the name of an object, concept, person or place. A “concrete noun” is something you can see or touch like a person or car. An “abstract noun” is something that you cannot see or touch like a decision or happiness. A “countable noun” is something that you can count (for example: bottlesongdollar). An “uncountable noun” is something that you cannot count (for example: watermusicmoney).

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