Forming and using verb tenses

English verb tenses are formed by combining one of the principal forms of a main verb with one or more auxiliary verbs. There are four principal forms: basic or root, present participle, past and past participle.

The basic form (or root) is the form listed in the dictionary, which is generally the first-person singular of the simple present tense (except in the case of the verb to be):

  • walk
  • paint
  • accompany
  • drop
  • think
  • grow
  • sing

The infinitive form is a compound verb made up of the preposition to and the basic form:

  • to walk
  • to paint
  • to accompany
  • to drop
  • to think
  • to grow
  • to sing

To form the present participle, the suffix ing is generally added to the basic form:

  • walking
  • painting
  • accompanying
  • dropping
  • thinking
  • growing
  • singing

Note that the present participle cannot function as a predicate unless it has an auxiliary verb. For example, the word group I walking to the store is an incomplete and ungrammatical sentence, while the word group I am walking to the store is a complete sentence. The present participle is often used as a modifier.

The past tense is a little trickier. If the verb is regular (or weak) add ed, d, or t to the present form. When a basic form ends in y, it is generally changed to i. In many cases the terminal consonant is doubled before adding ed (see Spelling Words with Double Consonants). For example:

  • walked
  • painted
  • accompanied
  • dropped
  • thought
  • grew
  • sang

The past participle of regular verbs is usually identical to the past tense, while the past participle of irregular verbs is often different:

  • walked
  • painted
  • accompanied
  • dropped
  • thought
  • grown (past form: grew)
  • sung (past form: sang)

Irregular verbs

The past participle and the past tense of irregular verbs are not generally formed by adding (e)d or t. For example, the past tense of the verb break is broke and the past participle is broken.

The following verbs form their past tenses (past and past participle) irregularly:

Verb Past tense Past participle
arise arose arisen
awake awoke (or awaked) awaked (or awoken)
awaken awakened awakened
bear (to carry) bore borne
bear (to give birth) bore born
beat beat beaten (or beat)
become became become
begin began begun
bet bet bet
bid (to offer) bid bid
bid (to order, invite) bade bidden
bind bound bound
bite bit bitten
bleed bled bled
blow blew blown
break broke broken
breed bred bred
bring brought brought
burst burst burst
buy bought bought
cast cast cast
catch caught caught
choose chose chosen
cling clung clung
come came come
creep crept crept
cut cut cut
deal dealt dealt
dig dug dug
dive dived (or dove) dived
do did done
draw drew drawn
dream dreamed (or dreamt) dreamed (or dreamt)
drink drank drunk
drive drove driven
eat ate eaten
fall fell fallen
feed fed fed
feel felt felt
fight fought fought
find found found
flee fled fled
fly flew flown
forbid forbade forbidden
forget forgot forgotten
forgive forgave forgiven
forsake forsook forsaken
freeze froze frozen
get got got (or gotten)
give gave given
go went gone
grind ground ground
grow grew grown
hang (to suspend) hung hung
hang (to execute) hanged hanged
have had had
hear heard heard
hide hid hidden
hit hit hit
hold held held
hurt hurt hurt
keep kept kept
kneel knelt (or kneeled) knelt (or kneeled)
knit knitted (or knit) knitted (or knit)
know knew known
lay laid laid
lead led led
leap leaped (or leapt) leaped (or leapt)
leave left left
lend lent lent
let let let
lie lay lain
light lighted (or lit) lighted (or lit)
lose lost lost
make made made
mean meant meant
meet met met
mistake mistook mistaken
overcome overcame overcome
pay paid paid
prove proved proved (or proven)
put put put
quit quit quit
read read read
ride rode ridden
ring rang rung
rise rose risen
run ran run
say said said
see saw seen
seek sought sought
sell sold sold
send sent sent
set set set
shake shook shaken
shed shed shed
shoot shot shot
shrink shrank (or shrunk) shrunk
shut shut shut
sing sang sung
sink sank sunk
sit sat sat
slay slew slain
sleep slept slept
slide slid slide
sling slung slung
slink slunk slunk
speak spoke spoken
speed sped (or speeded) sped (or speeded)
spend spent spent
spin spun spun
spit spit (or spat) spit (or spat)
split split split
spread spread spread
spring sprang (or sprung) sprung
stand stood stood
steal stole stolen
stick stuck stuck
stink stank (or stunk) stunk
strew strewed strewn
stride strode stridden
strike struck struck
string strung strung
strive strove (or strived) striven (or strived)
swear swore sworn
sweep swept swept
swell swelled swelled (or swollen)
swim swam swum
swing swung swung
take took taken
teach taught taught
tear tore torn
tell told told
think thought thought
thrive throve (or thrived) throve (or thriven)
throw threw thrown
thrust thrust thrust
wake woke (or waked) waked (or woken)
weep wept wept
win won won
wind wound wound
wring wring wrung
write wrote written

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© Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa
A tool made available online by the Translation Bureau, Public Services and Procurement Canada

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