Grammar – Understanding English Verb Forms

(Photo by calumray)

English verb forms are one of the easiest things to learn. They are so simple! Unlike other languages, there aren’t long lists of different conjugations that must be memorized. In English, there are just a few irregular verbs that need to be memorized. Here is a summary of the different verb forms in English.

 

1. Base/Bare Form

This is the form of the verb you’ll find in the dictionary. The base form is used as the base of almost every other verb form.

talk
run
play
sing

 

The base form is also used to form the infinitive. Simply add ‘to':

I want to talk to you.

 

2. Third-person Singular

For most verbs, you simply add -s (or -es) to the verb:

She says to call her tomorrow.
He finishes work late.
The movie starts at 7 p.m.

 

There are a handful of verbs that have an irregular 3rd person singular form:

He does karate. (do)
She has a lot of friends. (have)
It is 6:00 p.m. (be)

 

3. Past Simple Tense

For regular verbs, the past simple is formed by adding -ed to the base form of the verb:

I talked to him yesterday.
My mother called me last week.

 

Be careful! The -ed ending is not always pronounced as a separate syllable. Check your pronunciation of these words.

 

For irregular verbs, the past simple form needs to be memorized:

I bought a house. (buy)
My dad gave me money. (give)
He spoke to his wife. (speak)

For more past simple verb forms, please read this list.

 

4. -ing

This is the verb form that confuses a lot of English learners!
A gerund is a verb that acts like a noun. It is formed by adding -ing to the verb:

I love skiing.
Reading is fun.

 

The present participle is also formed by adding -ing to the verb, but it has different uses than a gerund:

a. The present participle is used in the continuous tenses
I am reading a new book.

b. The present participle can be used as an adjective
That movie was really interesting.

 

5. Past Participle

There are different forms of the past participle. For regular verbs, the past participle is formed by adding -ed to the verb. It is the same as the past simple form:

I have decided to go back to school.
She cleaned the house.

For some irregular verbs, the past participle is the same as the past simple form:

I found my wallet. (find – past simple)
I have found my wallet. (find – past participle)
I heard the news about Amy. (hear – past simple)
I have heard the news about Amy. (hear – past participle)

Other verbs in this category:
have (had)
say (said)
teach (taught)
tell (told)
understand (understood)
win (won)
(For an explanation of when to use the past simple and present perfect, see my blog posts on the present perfect.)

 

For other irregular verbs, the past simple form and the past participle are different:

We have sung that song many times. (sing)
She has chosen a new home. (choose)

Other verbs in this category:
be (was/were, been)
begin (began, begun)
choose (chose, chosen)
drink (drank, drunk)
do (did, done)
eat (ate, eaten)
fly (flew, flown)
get (got, gotten* [American])
give (gave, given)
go (went, gone)
know (knew, known)
ride (rode, ridden)
see (saw, seen)
sing (sang, sung)
speak (spoke, spoken)
swim (swam, swum)
take (took, taken)
wear (wore, worn)
write (wrote, written)
For more past participle forms, please read this list.

 

There are different uses of the past participle:

a. The past participle is used in the perfect tenses:

He has been to Paris many times.
When I got to the train station, I realized I had forgotten my lunch.

b. The past participle is also used in certain sentence structures like the third conditional:

We would have gone out last night if we hadn’t been so tired.

Some past participles can also be used as an adjective:

I am so bored.
He’s not interested.

 

If you struggle with the pronunciation of irregular verbs and their different forms, here is a video that tells you the pronunciation of the base, past simple, and past participle forms of many irregular verbs:

 

Test Your Knowledge!

The Macmillan online dictionary has a great game you can play to test your knowledge of irregular verb forms! Play the ‘Irregular Verb Wheel Game‘!

 


9 Comments on Grammar – Understanding English Verb Forms

  1. Ruben
    May 7, 2012 at 12:14 pm (3 years ago)

    Excellent website colleague.
    Congratulations!
    Cheers!

    • Melanie
      May 7, 2012 at 7:42 pm (3 years ago)

      Thank you!

  2. Ahmed
    November 3, 2012 at 9:22 am (2 years ago)

    Great Site
    Thanks

  3. Thipan
    June 22, 2013 at 4:20 pm (1 year ago)

    you are the best,thank you so much.

  4. Sourav Mukherjee
    August 29, 2013 at 6:52 am (1 year ago)

    It’s really very nice. we can learn more things from this website. Thank you

  5. .ae
    September 23, 2013 at 3:54 pm (1 year ago)

    hello teacher…Some words that look like
    present participles are actually
    prepositions or regular adjectives.
    For example, while loved, mitigated,
    rewarding, and fulfilling are
    participles.but i have a problem in understanding of these participles in sentences.please give example of sentences in which these participles are used..and explain also thats meaning..

    • Melanie
      Melanie
      September 25, 2013 at 7:31 pm (1 year ago)

      Hello,

      You are correct that present participles can be used as adjectives:
      boring
      interesting
      exciting

      Can you give me an example sentence where you saw a present participle as an adjective and you didn’t understand it?

      Adjectives that end in -ing usually describe something or someone:
      “He is an interesting person.”
      “She has a very exciting life.”
      “My job is very rewarding.”

      = )

  6. Jalendhar
    June 10, 2014 at 2:44 pm (6 months ago)

    Dear Madam ,

    It is really interesting and good one . Thanks .

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