Verb Past Form

Forming Regular & Irregular Verb Past Forms

The past form of a verbOpens in new window indicates action that happened before now. The past forms are of two types: regular and irregular.

Regular verbs form the past tense by adding –ed to the base form or –d if the base form already ends in –e:

Base FormRegular Past Form
startstarted
arrivearrived

The regular past ending is known to have three different, but fairly predictable, pronunciations.

If the base form ends in a /t/ or /d/ sound, the -ed is pronounced as a separate syllable rhyming with bud.

Base FormPast Form Pronounced
As A Separate Syllable.
votevoted
decidedecided

However, if the base form ends in a silent consonant sound other than /t/, the -ed is pronounced /t/.

The final consonants with voiceless sound are commonly spelled with a p, ck, k, s, sh, ch, tch, x,f, or gh (if it’s pronounced /f/) :

Base FormPast Form Pronounced As /t/
taptapped
attackattacked
missmissed
matchmatched
coughcoughed

However, when the base form ends in a single consonant preceded by a stressed short vowel, the consonant is typically doubled to form the past: permit ~ permitted, stop ~ stopped.

If on the other hand, the base form ends in a pronounced vowel or in a voiced consonant sound other than /d/, the -ed is pronounced /d/. The voiced consonants are typically spelled with a b, g, z, j, m, n, l, or r :

Base FormPast Form Pronounced As /d/
tietied
enjoyenjoyed
killkilled
carecared

Note that if the base form ends in -y without a preceding vowel, the -y changes to -ie before the -d ending (cry ~ cried ). Likewise not the spellings of the past forms of lay and pay: laid and paid, respectively.

When it comes to irregular verbs, the past forms reflect older patterns of forming the past tense. These patterns have merged to such an extent that it is not practical to learn the past forms of irregular verbs on the basis of their historical patterns.

Irregular verbs vary considerably in patterns but similarities exist, particularly, in ways some irregular verbs form the past tense:

Vowel Change Vowel Change (+ -d) Vowel Change
(+ -t)
No Change
Base FormPast Base FormPast Base FormPast Base FormPast
ringrang telltold kneelknelt betbet
singsang sellsold feelfelt putput
sweepswept ridrid
sleepslept
keepkept

The following is a brief summary of past forms for some of the most common irregular verbs in English:

Base FormPast Form
bewas | were
havehad
dodid
saysaid (rhymes with fed )
makemade
gowent
taketook
comecame
seesaw
findfound
getgot
givegave
knowknew