Verb Forms

The English Verb Forms and Correct Tense Usage.

Each verb in the English language has six basic forms; these are used to create the entire tense system of English, they include: base formOpens in new window, presentOpens in new window, pastOpens in new window, infinitiveOpens in new window, present participleOpens in new window, and past participleOpens in new window. These are the basic parts of verbs from which all the different forms indicating personOpens in new window, numberOpens in new window, voiceOpens in new window, moodOpens in new window and tenseOpens in new windo w are formed.

The six basic verb forms are illustrated in the chart below, using the regular verb visit and the irregular verb fly :

Base FormPresent TensePast TenseInfinitivePresent ParticiplePast Participle
Regular Verbvisitvisitvisitsvisitedto visitvisitingvisited
Irregular Verbflyflyfliesflewto flyflyingflown

1.  Base Form — The base form is the basic of verb forms. It is the dictionary directory form of verb, i.e., if you looked up sang, the dictionary would refer you to the base form sing. The base form is generally the source for the present —although with a few exceptions— infinitive, and present participle of the verb, whether it is regular or irregular.

The base form can be used as a verb particularly in the following ways:
It can be used with certain helping verbs, particularly the modal auxiliary verbs, can/could, may/might, will/would, shall/should, and must. Observe the base form of the verb be in the following sentences:
  • He may be here any moment from now.
  • You should be more concerned.
  • It will be a crazy day.
The base form is frequently used in imperative sentences, as:
  • Be cheerful!
  • Ring me at home.
  • Keep to time.

2.  Present — The present form of all verbs, including that of irregular verbs is directly derived from the base form of verbs. This is true of all verbs, with the sole exception of the verb be. The notable difference between the present and base form is that the third-person singular present form adds –s or –es to the base form of the verb; all other present forms take identical pattern with the base form.

The base form of be is different from all of its present tense forms. Observe the chat below:

Number1st Person2nd Person3rd Person
SingularI amyou arehe/she/it is
Pluralwe areyou arethey are

The third-person singular present endings are fairly predictable both in pronunciation and in spelling. If the base form ends in a sibilant sound (s, z, x, sh, ch, tch, or j [as in judge]), the ending is pronounced as a separate syllable and rhymes with buzz. The ending is spelled -es, unless the base form already ends in -e, in which case only -s is added:

Base Form3rd Person
Singular Present
loseloses
freezefreezes
beseechbeseeches
catchcatches

Note that if the base form ends in a silent consonant sound other than a sibilant, the ending is pronounced /s/ and is spelled -es. The voiceless consonants are usually spelled with a p, t, ck, k, f, or gh (when pronounced /f/):

Base Form3rd Person
Singular Present
keep keeps
beat beats
seek seeks
take takes

In cases where the base form ends in a pronounced consonantOpens in new window other than a sibilantOpens in new window or in a pronounced vowelOpens in new window (as opposed to a silent final -e), the ending is pronounced /z/ and is spelled -s :

Base Form3rd Person
Singular Present
forbidforbids
bendbends
digdigs
feelfeels
swimswims
meanmeans
proveproves
paypays
fleeflees
flyflies
throwthrows
strewstrews
Note that if the base form ends in -y without a preceding vowel, the -y alters to -ie before the -s ending (as in fly above).

A few verbs have peculiar third-person singular present forms:

be is
have has

Two verbs, particularly “do,” and “say”, have irregular pronunciations in the third-person singular present form:

do does (rhymes with buzz)
say says (rhymes with fez)

3.  Past — The past indicates actions 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

If however, 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 note 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 for 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, however, in how 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

4.  InfinitiveOpens in new window An infinitive is the root of a verb form, its characteristic sign being the infinitive marker to + base form (root) of verb. There are no exceptions — even the verb be is regular: to be.

Base FormInfinitive
beto be
flyto fly
walkto walk
Observe the following Uses:
The infinitive is often used without to after certain auxiliary verbs:
  • You must try
  • They may return
It is also used with to after certain adjectives:
  • It is hard to understand him.
  • She’s quick to argue.
It can also be used after nouns:
  • This is a chance to succeed.
  • The time to move is now.

5.  Present Participle — All verbs have present participle forms. The present participle is formed through the addition of an –ing ending to the base form of verb:

Base FormPresent
Participle
bebeing
buybuying
tietieing
excelexceling

Note that in the present participle forms, if a verb ends in a single consonant preceded by a stressed short vowel, the consonant is usually doubled:

Base FormPresent
Participle
betbetting
digdigging
forbidforbidding

However, when a verb ends in voiceless –e, the –e is usually omitted before the –ing ending:

come › coming, have › having, write › writing.

The present participle can be used in many ways. It is more often used in the progressive tenses after a form of the verb be:

Observe the following Uses:
  • The workers are having lunch in the cafeteria.
  • They were going to the cinema.
  • I am being delayed.
Although less common, the present participle can be used as a complement of certain verbs
  • He likes watching the talk show every night.
“watching″ as complement of the verb “likes″
  • I hate driving the car alone.
“driving″ as complement of the verb “hate″
  • They prefer staying together.
“staying″ as complement of the verb “prefer″
Present participles are also used in clauses to indicate the continuous forms of verbs:
  • going solo, riding bare bareback
The present participle can also assume the role of nouns known as gerunds:
  • Don’t make fun of my dancing.
  • Swimming can be fun.
  • John’s occupation is schooling.
See this page for more on GerundsOpens in new window

6.  Past Participle — Past participles are of two types: regular and irregular. Regular past participles can be formed precisely the same way as the regular past by adding –ed to the base form or –d if the base form already ends in –e.

Like irregular past forms, irregular past participle forms are quite unpredictable. Meanwhile, there is a universality, which seems to emanate in ancient periods of English, that most irregular past participles ended in –en. However, today, about one third of irregular past participles still retain this –en ending. Thus, by instinct, we know that an irregular verb form with –en (or –n ) ending is a past participle.

Base FormPast Participle
speakspoken
choosechosen
eateaten
flyflown
seeseen

In distinguishing the two forms, remember that the past form tends to occur by itself, but the past participle almost always occurs after a form of be or have. Note also that:

Some irregular verbs have identical present tense and past participle forms:

Past TensePast Participle
cutcut
hithit
letlet
splitsplit

In other instances the past participle differs completely from the past tense:

Past TensePast Participle
diddone
flewflown
wentgone

There are also two alternatives for both the past tense and the past participle:

Past TensePast Participle
burnedburntburnedburnt
dreameddreamtdreameddreamt
leapedleaptleapedleapt
showedshownshowedshown
spilledspiltspilledspilt
spoiledspoiltspoiledspoilt
Important! 

In U.S. English the –ed form is commonly used than elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

The past participle can be used in a number of ways:

Observe the following Uses:

The past participle is used after the helping verbs to be or to have to stand as a main verb:

  • I was fascinated and repelled by the Michael Jackson documentary.
  • We have operated the printing machine for a month.
  • Jilian and DeShawn had stopped by the time we arrived.

Past participles are often used in passive sentences after the helping verb be:

  • Skirmishes are being fought at the border.
  • Her play was seen by thousands of people.

Apart from forming the perfect tenses and passive forms of verbs, they are commonly encountered serving as adjectives:

  • A fallen star.
  • A broken chair.
  • A startled look.

The chart below lists the principal parts of a few selected verbs. All the verbs listed are irregular verbs, excluding, the infinitive, to look. Most regular verbsOpens in new window use the past participleOpens in new window to form the simple past tenseOpens in new window. Being the case that most irregular verbs have a separate form for the simple past tense, that form has been placed within parentheses on the list.

In some cases, verbs are said to have a perfect participle. However, the perfect participle form is not included in the list.

Infinitive FormBase FormPresent ParticiplePast Participle
To Bebe (was, were)beingbeen
To Beginbegin (began)beginningbegun
To Blowblow (blew)blowingblown
To Breakbreak (broke)breakingbroken
To Choosechoose (chose)choosingchosen
To Dodo (did)doingdone
To Drinkdrink (drank)drinkingdrunk
To Drivedrive (drove)drivingdriven
To Givegive (gave)givinggiven
To Gogo (went)goinggone
To KnowKnow (knew)knowingknown
To Lielie (lay)lyinglain
To Looklooklookinglooked
To Wearwear (wore)wearingworn