Grammar Guru: A Note On Irregular Verbs

Grammar Guru

The Grammar Guru is taking on another strange nuance of the English language this week: irregular verbs.

Most of the time in the English language, moving a verb from the present to the past tense is easy.

All you have to to is add “-ed” to the end. So “view” becomes “viewed”, “cook” becomes “cooked” etc.

But, as with everything in life and language, there are exceptions to this rule. These are called irregular verbs.

Think of the verb “am” becoming “was” rather than “amed”; “see” becoming “saw” rather than seeed”.

The British Council has a really useful list of these here, for the benefit of people learning English.

Another grey area(!)

Once you’ve mastered which verbs are regular and which are irregular, you shouldn’t have too many more problems, right?

Well . . .

There are a few verbs which have evolved slightly differently.

Sticking to our rule from above, the word “burn” is a regular verb (adding “-ed” to the end gives you the past tense, “burned”).

But isn’t “burnt” the past tense of “burn”?


Yes it is.

The answer is that both of these are correct.

Confusingly, some words are partially irregular  — like burn (burned/burnt), dream (dreamed/dreamt), learn (learned/learnt), smell (smelled/smelt), etc.

What do we do?

Two options may mean you technically can’t make an incorrect choice, but don’t get too complacent!

Here at the “Friend” we prefer the “-ed” approach!

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Iain McDonald

I am the Digital Content Editor at the “Friend”, making me responsible for managing the flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine’s website and social media channels.