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The Simple Tenses and Participles of Regular Verbs

Verbs in English use certain word endings, or the absence of endings, to indicate person, number and tense.

Most verbs in English follow one particular general pattern of endings. Any verb that follows this general pattern for forming the simple tenses and the present and past participles is a regular verb.

This is the pattern for regular verbs:

walkyou wantyou lookwe kickthey melt
he walksshe wantshe lookshe kicksit melts
she walkedhe wantedwe lookedthey kickedit melted
he is walkingwe are wantingyou were lookingthey were kickingit was melting
she has walkedhe had wantedwe had lookedI have kickedit has melted

The Simple Present Tense

The form of a verb that is used for the first and second person singular and the first, second and third person plural of the simple present tense is the base form of the verb, the simplest form of the verb with nothing added on to it.

I talkyou talkwe talkthey talk
I restyou restwe restthey rest
I blinkyou blinkwe blinkthey blink
I mendyou mendwe mendthey mend

The ‘base form’ of a verb is the verb’s most basic form. It is, for example, the form in which a verb is listed in a dictionary. It is the form of the verb that has no extra endings added to it to indicate person, number or tense.

Verbs in the third person singular of the simple present tense end in -s. The -s is usually, but not always, added to the base form of the verb.

  • talk he talks
  • blink he blinks
  • bump he bumps
  • save she saves
  • stay it stays
  • rest she rests
  • mend it mends
  • boast she boasts
  • like he likes
  • ski he skis

The part of the word that an ending or inflection such as -s or -ing or -ed is added to is called the stem. The stem is usually just the base form of the verb, but in some cases slight changes have to be made to the spelling of the base form to make the stem to which the inflection is added, such as doubling final consonants or deleting final e’s.

If the base form of the verb ends in s, z, x, sh or ch, then the ending is -es rather than just -s:

  • kiss she kisses
  • buzz it buzzes
  • box he boxes
  • wish he wishes
  • catch it catches
  • press he presses
  • fizz it fizzes
  • relax she relaxes
  • push she pushes
  • teach she teaches

If the base form ends in a у which is preceded by a consonant, the у changes to i before the ending is added, and the ending is -es:

  • cry he cries
  • try she tries

But if the у is preceded by a vowel, the у does not change, and the ending is -s:

  • buy she buys  
  • stay he stays

If the base form ends in o, the spelling rules are a little more complicated:

  • If the base form ends in oo, just add -s: boo he boos, coo a pigeon coos, moo a cow moos
  • If there is any other vowel before the final o, add -s: video He videos a lot of films, radio He quickly radios headquarters for reinforcements.
  • Almost all verbs whose base form ends in о following a consonant add -es in the third person singular: go she goes, tango she tangoes, echo it echoes, veto he vetoes
  • Exceptions to rule are rare: disco She discos every Saturday night.

The third person singular of the verb bus is either buses or busses. The third person singular of gas is gases and the third person singular of quiz is quizzes.

The Simple Past Tense

The simple past tense of a regular verb is generally formed by adding -ed to the stem.

  • walk I walked
  • fetch they fetched
  • faint he fainted
  • sigh she sighed
  • ski we skied
  • melt it melted
  • look we looked
  • shampoo she shampooed
  • echo it echoed
  • taxi it taxied

If the base form of the verb ends in e, just add -d to form the simple past tense:

  • argue argued
  • die died
  • agree agreed
  • change changed
  • tie tied
  • free freed

If the base form ends in у and the у is preceded by a consonant (not a vowel), the у changes to i before the ending -ed is added:

  • cry cried
  • deny denied
  • stay stayed
  • supply supplied
  • try tried
  • journey journeyed

Three verbs are slightly irregular: the simple past tenses of lay, pay and say are laid, paid and said.

If the base form is a word of one syllable which ends in a single vowel letter followed by a single consonant (e.g. drip, pin) or else is stressed on its last syllable and ends in a single vowel letter followed by a single consonant (e.g. pre’fer, re’mit, em’bed), the consonant is doubled before the -emending is added:

  • clap clapped
  • stir stirred
  • slam slammed
  • spot spotted
  • grin grinned
  • drop  dropped
  • refer referred
  • dim dimmed
  • admit  admitted
  • scan scanned

If the vowel Is not stressed, or if there is more than one vowel letter in the syllable, then the consonant is not doubled:

  • gossip gossiped
  • offer offered
  • ransom ransomed
  • edit edited
  • pardon pardoned
  • stoop stooped
  • rear reared
  • steam steamed
  • greet greeted
  • clean cleaned

In British English, a final I following a single vowel always doubles, regardless of the position of the stress:

  • control — controlled
  • repel — repelled
  • equal — equalled
  • signal — signalled
  • rebel — rebelled
  • travel — travelled
  • dial — dialled

In American English, on the other hand, I obeys the general rule and is doubled only if the preceding single vowel is stressed:

  • control — controlled
  • repel — repelled
  • equal — equaled
  • signal — signaled
  • rebel — rebelled
  • travel — traveled
  • dial — dialed

If the base form ends in a single vowel followed by c, the c becomes ck before the ending is added:

  • panic panicked
  • picnic picnicked

The verb arc is an exception: its past tense is arced.

A number of regular verbs have slightly irregular past tense forms in addition to regular ones, and there are differences in usage between British and American English. (Fuller information about some of these verbs is given in the Appendix):

  • burn: burned OR burnt
  • dream: dreamed OR dreamt
  • dwell: dwelled OR (more commonly) dwelt
  • kneel: kneeled OR knelt
  • knit: knitted OR knit
  • lean: leaned OR leant
  • leap: leaped OR leapt
  • learn: learned OR (Br. Eng.) learnt
  • smell: smelled OR smelt
  • spell: spelled OR spelt
  • spill: spilled OR spilt
  • spoil: spoiled OR spoilt
  • sweat: sweated OR (Am. Eng.) sweat

The Present Participle

The present participles of regular verbs are usually formed by adding -ing to the base form.

  • walk walking
  • watch watching
  • cry crying
  • break breaking
  • fill filling
  • say saying

If the base form of the verb ends in e, the is dropped before -ing is added:

  • make making
  • bite biting
  • come coming
  • stare staring
  • shine shining
  • argue arguing

But if the stem ends in oe or ее, the final e is not dropped before the ending:

  • canoe canoeing
  • agree agreeing
  • hoe hoeing
  • free freeing

And if the stem ends in ie, the ie becomes у before the -ing:

  • tie tying
  • die dying
  • lie lying

As with the simple past tense, a final consonant must sometimes be doubled before the ending is added. The rules for this are exactly the same as for the formation of the past tenses:

  • tap tapped, tapping
  • grin grinned, grinning
  • swim swimming
  • sit sitting
  • stir — stirred, stirring
  • admit — admitted, admitting
  • run running
  • forget forgetting

Where the final consonant is not doubled in the past tense, it is not doubled in the present participle either:

  • offer offered, offering
  • stoop stooped, stooping
  • travel (Br. Eng.) travelled, travelling
  • travel (Am. Eng.) traveled, traveling
  • gossip gossiped, gossiping
  • clean cleaned, cleaning

Note also:

  • panic panicked, panicking
  • mimic mimicked, mimicking

but on the other hand, the exception:

  • arc arced, arcing

Note the following verbs that do not, or may not, drop the final e before adding -ing:

  • age ageing OR aging
  • binge bingeing OR (Am. Eng.) binging
  • eye eyeing OR (much less commonly) eying
  • singe singeing
  • whinge whingeing

Note also the adjective swingeing, which is derived from an old verb swinge, meaning ‘to hit hard’.

The Past Participle

The past participles of regular verbs are always the same as the simple past tense forms.

  • she walked — she has walked
  • they argued  they have argued
  • we panicked  we had panicked
  • he died  he had died
  • she stayed  she had stayed

There are a few verbs that have both regular past participles and also past participles that are not regular. There is some variation in usage between British and American English.

Base FormPast TensePast Participle
mowmowedmowed or mown
proveprovedproved or proven
sawsawedsawed (American English) sawn (British English)
sewsewedsewed or sewn (more commonly)
shearshearedsheared or shorn
showshowedshown (more commonly) showed
sowsowedsowed sown (more commonly)
swellswelledswelled or swollen
thrivethrived or (less commonly) throvethrived or (much less commonly) thriven

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