Irregular verbs

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Over time, the English speech has lost many irregular verb forms, those verbs becoming regular instead. In this leaf. those forms have been gathered for those interested.

First things first, it is important to know that irregular verbs can be split mainly into two categories of conjugation: strong and weak. The difference is:

  • Strong verbs form their past tense and past participle forms with a change in vowel, and the past participle ends (or formerly ended) with -en. This change in vowel is called ablaut.
  • Weak verbs need an additional ending such as -ed for their past tense and past participle forms.

There are also two other categories: preterite-present and "anomalous". Verbs of those two categories are few, but are nonetheless among the speech's commonest verbs.

Note that verbs that are irregular only in spelling (e.g., lay) are not included. Derived verbs are generally not included unless they are noteworthy in some way.

Strong verbs[edit]

See here.

Weak verbs[edit]

The past tense and past participle for irregular weak verbs always have the same form.

Originally, there were three classes of weak verbs in Old English, but they have broken down into sundry ways of forming their irregular forms, and these ways are listed as classes herein.

Class 1[edit]

In this class, the ending comes with a change in the root's vowel sound. These verbs continue the Rückumlaut (reverse umlaut) pattern.

Irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
beseech besought
bring brought
buy bought
catch (French) caught
seek sought
sell sold
teach taught
tell told
think thought

Notes:

  • Beseech is truly a derivative of seek, but because Norse influence has affected the latter's form, it is not apparent at once that seek and beseech are related.
  • Bring is truly a weak verb, but the tendency to regularize it by analogy with Class 3 strong verbs has occasionally popped up (i.e., making the forms brang and brung). This tendency was even in Old English, as there was the rare past participle gebrungen.
  • The obsolete verb think (meaning seem) came to have the same past tense and participle forms as the usual verb think and lives on only in the phrase methinks.
  • Fight, which has fought as its past tense and its past participle, seems to resemble these verbs at first, but it is not a weak verb at all; rather, it is a strong verb of Class 3. It is apparent when one sees that there is no consonantal addition in fight to form fought, whereas a consonant is added to a verb such as seek to form the past tense and the past participle.

Formerly irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
fetch faught
latch laught
pitch (as in throw, regular?) pight
quell quold
reach raught
snatch (regular?) snaught
stretch straught
thatch thaught
work wrought

Notes:

  • The etymology of pitch is uncertain. The irregular forms that it had in Middle English could have been passed down from its unattested Old English forebear, or they could have been made by analogy. This verb is not related to pitch that refers to the sticky substance and is attested in Old English.
  • The etymology of snatch is unknown; it may have come from an unattested Old English forebear.
  • The past participle of stretch lives on in an alternative form as the adjective straight.
  • Thatch had already become a regular verb by Middle English.
  • Work is now a fully regular verb, wrought surviving only as an adjective.

Archaic, dialectal, or obsolete verbs:

Infinitive Past form
-ledge (suffix used to show being or becoming) -laught
pritch (dialectal, to prick) pright
quetch (dialectal, to twitch) quaught
reck (archaic, to pay heed) rought
shritch (dialectal, to shriek) shright
smatch (obsolete, to taste) smaught
stell (obsolete, to place) stold

Notes:

  • The -ledge suffix is now found only in acknowledge; if the irregular past form had survived, it would be acknowlaught.

Reconstructed verbs:

Infinitive Past form
dretch (ME drecchen, to trouble) draught
letch (OE leccan, to moisten) laught
retch (ME recchen, to explain) raught
wetch (ME wecchen, to rouse) waught

Notes:

  • The Old English verb leccan may be the source of leach; the verb is not attested in Middle English, and so leach may have come from a dialectal variant thereof.

Class 2[edit]

In this class, the vowel was originally shortened from the suffix's addition.

Irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
bereave bereft
cleave (as in split) cleft
creep crept
deal dealt
dream dreamt
feel felt
flee fled
hear heard
keep kept
kneel knelt
lean leant
leap leapt
leave left
lose lost
mean meant
say said
shoe shod
sleep slept
sweep swept
weep wept

Notes:

  • Bereave is the only remnant of the archaic verb reave (meaning rob, past form reft).
  • Creep, flee, sleep, and weep were originally strong verbs, but they are now used as weak verbs formed thus.
    • Leap, also originally a strong verb, may have leapt as its past tense, but can be found conjugated regularly.
    • Cleave meaning split may still be used with the strong inflection; that is, clove and cloven may be used instead of cleft.
  • Leant is mainly British.
  • The vowel's shortening in said appears to have taken place in Early New English. Exceptionally, the same shortening takes place in says and the archaic form saith, which makes say one of the very few verbs to have an irregular present inflection.
  • Shod is anomalous as an irregular form; the Old English form was scōde, which would have normally become shoed. But the past form's consonant became doubled in Middle English, which yielded shod.

Archaic, dialectal, or obsolete verbs:

Infinitive Past form
clepe (archaic, to call) clept

Notes:

  • Clepe, an archaic verb meaning name, call, may have yclept as the past participle. The y- is the old past participle prefix, and yclept is occasionally used in New English as a literary word.

Class 3[edit]

In this class, the original suffix has been dropped, but the original vowel's shortening has been kept.

Irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
bleed bled
breed bred
feed fed
lead led
light lit
meet met
plead (French) pled
read read
shoot shot
slide slid
speed sped

Notes:

  • Light is sometimes conjugated regularly and so has lighted as its regular form. The regular form seems to be more commonly used for alight.
  • Plead is sometimes used with the irregular form, but it seems that pleaded is preferred.
  • Shoot and slide were originally strong verbs, but since their strong forms happen to resemble this subclass's weak forms, and their strong past participles are now disused, they appear no different from these irregular weak verbs.
    • Read has been treated as a weak verb since Old English, as the strong forms were already seldom used back then.

Formerly irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
betide betid
glide glid

Notes:

  • Betide is the only remnant of the obsolete verb tide meaning happen.
  • Glide was originally a strong verb conjugated like drive, but glid later became its only strong form (later interpreted to be an irregular weak form). However, even glid became archaic, and so glide is now a fully regular verb.

Reconstructed verbs:

Infinitive Past form
freed (ME freden, to experience) fred
greed (ME greden, to cry out) gred

Class 4[edit]

In this class, the ending has been contracted with the d in the root.

Irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
bend bent
build built
gild gilt
gird girt
lend lent
rend rent
send sent
spend spent

Notes:

  • Gilded and girded may be used instead of gilt and girt, respectively.

Formerly irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
blend (Norse?) blent
geld (Norse) gelt
wend went

Notes:

  • Blend (which is most likely from Old Norse) once used blent as the past tense and the past participle, but this is now poetic.
  • The past tense of wend is now wended, as went became the past tense of go when the past tense of the latter had become obsolete.

Archaic, dialectal, or obsolete verbs:

Infinitive Past form
shend (archaic, to destroy) shent

There is a set of verbs that show -t where -ed is expected, but do not have a d in the root to change into t. These are used mainly in British English.

Infinitive Past form
burn burnt
dwell dwelt
ken (dialectal, to know) kent
learn learnt
pen (as in put in a pen) pent
smell smelt
spell (French) spelt
spill spilt
spoil (French) spoilt

Notes:

  • Dwell once belonged to Class 1, as its Old English past tense was dwealde and would have become dwold.
  • Pent is now used only as an adjective in the phrase pent-up.

Class 5[edit]

In this class, the suffix has disappeared without any change in the root, whence the infinitive, the past tense, and the past participle are all the same in form.

Irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
bet (French?) bet
bid (as in offer) bid
burst burst
cast (Norse) cast
clad clad
cost (French) cost
cut cut
fit fit
hit (Norse) hit
hurt (French) hurt
knit knit
let let
put put
quit (French) quit
rid (Norse) rid
set set
shed shed
shit shit
shut shut
slit slit
spit (as in spit out) spit
split (Dutch) split
spread spread
sweat sweat
thrust (Norse) thrust
wed wed
wet wet

Notes:

  • Bid, burst, let, and shed were originally strong verbs, but from loss of their strong past participles and other sound changes, their principal parts are now uniform.
  • Spit was originally a regular verb, but it now has two differing ways for the past tense and the past participle: either spit or spat (by analogy with sit - sat) is. Likewise, for shit (originally a strong verb), shit or shat is used.
  • Some of these verbs such as wed and knit are still conjugated regularly.
  • Sweat is now oftener conjugated as a fully regular verb, i.e., it uses the regular form sweated.

Formerly irregular verbs currently used in standard speech:

Infinitive Past form
lift (Norse) lift
shred shred
whet whet

Archaic, dialectal, or obsolete verbs:

Infinitive Past form
dight (archaic, to adorn) dight
fet (dialectal, to fetch) fet
fraught (obsolete, Middle Dutch, to load with cargo) fraught

Notes:

  • Fraught is now obsolete as a verb, but the past participle fraught lives on as an adjective.

Class 6[edit]

In this class, the last consonant has been lost. There are only three verbs:

Infinitive Past form
clothe clad
have had
make made

Clad arose from forms in which the vowel was shortened in Middle English before the last consonant was lost. Unlike other verbs of this subclass, clothe also has a regular past form, clothed, and so clad is not mandatory to use. Clad has also become a verb meaning provide with a covering, e.g., He will clad the building in steel.

Have in Old English had the following forms:

  • Infinitive: habban.
  • First and third-person singular past indicative and subjunctive: hæfde.
  • Past participle: gehæfd.

Naturally, over time, the past tense and the past participle were contracted into had, the vowel no longer distinct from the one in the infinitive.

The verb behave is etymologically a derivative of have, but because their pronunciation has diverged, behave is no longer recognized as such, and so it is conjugated as a regular verb.

Make in Old English had the following forms:

  • Infinitive: macian.
  • First and third-person singular past indicative and subjunctive: macode.
  • Past participle: macod.

The form for the past tense and past participle would have normally become maked. However, it was later contracted to made.

Preterite-present[edit]

In Proto-Germanic, there were certain verbs commonly thought to have come from the Proto-Indo-European perfect, but these verbs came to have present significance. For example, the archaic verb wit (meaning know) is akin to Latin videō (I see), and it is not hard to see how past sight of something implies present knowledge thereof. Hence, these verbs have the same form in the first and third-person singular present, unlike normal verbs. Most of these verbs came to be used as modal auxiliaries.

The preterite-present verbs (showing their Old English forms and their modern descendants) are:

Infinitive Present indicative Past indicative Past participle
cunnan cann (can) cūþe (could) cunnen
magan mæg (may) meahte (might) (wanting)
sculan (unattested in OE) sceal (shall) scolde (should) (wanting)
mōtan (unattested in OE) mōt mōste (must) (wanting)
āgan (owe) āh (owe) āhte (ought) āgen (own)
durran (unattested in OE) dearr (dare) dorste (durst) (wanting)
witan (wit) wāt (wot) wisse, wiste (wist) witen
dugan (dow, unattested in OE) dēag dohte (dought) (wanting)
munan (attested in derivative gemunan) man munde munen
nugan (unattested in OE) neah nohte (wanting)
þurfan þearf þorfte (wanting)
unnan ann ūþe unnen

Notes:

  • Can, may, and shall are defective verbs, as they no longer have infinitives or participles.
  • Can originally meant know, which later became know how to, whence its current meaning of be able to.
  • May originally meant have the power to do, whence its current meanings of possibility and permission. The original meaning of may can be found in the related noun might.
  • Shall originally meant owe, whence its current meaning of obligation and current use as a future tense auxiliary.
  • Must was originally the past tense form of mōtan (which would have normally become moot), but it was used so often as a past subjunctive that it became a present-tense auxiliary, whence the lack of any distinct past tense form.
  • Owe is now a regular verb and is no longer used as an auxiliary.
    • Owe originally meant have, possess, and so own, originally the past participle, became an adjective, and the regular verb own was later formed.
    • Owe later shifted in meaning from possession to obligation, whence the current meaning of ought. Ought was the past tense of owe, but it was used so often as a past subjunctive that it became its own verb, and it is now used only as an auxiliary of present meaning.
  • Dare is now a regular verb when not used as an auxiliary. The past tense form durst is now archaic.
  • Wit, meaning know, has a full conjugation as well while keeping the irregularity in its forms, much like be, but it is not used as an auxiliary. The verb is now archaic, but it survives in (un)witting and to wit.
  • Dow is a dialectal verb meaning thrive, prosper. Its past tense form is dought.
  • OE munan means remember, and the infinitive would have become mun.
  • OE nugan is found only in the derivatives benugan and genugan (both of which have unattested infinitives). Benugan means require, and genugan means suffice and is related to the adjective enough. The infinitive would have become now.
  • OE þurfan means need, require, and the infinitive would have become thurve.
  • OE unnan means grant, allow, and the infinitive would have become un.
  • Sometimes, the verb need is conjugated as if it were a preterite-present, and so one may see such phrases as he need not go and need I say any more?. This use is confined to questions and grammatically negative phrases in the present tense, and it is still usual to treat need like a regular verb, e.g., he does not need to go, do I need to say any more?.

Anomalous[edit]

There are some verbs that are truly irregular, as they do not belong to any of the aforesaid classes. There are only four: be, do, go, and will.

Be, the English tongue's most irregular verb, is historically a blend of two different verbs: bēon and wesan. From the bēon conjugation are:

  • The infinitive, imperative, and present subjunctive, be.
  • The present participle, being.
  • The past participle, been.

And from the wesan conjugation are:

  • The first-person singular present indicative, am.
  • The second-person singular present indicative, art.
  • The third-person singular present indicative, is.
  • The plural present indicative, are.
  • The first and third-person singular past indicative, was.
  • The second-person singular past indicative, were (later changed into wast and wert).
  • The plural past indicative and subjunctive, were.
  • The past singular subjunctive, were (the second-person form later changed into wert).

These forms came from many originally distinct verbs.

The past tense of do, did, was originally formed by reduplication of the stem, which makes do the only surviving verb whose past tense came from reduplication. The past participle, done, is straightforward, as it has the past participle ending -en.

The past tense of go was originally yede, but it soon became replaced by went, which was the past tense of the weak verb wend (which now generally uses wended as the past tense). The past participle is gone, which has the usual past participle ending.

Will (distinct from the regular verb will as in God willed it so), unlike the other modal verbs, is not a preterite-present verb. The past tense is would, but the verb has no past participle (both in Old English and in New English), nor has it now an infinitive or present participle. The verb originally was a normal verb meaning desire (like its German cognate wollen), but later came to be used as an auxiliary not only to show desire but also to refer to the future.