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Began or Begun: Differences, Uses and Examples

Began and begun often get mixed up in English.

These two verb forms come from the English infinitive “to begin.” 

“Began” is in the simple past tense: He began to play the guitar.

“Begun” is a past participle that’s used in a perfect tense, so it always comes with “has,” “have” or “had:” It had begun to rain by the time I got home.

So, are you ready to dive deeper into these two words? Let’s get started!


Began: Simple Past Tense

As noted in the introduction, “began” and “begun” are different forms of the verb “to begin.” Most commonly, it describes an action that is starting to happen, as in the following sentence:

He begins to read.

Let’s look at “began” first. Whenever we use “began” in English, we always have to remember to use it on its own.

“Began” is the simple past tense of “to begin.” This tense is used for an action (of any duration) that has finished in the past:

  • It began to rain.
  • She began to sing.
  • I began to cry when I saw the disgusting lunch menu.
  • You began to run because you were afraid of the dog. 

As you can see in the last two examples, “began” can be used before a conjunction (like the word “when”) to introduce another clause (e.g. I saw the disgusting lunch menu). 

Whether you’re starting your sentence with I, you, he, she, we or they, “began” stays the same. Phew!

You’ll also notice that “began” is always used by itself, unlike “begun,” which we’ll tackle in the next section. 

Begun: Past Participle in Perfect Tense

“Begun” can never be on its own and always needs an auxiliary verb hanging around. If you can remember this difference, you’ll make the right choice about which word to use.

The most common auxiliary verb forms come from the English verb “to have.” (For example: had, has, have and will have.)

Unlike the simple past, “begun” is a past participle that’s used with the three perfect tenses: past perfect, present perfect and future perfect. They also describe a completed action but are more complex, suggesting how a previous action affects a current condition. For example:

I had begun to style my hair for the party when I realized there was a storm outside.

To construct these sentences, we need to start with the auxiliary verb, then add “begun” afterward:

  • They had begun to play soccer before I got there. 
  • He has begun to smoke again. 
  • We have begun cooking the meal that we’re going to eat tonight. 
  • I will have begun my speech by the time you arrive. 

Remember that, in speech and informal writing, the personal pronoun and the auxiliary verb usually contract and use an apostrophe (e.g. they’d begun).

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Another Way to Express “Began” or “Begun”

Of course, there are alternatives to the verb “to begin.”

One that I’ve been using throughout this article is the verb “to start.” This verb is slightly more informal, and you can use it in most situations. For formal writing, though, “to begin” is often the better choice.

Here’s some great news: “to start” is a regular English verb, so its tenses are easier to manage!

Let’s look at “to start” in the simple past:

  • I started my homework last night.
  • They started laughing when they saw the clown. 
  • We started a new yoga class.
  • You started learning Arabic. 

Now, here is “to start” as a past participle with the perfect tenses (note that we have to use the auxiliary verb once again):

  • She had started reading an old novel. 
  • It has started to snow. 
  • We have started a new project at work. 
  • He will have started his journey by now. 

See how “start” becomes “started” in both cases? This makes it a super easy alternative to the verb “to begin!”

Idiomatic Expressions with the Verb “To Begin”

This verb is so common that a wide variety of expressions use it: 

1. To begin (by) doing something

This means to start something by taking a specific action.

Let’s take an example using the infinitive form of “to begin:”

I begin by showing you how to use an English expression.

In the simple past (using “began”), it looks like this:

I began by adding the eggs to the flour.

Using a perfect tense (auxiliary verb + “begun”), it would be:

He had begun by stretching before going out for a run.

2. To begin to see the light

This is useful when you want to express that a situation is clear to you now but wasn’t in the past.

For example:

She begins to see the light about how horrible her boss is.

In the simple past (using “began”):

You began to see the light when it came to your boyfriend.

And using a perfect tense (auxiliary verb + “begun”):

He will have begun to see the light by the time he realizes we’ve stolen his credit card.

3. Life begins at (age)

This is an expression you’ll hear in relation to the aging process. It means that, even though someone has reached a particular age (traditionally 40), they can still restart their life and take pleasure in it.

For example:

Life begins at 40.

In the simple past (using “began”):

Life began at 70 for Sarah. 

And in a perfect tense (auxiliary verb + “begun”):

Life has begun at age 50 for Mark. 


I hope this article has given you a clearer sense of the troublesome twins “began” and “begun” so that you can check this grammar point off your list.

Proficiency comes with time, so remember to keep practicing your irregular verbs through writing, speaking, reading and listening!

And One More Thing...

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