English Irregular Verbs: 8 Top Tips to Make Them Easier to Learn
Just when you finally think you understand English grammar and all the different tenses, you discover irregular verbs.
Regular verbs always follow the same pattern. They look the same in the past tense and are easy to form. Usually all you have to do is add the letters -ed at the end of the word (walked, worked, laughed, etc.)
Irregular verbs, though, don’t follow that pattern. You can recognize them because they look so different in the past tense (ate, sat, built, went, etc.)
But don’t worry! This guide will help you learn to recognize English irregular verbs and how to remember them easily.
1. Memorize the 35 most common irregular verbs first
To go a bit deeper, in English verb is irregular when it doesn’t end in -ed in the simple past tense and past participle form. Not sure what those are? Here’s a simple way of looking at it:
- The simple past tense describes any action that takes place before right now.
- Regular verb: I worked for 40 hours last week.
- Irregular verb: I spoke to my best friend yesterday.
- The past participle is used in other English tenses that have an auxiliary (or “helping”) verb. For example, the past perfect tense uses the auxiliary verb “have” + the past participle of your main verb to describe an action that happened and ended in the past.
- Regular verb: I had worked for the company for only 6 months when I decided to leave.
- Irregular verb: I had spoken at over 50 schools by the time I turned 30.
Not all irregular verbs are commonly used. You might never use a word like broadcast, and you’ll probably only see the word abide as part of the phrase law-abiding citizen (that’s someone who follows the law).
Instead of going through the list in alphabetical order, focus on the most commonly used words first. Start with these very common words:
That’s right, all these tiny but very important verbs are irregular! You’ll need to know their irregular forms to use them in everyday conversation. You can also find more complete irregular verb lists online.
2. Learn all new vocabulary with its tense forms
You can make irregular verbs easier for yourself in the future by just learning them right from the beginning. Every time you learn a new verb, learn its tenses as well.
Don’t just learn that to steal means to take something without permission. You should also learn that its simple past tense is stole and its past participle is stolen.
3. Turn memorizing irregular verbs into a game
You might have no problem remembering the irregular verbs using flashcards, but if you’re having trouble why not turn it into a game?
There are a few games online that can make remembering the verbs fun and easy. The British Council has a quiz-like game, the MacMillan Dictionary has a verb wheel, and Quia has a game similar to Jeopardy.
You can even make your own game with index cards: write the verb and their past or past participle (or both) on separate index cards. Then turn all the cards over in front of you with their backs up.
Now you can play a memory game. Turn a card over, then another. If the two cards match, leave them face up. If they don’t, turn them back over and try again.
4. Group common irregular verbs together
Irregular verbs don’t follow any rules, which is what makes them so hard to remember. But some irregular verbs follow a similar pattern. Instead of learning the verbs in alphabetical order, try putting them in similar groups.
How you group the verbs depends on whatever is easiest for you, but here are a few suggestions:
- Verbs that remain the same in the present, past and past participle.
- Examples: cost and set.
- Verbs that are the same in the past forms, but not the present.
- Examples: breed, bred and shoot, shot.
- Verbs that end in -en in the past participle.
- Examples: speak, spoken and wake, woken.
Look through the list of irregular verbs and find patterns of your own!
5. Learn irregular verbs in sentences
It might be easier to remember the words when they’re part of a sentence of a phrase. Learn words by putting them into sentences, and you’ll also be learning how to use them correctly.
To learn the word see, for example, you can use sentences like this: “I see the bee, I saw the snow, but I’ve never seen a bee in the snow!”
Be creative—the weirder the sentences are, the easier they will be to remember. You can use rhymes, keep the sentences short or create an entire story using as many verbs as you can. How you do it is up to you, as long as it helps you remember the verb forms.
6. Learn irregular verbs with songs
Another great way to give the words more meaning is through using music. You can find many songs for remembering irregular verbs on YouTube. Here are three of the best:
- FluencyMC uses a catchy rap song to teach the forms of some of the most common irregular verbs.
- This adorable cat video tells a story while teaching the verbs.
- Schoolhouse Rock is a classic cartoon with fantastic music you’ll be singing for days after you hear it.
Music videos (and videos in general) are helpful for learning these verbs because you hear and see each word in context. If you enjoy learning English words from videos and music, then you can search for music videos online on places like YouTube and make your own study playlist.
There is also the language learning program FluentU.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
This helps you get comfortable with irregular English verbs because you’ll see how they are used in native English speech and in a variety of situations.
7. Leave lists where you can see them
Sometimes just memorizing is the best way to go. To make this easier for you, divide up the verbs in groups of 5 to 10 words (you can group them alphabetically, by how common they are or by the groups we suggested earlier in this article).
Write the verbs out on paper, and leave them in spots where you can see them throughout the day. Tape the list up behind your coffee maker, on your table, or even on the bathroom wall! Looking at the list just a few minutes a day can be enough to remember them.
Once you feel that you’ve remembered the full list, move on to the next group of verbs.
8. Ask people to correct you
Nothing beats practicing—but practicing correctly is important too! Whenever you’re speaking to an English speaker, ask them to correct you if you make a mistake when you speak. This is great not just for irregular verbs, but for your English speaking in general.
Make sure you can accept their correction without getting upset or discouraged. Remember, they’re helping you!
After reading all these tips, that list of irregular verbs doesn’t look so scary anymore, does it?
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.