The Difference Between a 'Weak' and a 'Strong Verb'

Questions and Answers About English Grammar

strong verb and weak verb
"A strong verb is one in which tense is expressed by an internal vowel change, and a weak verb is one in which tense is expressed by a regular affix" ( Linguistics for Everyone: An Introduction, 2013). C.J. Burton/Getty Images

The distinction between a weak verb and a strong verb is based on how the past tense of the verb is formed.

Weak verbs (more commonly called regular verbs) form the past tense by adding -ed, -d, or -t to the base form—or present tense form—of the verb (for example, call, called and walk, walked).

Strong verbs (usually called irregular verbs) form the past tense or the past participle (or both) in various ways but most often by changing the vowel of the present tense form (for example, give, gave and stick, stuck).

In Garner's Modern American Usage (2016), Bryan Garner offers this explanation for the terms "strong" and "weak":

Irregular verbs are sometimes called "strong" verbs because they seem to form the past tense from their own resources, without calling an ending to their assistance. The regular verbs are sometimes called "weak" verbs because they cannot form the past tense without the aid of the ending (most often -ed ).

In fact, the term "strong" has been inherited from Old English grammars, and many of today's irregular forms are descendants of common Old English verbs. Although fewer than 200 modern English verbs are strong, these irregulars (most of which are just one syllable in length) are among the most common in the language.

Examples of Common Strong Verbs (or Irregular Verbs) in English

arise, be, beat, become, begin, bend, bite, bleed, blow, break, bring, build, burst, buy, cast, catch, choose, cling, come, cost, cut, deal, dig, dive, do, draw, drink, drive, eat, fall, feed, feel, fight, find, fly, forget, freeze, get, give, go, grow, hang, have, hear, hide, hit, hold, hurt, keep, kneel, knit, know, lay, leave, lend, let, lie, light, lose, make, mean, meet, mow, pay, prove, put, read, rid, ride, rise, run, see, say, seek, sell, send, set, sew, shake, shine, shoot, saw, show, shrink, shut, sing, sink, sit, sleep, slide, sling, slit, speak, speed, spin, split, spread, spring, stand, steal, stick, sting, stink, strike, string, swear, sweep, swell, swim, swing, take, teach, tear, tell, think, throw, thrust, wake, wear, weave, weep, win, wind, write.

Examples of Common Weak Verbs (or Regular Verbs) in English

add, admire, admit, advise, afford, agree, allow, amuse, announce, annoy, answer, approve, arrive, ask, attempt, attend, attract, avoid, bake, bathe, battle, beg, behave, belong, bless, blink, blot, blush, boast, boil, bore, borrow, bounce, bow, box, brake, breathe, bruise, brush, bump, burn, bury, buzz, call, care, carry, carve, challenge, change, charge, chase, cheat, check, cheer, chew, chop, claim, clean, clear, close, collect, command, compare, compete, complain, confess, confuse, connect, consider, consist, contain, copy, correct, count, cover, crush, cry, cure, damage, dance, dare, deceive, decide, delay, deliver, describe, deserve, disagree, disappear, disapprove, discover, dislike, divide, double, doubt, dream, dress, drip, drop, drown, earn, employ, encourage, end, enjoy, enter, entertain, escape, examine, excuse, exercise, exist, expect, explain, fail, fasten, fetch, file, fill, fit, fix, float, fold, follow, force, fry, gather, glow, grab, greet, grin, guard, guess, guide, hammer, handle, happen, harm, hate, haunt, heal, heat, help, hop, hope, hug, hum, hunt, hurry, ignore, imagine, impress, improve, increase, influence, inform, interrupt, introduce, invent, invite, irritate, jog, join, joke, judge, jump, kill, kiss, knock, laugh, learn, lie, lighten, like, list, listen, live, load, lock, look, love, mark, marry, match, mate, measure, melt, mend, miss, mix, move, murder, name, need, note, notice, obey, obtain, occur, offend, offer, open, order, owe, own, pack, paint, park, pass, perform, permit, pick, place, plan, play, point, possess, pour, practice, pray, precede, prefer, prepare, preserve, press, prevent, print, produce, promise, protect, provide, pull, punish, push, question, race, rain, reach, receive, record, reduce, refuse, reject, relax, release, rely, remain, remember, remove, repair, repeat, replace, report, rescue, retire, return, rinse, rob, rock, rub, rule, rush, sail, save, scare, scream, search, separate, serve, share, shave, shiver, shop, skip, slap, slip, smell, smile, sneeze, snore, snow, spell, spoil, spray, squeeze, stain, stare, start, stay, stir, stop, store, stretch, succeed, suffer, suggest, supply, support, surprise, surround, talk, taste, tease, test, thank, tickle, tie, tip, touch, trace, trade, trap, travel, treat, trick, trip.

trust, try, turn, twist, unite, unlock, unpack, use, visit, wait, walk, want, warn, wash, waste, watch, wave, whisper, whistle, wink, wipe, wish, wonder, work, worry, wrap, yawn, yell.