The Difference Between a Weak and Strong Verb

strong verb and weak verb
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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—of the verb, such as 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, such as give, gave and stick, stuck.

Strong vs. Weak

In "Garner's Modern American Usage," author Bryan Garner explains the difference between week and strong verbs:

"Irregular verbs are sometimes called "strong" verbs because they seem to form the past tense from their own resources, without calling an The term "strong" has been inherited from Old English grammar, 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 Weak Verbs

With week verbs, the stem vowel does not change in the past or past participle tense. Take the word walk, for example. The past and past participle of this verb would be walked because the stem vowel does not change. Another example would be work, where the verb becomes worked in the past and past participle. Other examples of week, or regular, verbs would be as follows, where the verb is listed on the left with the past/past participle on the right:

  • Add > added
  • Beg > begged
  • Call > called
  • Damage > damaged
  • Earn > earned
  • Mark > marked
  • Taste > tasted
  • Yell > yelled

The past tense or past participle of these verbs looks roughly the same as the present tense because, as noted, the stem vowel does not change.

Strong Verbs Examples

By contrast, strong verbs generally do have a change in the stem vowel in the past or past participle. For example, the past tense and past participle of bring is brought. At other times, the stem vowel in a strong verb might change in the past tense but not in the past participle, such as arise, which becomes arose in the past tense but arisen in the past participle (as in he has arisen.) Other examples of strong verbs would be:

  • Blow > blew (past tense), blown (past participle)
  • Break > broke (past tense), broken (past participle)
  • Do > did (past tense), done (past participle)
  • Feed > fed (past tense and past particle)
  • Lie (down) > lay (past tense), lain (past participle)
  • Speak > spoke (past tense), spoken (past participle)

As you can see, there is no hard-and-fast rule for determining if a verb is week or strong. Since there are fewer than 200 strong verbs in English, the best method is to memorize their use in the past and past participle.