Regular Verbs: A Simple Conjugation

Action Words Whose Tenses and Participles Are Formed Uniformly

steaming cup of coffee in front of a bag of coffee beans
In Old English the past tense of brew was breowan. Now it's brewed.

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In English grammar, a regular verb is a verb that forms its verb tenses, especially the past tense and past participle, by adding one in the set of generally accepted standardized suffixes. Regular verbs are conjugated by adding either "-d," "-ed," "-ing," or "-s" to its base form, unlike irregular verbs which have special rules for conjugation.

The majority of English verbs are regular. These are the principal parts of regular verbs:

  1. The base form: the dictionary term for a word like "walk."
  2. The -s form: used in the singular third person, present tense like "walks."
  3. The -ed form: used in the past tense and past participle like "walked."
  4. The -ing form: used in the present participle like "walking."

Regular verbs are predictable and always function the same regardless of the speaker, though oftentimes English as an Alternative Language speakers will mix up these verbs with irregular ones and attempt to conjugate them incorrectly. Colloquially, too, some native English speakers will conjugate irregular verbs like "run" incorrectly as regular verbs, inventing words like "runned" instead of the correct "ran."

Observations and Commonality

Regular verbs are the more common of the two forms of verbs in the English language with the list of accepted regular verbs essentially open-ended, including tens of thousands of words in the dictionary that qualify.

Steven Pinker describes regular verbs in "Words and Rules" as ever-evolving, with new ones being added to language constantly. He uses the additions of words like "spam (flood with E-mail), snarf (download a file), mung (damage something), mosh (dance in roughhouse fashion), and Bork (challenge a political nominee for partisan reasons)" to illustrate that even when new words are added we already assume their past-tense forms saying of these examples' past-tenses that "we all deduce that they are spammed, snarfed, munged, moshed, and Borked."

All verbs come with what David J. Young calls "an inflectional paradigm consisting of either four or five forms" in his book "Introducing English Grammar." For example, the base word fix has the forms fix, fixes, fixed, fixed and fixing to express different participles and tenses while grow has grow, grows, grew, grown, and growing. In the former, this set applies to most verbs and can, therefore, be called regular verbs, "with no difference between the third and fourth items."

Modern English Morphology

Perhaps because of the ease of this interpretation of language and the nature of language to evolve, many of the hundreds of strong irregular verbs in Old English haven't survived to the modern vernacular, which are instead now routinely co-opted to be inflected as regular verbs.

Edward Finegan describes in "Language: Its Structure and Use," that of the "333 strong verbs of Old English, only 68 continue as irregular verbs in Modern English." This, he says, is due to a colloquial or jargon usage being perpetuating as the most common form. Such words as burned, brewed, climbed and flowed are now commonly accepted forms of regular verbs which once functioned as irregular.

On the other hand, Finegan also says that "more than a dozen weak verbs have become irregular verbs in the history of English, including dive, which has developed a past-tense form dove alongside the historical form dived." Other such examples include drug for dragged, wore for weared, spat for spitted, and dug for digged.

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Nordquist, Richard. "Regular Verbs: A Simple Conjugation." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Regular Verbs: A Simple Conjugation. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Regular Verbs: A Simple Conjugation." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 3, 2023).