Gabriel Wallace

Irregular past participles can be some of the most challenging words to learn in English, because there is no standard rule to remember which past participles are irregular. But it’s important to know your irregular verbs, as they’re some of the most common verbs in the English language. They’re also fun to learn, and it always impresses native speakers when you use them correctly.

In this article, you’ll learn what irregular past participles are, which past participles have irregular forms, and some patterns those irregular forms follow. You’ll also get some valuable tips on how to learn irregular past participles more quickly and more efficiently.

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What are past participles and what do they do?

Past participles are also known as the third verb forms (after the base form and the past tense form). For example, eaten is the past participle of the base form eat. They have a few different jobs (listed below), but it’s easiest to remember them by their verbal functions.

Past participles serve two different functions as verbs:

“I have eaten breakfast.”

“She had already done her homework.”

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“The breakfast has already been eaten.”

“The homework was being done by her.”

Note that you can use past participles in these same ways when discussing the past, present, or future.

For information on more tenses, check out this article:

Tenses in English

Past participles can also be used as adjectives:

“The frozen vegetables are on the table.”

“The fruit is all gone.”

“I found the box already opened.”

Finally, you can use a past participle as a noun phrase to describe another noun in the same sentence (an appositive):

Beaten and broken, the soldiers surrendered.”

What are irregular past participles?

Verbs are irregular if you can’t add -ed or -d to the end of its base to turn it into a past participle. This is true for both irregular past simple verbs and irregular past participles. Here are some examples:

Regular past participle

He has already walked to school.

The verb walked is a regular past participle because you can add -ed to the base verb walk.

Irregular past participle

He has already driven to school.

The verb driven is an irregular past participle because it doesn’t end in -ed.

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Common irregular past participles

The funny thing about irregular past participles is that they’re actually quite common in the English language. In fact, some of the most common verbs in English have irregular past participle forms. This is a great advantage when you’re trying to learn irregular past participles because it’s easier to remember words you use a lot. The more you communicate in English, the more you will encounter these words.

Here are some examples:

Base verbPast tensePast participle
be/is/arewas/werebeen
do/doesdiddone
go/goeswentgone
have/hashadhad
seesawseen
eatateeaten

Sentence examples:

Where have you been?

I have been in London.

What had she done?

She had done her homework.

Where will he have gone?

He will have gone to Japan.

Have you seen this film?

Yes, I have seen this film.

Have you eaten dinner yet?

No, I haven’t eaten anything yet.

Types of irregular past participles

One great way to make it easier to learn irregular past participles is to divide them into categories by their common characteristics and then learn their distinct patterns. There is no right or wrong way to categorize them, but here are seven possible categories:

  1. Base form, past tense form, and past participle are all the same
  2. Past participle is the same as the irregular past tense form
  3. Past participle is the same as the base form but different from the past tense form
  4. Vowel pattern: i / a / u
  5. Past participles ending in en
  6. Past participles ending in own
  7. Past participles ending in ught

1. Base form, past tense form, and past participle are all the same

Some verbs have the same spelling in all three forms, even if they sound different.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
readreadread
cutcutcut
costcostcost

2. Past participle is the same as the irregular past tense form

It’s common for past participles to take the same form as the past tense forms even when they are irregular.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
saysaidsaid
sleepsleptslept
thinkthoughtthought

3. Past participle is the same as the base form but different from the past tense form

There are a few rare past participles that copy the base verb rather than the past tense verb.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
comecamecome
becomebecamebecome
runranrun

4. Vowel pattern: i / a / u

Some irregular verbs follow a final vowel pattern where the base form uses ‘i’, the past tense form ‘a’, and the past participle ‘u’.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
drinkdrankdrunk
swimswamswum
beginbeganbegun

5. Past participles ending in -en

There are many past participles ending in ‘en’. It’s common to add ‘n’ at the end of a base verb ending in ‘e’ to make the irregular past participle, just as we add ‘d’ onto regular verbs ending in ‘e’.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
eatateeaten
breakbrokebroken
givegavegiven
taketooktaken
writewrotewritten

6. Past participles ending in -own

Some past participles end in ‘own’, particularly if the base form ends in ‘ow’.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
knowknewknown
flyflewflown
growgrewgrown

7. Past participles ending in -ught

If the past tense verb ends in -ught, it’s likely that the past participle will be the same.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
buyboughtbought
thinkthoughtthought
catchcaughtcaught

How to learn irregular past participles

Of course, you could just try to memorize all the irregular past participles through repetition. But that’s hardly much fun, is it? Here are three more engaging ways you can memorize the irregular past participles in English:

Use flashcards or index cards

You can make your own cards by writing the base form of a verb on one side of the card and its past participle on the opposite side. You can make two sets of each verb if you wish to use them for matching activities (described below). When you draw a picture on one side, it becomes a flashcard. These days, there are apps for these learning methods, but the process of making your own physical cards out of paper or cards helps you remember the forms.

Once you have your cards, you can test yourself by reading the base verbs and making a sentence using its irregular past participle. If you have two sets, you can spread out the base verbs and the past participles and match them while saying the words aloud and making sentences.

If you’d like to learn more about using flashcards effectively, check out this video.

And here are some more tips and tricks on how to improve your long-term memory, which will help you retain what you’re learning.

Play the game I have never… or I have always…

If you have a partner (or partners), you can play this well-known game. You both hold up five (or ten) fingers. Take turns telling your partner(s) something you have never done, using the present perfect sentence “I have never (past participle).” (E.g. “I have never eaten curry.”) If your partner(s) have done what you say you have never done, then they have to drop one finger. The winner is the last person to be holding up any fingers.

A variation of this game is to say, “I have always (past participle).” (E.g. I have always thought I was smart.)

Write a story or dialogue and practice telling it

Stories are great ways to learn language because we remember stories. Write down 6–10 irregular past participles you want to learn, and write a short story (300–500 words) using your target words. If you find it difficult to use past participles in a story, you can try writing dialogue instead. If you need ideas, check out these great writing prompts.

Irregular past participles list

Below is a list of 52 of the most common irregular past participles in the English language. They are separated by the categories suggested above, although there is, of course, some overlap.

Base verbPast tensePast participle
costcostcost
cutcutcut
hithithit
putputput
readreadread
buildbuiltbuilt
getgotgot/gotten
have/hashadhad
hearheardheard
leaveleftleft
loselostlost
makemademade
meetmetmet
saysaidsaid
sellsoldsold
sitsatsat
sleepsleptslept
understandunderstoodunderstood
winwonwon
becomebecamebecome
comecamecome
runranrun
beginbeganbegun
drinkdrankdrunk
singsangsung
swimswamswum
be/is/arewas/werebeen
breakbrokebroken
choosechosechosen
drivedrovedriven
eatateeaten
freezefrozefrozen*
givegavegiven
rideroderidden
seesawseen
speakspokespoken
taketooktaken
wakewokewoken
writewrotewritten
do/doesdiddone
go/goeswentgone
flyflewflown
growgrewgrown
knowknewknown
showshowedshown
throwthrewthrown
bringbroughtbrought
buyboughtbought
catchcaughtcaught
fightfoughtfought
teachtaughttaught
thinkthoughtthought

If you found this helpful? You might also like this article:

Past Continuous Tense in English: When and How to Use It. Also, feel free to expand on your learning experience with these English Courses on Udemy. Discover new and in-depth ways you can begin mastering the English Language. 

Page Last Updated: April 2022