Past Form of a Verb

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What Is the Past Form of a Verb? (with Examples)

The past form is the form used to show the simple past tense.

past form of a verb

The past form is one of five verb forms in English. Let's look at all five forms of the verb "to catch":
1Base Formcatch
2The -S Form
(also called the Third Person Singular Present Tense Form)
3Past Formcaught
4The -ING Form
(also called the Present Participle Form)
5The Past Participle Formcaught
This page is about No. 3, the past form.

The Past Form Is One of the Past Tenses

The past form is not the same as the past tense, although many people use the terms interchangeably.

There are four different past tenses:
1simple past tenseI looked at the sea.
2past progressive tenseI was looking at the sea.
3past perfect tenseI had looked at the sea.
4past perfect progressiveI had been looking at the sea.
The past form is the same as No. 1, the simple past tense.

Read more about the past tense.

Forming the Past Form

There is no simple rule for creating the past form (i.e., the simple past tense) of a verb. It depends on whether the verb is regular or irregular.

Past Form of Regular Verbs

Regular verbs form their past forms by adding -ed or -d. For example:
  • want > wanted
  • dance > danced
There are some spelling rules to consider too. For example:
  • hurry > hurried (y changes to an i)
  • prefer > preferred (the r doubles)
Here are some more examples of past forms of regular verbs:
Base FormPast FormComment
help helped -ed added
dance danced -d added
tally tallied -ed added but spelling rule applied
(change y to i)
allot allotted -ed added but spelling rule applied
(double the last consonant if the verb ends [consonant-vowel-consonant] and is end stressed)

Read more about the spelling rules for creating the past forms of regular verbs.

Past Form of Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs form their past forms in a number of ways. Here are some common irregular verbs with tricky past forms:
  • catch > caught
  • bring > brought
  • see > saw
  • wear > wore
  • fly > flew
  • teach > taught
  • drink > drank
  • read (pronounced REED) > read (pronounced RED)
  • lead (pronounced LEED)> led (pronounced LED)
Here are some more examples of past forms of irregular verbs:
Base FormPast FormComment
set set past form same as the base form
dig dug past form has a vowel change from the base form
seek sought past form is completely different from the base from

The Five Verb Forms

The table below shows the five verb forms in English.
Verb Type 1
The Base Form
(aka "Simple Form" or "Uninflected Form")
The -S Form
(aka "Third Person Singular Present Tense Form")
Past Form
(aka "The Past Tense Form")
The -ING Form
(aka the Present Participle Form
The Past Participle Form
Regular play plays played playing played
Regular use uses used using used
Regular marry marries married marrying married
Irregular bring brings brought bringing brought
Irregular run runs ran running run
Irregular fall falls fell falling fallen
Irregular drink drinks drank drinking drunk

Why Should I Care about the Past Form?

Learning the verb forms (including the past form) is useful when studying English because it allows teachers and students to talk about the components that form the various tenses.

For example, with some verbs, the past form and the past participle form are the same (e.g., I played, I had played). With other verbs, the base form, past form, and past participle form are the same (e.g., set, I set, I had set). With others, they are all different (e.g., drink, I drank, I had drunk).

Knowing the various verb forms is a good starting point for learning all these complicated rules and exceptions.
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See Also

What are regular verbs? What are irregular verbs? What is the base form of a verb? What are present participles? What are past participles? What are weak verbs?
Glossary of grammatical terms