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English Irregular Verbs Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 23, 2011

English Irregular Verbs

Words have a longer life than deeds.

PINDAR (522 B.C.–443 B.C.)

GREEK POET

Irregular verbs can be tricky in and of themselves. In this lesson, we will learn about a few that are even more challenging.

We know that irregular verbs don't follow any particular standard form, which can make them troublesome in their own right. There are, though, a few irregular verbs that are exceptionally challenging. Let's look at them.

Lay/Lie

The verb lay means to place or put something somewhere. A noun must follow the verb lay in the sentence.

Ursula laid the towel on the sand and headed down to the water.

The verb lie means to rest or recline or be situated. A noun does not follow the verb lie in a sentence, although a prepositional phrase or an adverb may sometimes follow.

After her swim, Ursula lay on the towel and soaked up the sun.

Set/Sit

Set, like lay, means to place or put something in a particular spot. Also like lay, a noun must follow the verb set in the sentence.

Karla sets her rings in the crystal bowl before washing the dishes.

Like lie, the verb sit means to be situated. It can also mean seated or resting. A noun does not follow the verb sit in a sentence, although a prepositional phrase or an adverb may sometimes follow.

Vivian sits on the porch to read the newspaper on Saturday mornings.

Did/Done

Did is the past form of the verb do. Did is used without a helping verb in a sentence. Done, on the other hand, must have a helping verb to be used properly in a sentence.

Incorrect: Paula has did her homework before watching television.
Correct: Paula did her homework before watching television.
Incorrect: Paula done her homework before watching television.
Correct: Paula has done her homework before watching television.

Except/Accept

Because these two verbs sound so similar, except and accept are often incorrectly switched in writing (and even in speaking). However, as alike as they sound, their meanings couldn't be more different. Except means apart from or excluding, and accept means to believe or willingly receive.

Except for Tuesdays, I can make plans to meet after school.
I accept your apology; thank you.

Tip

Still confused about which to choose—except or accept? Here's a trick to help you remember. When you are agreeing with someone, you are accepting their point of view—you are cc-eeing eye to eye with them. When you make an exception, you are then x-cluding something that you disagree with.

Can/May

Can means capable of doing something. When you say, I can lift 250 pounds, you are saying you have the ability to lift that much weight; I can drive a car means that you have the ability to drive a car.

On the other hand, may means having permission to do something. When you ask, "May I have a piece of cake?" you want to know whether you can have permission to have a piece of cake; when you say, "Ned may come inside now," you are saying Ned has permission to come inside.

Incorrect: Can I get a drink of water?
[Asking if they are capable of getting a drink of water, as though something is keeping them from being able to do so.]
Correct: May I get a drink of water?
[Asking permission to get a drink of water]

Tip

The verbs hang and lie are tricky because each is both a regular and an irregular verb. Which one it is, and therefore how it is conjugated, depends solely on the context.

If the word hang in a sentence means going to the gallows, then it is a regular verb, conjugated like this:

On the other hand, if it means hang out or hang a picture on the wall, then it is an irregular verb, conjugated like this:

Earlier, we saw that lie can mean to recline. But it can also mean to tell an untruth or falsehood. In this case, you would conjugate it like this:

A practice exercise for this concept can be found at English Irregular Verbs Practice Exercise.

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