The 8 Top Tricks for Remembering Irregular English Verbs
1. Group common irregular verbs together
Irregular verbs don’t follow any rules, which is what makes them so hard to remember. But some irregular verbs follow a similar pattern. Instead of learning the verbs in alphabetical order, try putting them in similar groups.
How you group the verbs depends on whatever is easiest for you, but here are a few suggestions:
Verbs that remain the same in the present, past and past participle.
Examples: cost and set.
Verbs that are the same in the past forms, but not the present.
Examples: breed, bred and shoot, shot.
Verbs that end in -en in the past participle.
Examples: speak, spoken and wake, woken.
Look through the list of irregular verbs and find patterns of your own!
2. Learn all new vocabulary with its tense forms
You can make irregular verbs easier for yourself in the future by just learning them right from the beginning. Every time you learn a new verb, learn its tenses as well.
Don’t just learn that to steal means to take something without permission. You should also learn that its simple past tense is stole and its past participle is stolen.
3. Memorize the 10 most common irregular verbs first
Not all irregular verbs are commonly used. You might never use a word like broadcast, and you’ll probably only see the word abide as part of the phrase law-abiding citizen (that’s someone who follows the law).
Instead of going through the list in alphabetical order, focus on the most commonly used words first.
Start with these very common words (they’re listed as present, past, past participle):
Say, said, said
Go, went, gone
Come, came, come
Know, knew, known
Get, got, gotten
Give, gave, given
Become, became, become
Find, found, found
Think, thought, thought
See, saw, seen
That’s right, all these tiny but very important verbs are irregular! You’ll need to know their irregular forms to use them in everyday conversation.
4. Turn memorizing into a game
You might have no problem remembering the irregular verbs using flashcards, but if you’re having trouble why not turn it into a game?
There are a few games online that can make remembering the verbs fun and easy. The British Council has a quiz-like game, the MacMillan Dictionary has a verb wheel, and Quia has a game similar to Jeopardy.
You can even make your own game with index cards: write the verb and their past or past participle (or both) on separate index cards. Then turn all the cards over in front of you with their backs up.
Now you can play a memory game. Turn a card over, then another. If the two cards match, leave them face up. If they don’t, turn them back over and try again.
5. Learn in sentences
It might be easier to remember the words when they’re part of a sentence of a phrase. Learn words by putting them into sentences, and you’ll also be learning how to use them correctly.
To learn the word see, for example, you can use sentences like this: “I see the bee, I saw the snow, but I’ve never seen a bee in the snow!”
Be creative—the weirder the sentences are, the easier they will be to remember. You can use rhymes, keep the sentences short or create an entire story using as many verbs as you can. How you do it is up to you, as long as it helps you remember the verb forms.
6. Learn with songs
Another great way to give the words more meaning is through using music. You can find many songs for remembering irregular verbs on YouTube. Here are three of the best:
FluencyMC uses a catchy rap song to teach the forms of some of the most common irregular verbs.
This adorable cat video tells a story while teaching the verbs.
Schoolhouse Rock is a classic cartoon with fantastic music you’ll be singing for days after you hear it.
7. Leave lists where you can see them
Sometimes just memorizing is the best way to go. To make this easier for you, divide up the verbs in groups of 5 to 10 words (you can group them alphabetically, by how common they are or by the groups we suggested earlier in this article).
Write the verbs out on paper, and leave them in spots where you can see them throughout the day. Tape the list up behind your coffee maker, on your table, even on the bathroom wall! Looking at the list just a few minutes a day can be enough to remember them.
Once you feel that you’ve remembered the full list, move on to the next group of verbs.
8. Ask people to correct you
Nothing beats practicing—but practicing correctly is important too! Whenever you’re speaking to an English speaker, ask them to correct you if you make a mistake when you speak. This is great not just for irregular verbs, but for any of your English speaking.
Make sure you can accept their correction without getting upset or discouraged. Remember, they’re helping you!