Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Lesson: Regular Past-Tense Verbs

The LOLCats have a lot of trouble with past tense verbs in English, so today's lesson is about past-tense verbs in English. More specifically, the lesson is about regular past-tense verbs.

There are two types of past tense in English. On this page, you will find the rules for what is called the "regular" past tense, where you add "ed" to the end of the verb. There is also a long list of English verbs that do not form their past tense in the regular way; those are the "irregular" verbs. The rules you see here on this page apply only to the regular verbs.

For regular past-tense verbs in English, you just add "ed" to the base in order to create the past tense:

to look: I look - I looked
to start: I start - I started
to finish: I finish - I finished

The form is the same for all the persons in the past tense:

I started
you started
he started
she started
it started
we started
they started

There are a few special spelling rules for regular past tense verbs.

If the verb base ends in "e" (usually it is a silent "e"), then you just add a "d" instead of an "ed" to the stem:
I like - I liked
I promise - I promised
I agree - I agreed

If the verb base ends in consonant+y, then you have to change the "y" to an "i" before you add the -ed ending:
I try - I tried
I carry - I carried

You do not have to change the "y" when it comes after a vowel:
I play - I played
I destroy - I destroyed

Finally, there are some rules about whether or not you double the final consonant if the verb ends in a single consonant.

If the base has just one syllable and that syllable contains just one vowel followed by a single consonant, you double that consonant before adding the "ed" ending:
I beg - I begged
I clap - I clapped

Note that "x" is not really a single consonant; it is a double consonant: k+s. That means you do not write a double x before the "ed" ending:
I fix - I fixed
I box - I boxed

If the verb base has more than one syllable, you apply this rule about doubling the single final consonant only if the final syllable is stressed:
I admit - I admitted
I refer - I referred

There are, however,  a few words that double the final consonant even though they are not stressed on the final syllable:
I worship - I worshipped
I kidnap - I kidnapped

In British English, you double a final l regardless of whether the final syllable is stressed or not:
I travel - I travelled
(American English: I traveled)
I equal - I equalled
(American English: I equaled)

When a verb ends in "w" following a vowel, the "w" is treated as a vowel rather than as a consonant, so you do not double it. Instead, just add the "ed" ending:
I bow - I bowed
I claw - I clawed

If the verb stem ends in the letter "c" (which is very rare!), you write "ck" before the "ed" ending:
I panic - I panicked
I mimic - I mimicked

Why are these spelling rules important? One important reason is that they help you to recognize different verbs in the past tense. These are especially tricky because the spellchecker cannot help you with these words. You have to know the difference when you spell them:

I hop - I hopped
I hope - I hoped

I star - I starred
I stare - I stared

I rob - I robbed
I robe - I robed

By following the rules for doubling the consonants, you can make sure your readers recognize the word you are using!

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