Principal Parts of Verbs

By 'principal parts of verbs' we mean the most important forms of any verb, especially the one we need to remember.

Out of all the possible forms of any given verb, we have a smaller group called the 'parts of a verb'.

The 'principal parts' refers to a still smaller group of verb forms, which users of English commit to memory.

The Parts of the Verb

When we use a verb in a sentence, we use different forms of it for different purposes. Suppose we wanted to use the verb 'to write.' The available forms of that verb would be:

One-word forms

  • write - the bare infinitive form
  • writes - the present tense form that agrees with third person singular subjects
  • wrote - the past tense form
  • writing - the present participle
  • written - the past participle

These are called the parts of the verb write.

Multiple-word forms

The forms given below are combinations of the above 'parts of the verb' with helping verbs, whether primary or modal.

am writing, is writing, are writing, was writing, were writing, have written, has written, had written, will write, will be writing, will have written, has been writing, have been writing, had been writing, will have been writing, am written, is written, etc.

See the number of forms! And the list is not complete; there are still more...! Almost all verbs have these many forms.

This sounds like bad news to those who want to learn English grammar.

But, here's the good news...

You don't have to remember all the verb forms!
You need to remember only the principal parts of verbs.

The Principal Parts of Verbs

The principal parts of a verb are the minimum number, i.e. three or one, that you need to memorize in case of irregular verbs or regular verbs respectively.

Regular Verbs

The group of verbs called Regular are those which follow fixed rules for changing into other forms.

So, you need to remember only one form of verbs which belong to this group.

If we remember the verb-form 'play' alone, we can derive all the other forms from it by adding s, ed, or ing, as in plays, playing, played...and we can then get all the multi-word forms too.

Irregular Verbs

If a verb does not follow fixed rules for a change to even one other form, then that verb is called an Irregular Verb.

  • The past tense form of sing is sang.
  • But the past tense form of bring is not brang; it is brought.
  • The past tense form of hit is not hat; it is hit.

The verbs sing, bring, and hit are irregular verbs for they do not follow any one rule of change to a particular form (here, the past tense).

The minimum number of forms we have to remember for these irregular verbs are three. For the verb 'to sing', we need to memorize the three forms 'sing, sang, sung' (the principal parts).

The Remaining Forms of a Verb

The remaining forms can be derived from these one or three forms according to definite patterns, so that we get all the five parts of that verb.

So, when we talk of Principal Parts of Verbs, we mean only the one or three forms, which we need to remember.

There is one major exception...

How many forms have we to remember for the verb 'be'?

'To be' is an irregular verb, but we need to remember more than the three forms.

The single-word verb forms of 'to be' are eight in number. They are:
am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been. You probably know most of them already.

For Further Reading and Study...

English Grammar

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Related Pages

The Study of Verbs

What is a Verb?

List of Verbs

Principal Parts of Verbs

Types of Verbs

Finite Verbs

Non-Finites (Verbals)

Transitive Verbs

Helping Verbs

Verb Tenses

Subject-Verb Agreement