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Conjugation‏‎ in English

Conjugation refers to the different form of a verb‏‎ depending on how it is used and who uses it.

Unlike many other languages, English conjugation is fairly straightforward and presents few problems.

Regular Verbs

This is the conjugation of a regular English verb, walk.

infinitive walk
present: I, you, we, they walk
present: he she it walks
past walked
present participle‏‎ walking
past participle‏‎ walked

Since almost all verbs have the -s and -ing endings, verbs are usually written just showing the present, past and past participle like this:

walk – walked – walked

Fortunately most verbs in English are regular and spelt this way. There are a few spelling variations (see below) but as a teacher you can deal with these when they arise. Teaching the basic regular forms above will cover the majority of cases.

Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs can have slightly different conjugations, but they generally differ in the past and the past participle. For example, this is the conjugation of the irregular verb eat.

infinitive eat
present: I, you, we, they eat
present: he she it eats
past ate
present participle eating
past participle eaten

As you can see, the present third person‏‎ (he, she it) still takes an –s on the end of the infinitive and the present participle still has an ing on the end of the infinitive. There is a full list of irregular verbs along with their conjugations.

Irregular Third Person

There are also a very few verbs which do not follow the usual -s rule for the third person.

be/am/are/is – was/were – been
can – could – was able to
may – might –
must – had to -had to
ought – –
shall – should
will – will – will

Note that some of these verbs do not have a past and/or participle form.

As you can see, aside from be, these are modal verbs‏‎ and none take an -s on the third person. Special care should be taken when teaching them.

Spelling Alternatives

Sometimes, depending on spelling, regular verbs may change a little more than just adding an -s or -ed to the end.

In this example, the final consonant‏ is doubled up. This happens when the verb ends with a short vowel sound and then a consonant.

infinitive shop
present: I, you, we, they shop
present: he she it shops
past shopped
present participle shopping
past participle shopped

If a verb ends with a consonant and then -e, instead of adding -ed we just add -d and we drop the final -e when we add -ing.

infinitive create
present: I, you, we, they create
present: he she it creates
past created
present participle creating
past participle created

For verbs ending in sibilants (s type sounds) then -es is added to the third person and -ed to the past.

infinitive kiss
present: I, you, we, they kiss
present: he she it kisses
past kissed
present participle kissing
past participle kissed

Finally, with verbs ending in -y, the end is replaced by -ies or -ied.

infinitive cry
present: I, you, we, they cry
present: he she it cries
past cried
present participle crying
past participle cried

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