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Four Principal Parts or Forms of Verbs

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Drink, Drank, Drunk, Drinking

Main verbs appear in four different forms:

1. infinitive 2. finite 3. present participle 4. past participle

In Miss Hamrick’s class, we learned the principal parts of verbs, which are similar to my four forms: (1) infinitive, (2) past tense, (3) present participle, and (4) past participle.

When teaching people about verbs, I prefer to distinguish between infinitive and finite verbs and then introduce the two participles—the present participle and the past participle. Notice that the second form (finite verb) encompasses the second principal part (past tense).

Let me briefly introduce the four forms and then discuss them more fully below.

Infinitive Verb

In the raw, base-verb state, each verb has an infinitive form. Ordinarily, we think of the infinitive as the base verb preceded by the preposition to, as in to win the game or to run around the bases.

Finite Verb

When you use a verb to form a sentence, you use it in its finite form, that is, its conjugated form. Verb conjugation shows tense, person, number, and mood, as in She won the game (past tense, third person, singular) or They will run around the bases (future tense, third person, plural).

Present Participle

To serve a variety of functions, every verb has a form called the present participle, which you create the same way for all verbs: Just add ‑ing, as in She was winning the game or He will be running around the bases.

Past Participle

Finally, also to serve a variety of functions, every verb has a form called the past participle, which for many verbs you form by adding ‑ed, as in The court has decided this issue before or The issue was decided by the court. Verbs that form their past tense and past participle the same way are called regular verbs.

Unfortunately for small children and others trying to learn English, you also form many past participles in other ways, such as by adding an ‑n, as in shown or seen, or by adding other endings like ‑elt for felt or ‑ilt for built. Verbs that do not form their past participles and past tense the same way (usually by adding ‑ed) are called irregular verbs.

This feature of our language stumps children and visitors from other lands. You’ll often hear small children following ordinary rules of adding ‑ed to form a past participle and saying, “I have builded it.” *

* The word builded is an archaic past participle of the verb build. Recall the second verse of The Battle Hymn of the Republic: “I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps; they have builded him an altar in the evening dews and damps . . . .”

Let’s look separately at each of the four forms: (1) infinitive, (2) past tense, (3) present participle, and (4) past participle.

Hard Copy

You may download our entire discussion of the Parts of Speech. Simply download the Grammar eBook Understanding the Parts of Speech.


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