Friday, November 7, 2008

*Borrowed from

Principal Parts of a Verb

Verbs are usually identified by their four principal parts: the infinitive, the present participle, the past tense form, and the past participle. The infinitive is considered the "base form" of the verb because it serves as the stem for other forms of the verb. In English, the infinitive is constructed with the preposition "to" followed by the base form of the verb (a verb without the "to" is sometimes called the "bare infinitive"). If a verb is a phrasal verb, which means it takes a preposition afterwards, the preposition is also included in the infinitive.

infinitives: to make, to be, to speak out

The present participle is created by adding "-ing" to the stem or base form. The present participle is also sometimes called the "active" or "progressive" participle. Because the present participle is almost always formed in the same way, by adding "-ing" to the base form, some manuals will omit the present participle as a principal part.

present participles: making, being, speaking out

The past tense form is the form the verb takes in the third person singular. Some verbs follow a pattern in the past tense by adding "-ed" to the base form; these are called weak verbs. Other verbs do not follow a pattern and actually change by modifying the spelling of the base form; these are called strong verbs.

past tense forms: made, was, spoke out

The past participle is usually the same as the past tense form, except with some strong verbs. In contrast to the present participle, which only has active uses, the past participle has both active and passive uses. It has a variety of functions in English, but the most familiar uses are in forming the passive voice and in modifying a noun.

past participles: made, been, spoken

Passive voice: The document was signed yesterday.

Modifier: The signed document appeared on my desk yesterday.


So why should you learn the four principal parts? The principal parts can help you with particularly tricky verbs like "lay" and "lie." They can also aid in the reivising process. If, for example, your instructor remarks that you overuse the passive voice in your writing, a little knowledge about past participles and their functions may help you to recognize problem areas in your paper.

Open Questions

  • What are some noteworthy exceptions to the four principal parts schema?

  • Are there verbs that do not quite fit this pattern? Why? (of course there are, but that is for another post!)


Marie Rouse said...

Can you give me an example of a strong verb?
From the desk of
Marie Rouse
Have an outstanding day!

Brady Spangenberg said...

Hi Marie,

A strong verb is otherwise known as an irregular verb. These verbs do not follow regular/normal conjugation patterns. Many of these may appear regular in the present tense form (adding -(e)s in the third person singular), but they will change in the past tense.

Some examples include:

bring > brought
teach > tought
freeze > froze

For a much bigger list, I recommend Wikipedia (of all things).


Ryan said...

Hey Brady!

I did a random google search for your name and came across the "Grammar Gang" blog... Riveting stuff, this was a great article and I really liked how you laid out the comma guidelines a few blogs ago!

Hope everything is well... Hit me up sometime, so we can catch up!


Rogers George said...

My tenth grade English teacher (Mrs. Baird, about whom I could tell many a tale) had us conjugating verbs including one form that used the helping verb 'about' as in 'he is about to jump.' I just realized that I have forgotten the name of this tense. Anybody know? I suspect she took it from the Latin, Greek, or Sanskrit, all of which she knew. (I know Greek, but I don't think the English version is called 'inceptive aorist.')