The Past Tense of Irregular Verbs

There is a long list of German verbs that form the past tense by irregular stem formations. That sounds like trouble, but for English speakers it's really not so bad. These verbs are often called “strong verbs.” In this book they're just going to be called “irregular.”

What you already know about the past tense will help you to use irregular verbs in the past. Regular verbs simply put a –te on the end of the stem of the verb. Then the conjugational ending is added. But irregular verbs do something different, and it's exactly what irregular verbs do in English: They form a completely new stem. Let's look at some examples in English.

Table 13-5. Verb Stems of the English Irregular Past Tense

Once you know the past tense stem, you can use it with any number of subjects.

Table 13-6. Conjugating the Irregular Past Tense in English

Take note that the third person singular (he, she, it) requires an “–s” ending in the English present tense. There are no endings in the past tense.

If you think about it, you can come up with a very long list of irregular verbs in English. If you are a native speaker of English, you know them because you slowly absorbed them during your childhood. You use them automatically without thinking that you have to make some kind of strange stem change in order to give a particular verb a past tense meaning. Native speakers of English have a treasury of irregular verb stems tucked away in their brains.

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