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December 2011 E-News from Elizabeth Claire

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What's the best way to group past tenses?

Preview of December's Easy English NEWS

December 2011 specials


What's the best way to group past tenses?

Last month, I wrote my reasons for teaching the past tense before the present tense. If you missed that, it is in the archives at my website. In this month's E-News, I'll suggest ways to group the irregular past tense verbs. The past tense forms of the irregular verbs are a matter of vocabulary, practice, and some assisted memorizing. The past forms are easier to remember when they are in groups of the same pattern, rather than in alphabetical order with all three principal parts listed for memorizing.

I prefer grammar by discovery, or grammar by analysis rather than grammar as a prescription. That way, students have already been exposed to the language, been bathed in its sounds, have formed some unconscious hypotheses about how things are working. When we get to a formal presentation, students then go "Ah hah!" and either "I know that," or "I was wondering about that."

I point out that of the 5,000 verbs they are likely to eventually have in their speaking, reading and writing vocabulary, 4,900 of them form the past in a regular pattern, by adding d or ed, with some spelling shifts such as changing y to i in certain cases (carry, hurry), and doubling the final consonant before adding ed in others (trip/tripped).

And that the 100 irregular verbs are by far the most common ones they'll hear and use, so it's important to learn them.

I teach the simple past form and leave the past participle and its applications for a later time when students are ready to listen for, speak, and write such distinctions.

By focusing on the simple past forms of verbs, it is easier to group irregular verbs into categories. I give enough practice with a category so it is second nature before adding a new group. I teach do/did first so I can use the negative and question forms in student practices.

Group I: The most common verbs, that have uniquely formed pasts without following any group patterns, but are so dense in our linguistic environment, and so useful, and so often heard, that they might as well be taught before the others: come/came; become/became; do/did; eat/ate; get/got; forget/forgot; have/had; lose/lost; make/made; read/read; see/saw; go/went. Having facility with these common verbs will go a long way in reducing errors of speech or understanding.

Group II: Verbs that don't change form for the past: beat, burst, cost, cut, hit, hurt, let, put, quit, set, shut, slit, spit, spread, sweat, wet. Well, those are nice and neat, like a freebie, even if they are not the most useful verbs. They don't raise any anxiety. 

Group III: Verbs whose vowel sound changes to long obreak/broke; choose/chose; dive/dove; drive/drove; freeze/froze; ride/rode; rise/rose; sell/sold; shine/shone (when intransitive); speak/spoke; steal/stole; swear/swore; tear/tore; tell/told; wear/wore; wake/woke; weave/wove; write/wrote.

Group IV: Verbs that change to ew: blow/blew; draw/drew; fly/flew; grow/grew; know/knew; throw/threw.

Group V: Verbs that change their endings to ought or aughtbuy/bought; bring/brought; fight/fought; think/thought; catch/caught; teach/taught.

Group VI: Verbs that change their vowel sound to short ebleed/bled; flee/fled; feed/fed; lead/led;fall/fell; meet/met; hold/held.

Group VII: Verbs that change a long ee sound to short e sound and add t at the end: creep/crept;deal/dealt; feel/felt;keep/kept; mean/meant; sleep/slept; speed/sped; sweep/swept; weep/wept .  and  leave/left with the spelling change of v to f. 

Group VIII: Verbs with final t that changes to dbend/bent; build/built; lend/lent; send/sent; spend/spent.

Group IX: Verbs whose middle vowel changes to short abegin/began; drink/drank; ring/rang; run/ran; sing/sang; sink/sank; sit/sat; spring/sprang; stink/stank; swim/swam.

Group X: Verbs that have oo in the past form: shake/shook; stand/stood; take/took; understand/understood.

Group XI: Verbs with ay that changes to aidlay/laid; pay/paid; say/said (sound change here).

Group XII: Verbs that change their inner vowel sound to short u: dig/dug; fling/flung; shrink/shrunk; slink/slunk; spin/spun; sting/stung; strike/struck; swing/swung; win/won (odd spelling)

Group XIII: Verbs with ind that changes to oundbind/bound; find/found; grind/ground; wind/wound.

Group XIV: Verbs with long i that change to short i: hide/hid; bite/bit; slide/slid.

An extension of Group II, verbs that follow no rhyme or reason or pattern (but are not as common as the ones listed in group II:  hear/heard;  shoot/shot; lie/lay

Let me know if I've left any out, OK? 

Copyright Elizabeth Claire 1985, 2011.


Preview: Easy English NEWS for December 2011

  • We are Seven Billion! Food for thought on population growth, needs, factors, differences among continents, countries, religions; new problems.
  • Life in the U.S.A. Looking for a Job, Part One Practical information and suggestions to overcome discouragement in looking for a job. The focus of part one is what employers are looking for; how to network, persist, and "be in the right place at the right time."
  • Events in December covered in Easy English NEWS:
    • Hanukkah
    • Preparing for Winter
    • Christmas
    • Kwanzaa
    • New Year's Eve
    • Temperature Conversion short cut
Your Health: Dr. Majid Ali: Part Two of Eat Well for a Longer Life

Ask a Speech Coach:
Weak Words. Patterns of stress and which words not to stress.

Heroes and History: Clement Clark Moore and America's most popular poem

A Visit from St. Nicholas: (The complete poem on a two-page spread with extensive word help and illustrations!)

Plus our regular features: This Is Your Page (readers' stories),  Funny Stuff, Idioms, the Crossword Puzzle, Let's Talk About It, and Word Help


December 2011 specials

FREE Shipping on all orders over $50 until December 31, 2011. Happy Holidays!


At the website:

Teacher's Guide, Quizzes and Cloze Exercises for December's Easy English NEWS

FREE materials, including Holiday Song Book with 18 traditional songs, all with wordhelp.

Rummage around, you may find something you absolutely can't do without.

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Elizabeth Claire

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