Principal Parts

Principal Parts

Now that we know the types of verbs we might encounter, we are ready to look at the main parts that make up a verb.

There are four principal parts:

Principle Part Example
Basic Form

(An action in the present: I + present tense)

Past Tense

(An action in the past: I + past tense)

Past Participle

(Often the same as the past tense. Usually formed by adding -ed to the present tense)

Present Participle

(Formed by adding -ing to the basic form)


Not all grammar books include the present participle, but we’ve done so to show that all verb tenses can be formed from these principal parts.

By themselves past and present participles cannot be verbs (they’re called verbals), but with helping verbs they can be part of the verb phrase (e.g., will be seeing).

There are some verbs that are a bit irregular in how they form these four principal parts. That’s why they are called irregular verbs!

Here are some examples:

Basic Form Past Tense Past Participle Present Participle
drive drove driven driving
read read read reading
sing sang sung singing
swim swam swum swimming

If you’re a native speaker, but you’re not quite sure how to form the past participle, you can ask yourself, how would I finish a phrase such as he had or it was … ?

For example, if the verb is swear you might say he had sworn and know that the past participle is sworn.

If English is not your first language, it will take you some time to learn the few hundred irregular verbs that have different principal parts.