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Past Tense of Run: Understanding Regular and Irregular Verb Tenses

It’s important to distinguish between past and present tense in your writing so that your reader understands what is happening now versus what happened days, months, or moments before.  It can be tricky, though, to remember how to do so correctly with irregular verbs.

The past tense of “run” is “ran.” In the English language, verbs can be either regular or irregular. While many regular verbs can be changed from present to past tense simply by adding the suffix “ed,” the verb “run” is different. For irregular verbs like “run,” the spelling of the word changes entirely.  

Read more to learn about the differences between regular and irregular verbs and how they are changed from present to past tense. 

Irregular Verbs vs. Regular Verbs 

In addition to there being three categories or types of verbs, each performing a specific function in your sentence, there are also both regular and irregular verbs. 

Regular verbs are the easiest to change from present tense to past tense — you simply need to add the suffix -ed to the base form of the verb. Below are a few examples of base verbs that are regular.

Base VerbPast Tense
–       Play–       Played
–       Call–       Called
–       Smile–       Smiled
–       Kick–       Kicked

However, when regular verbs end in a consonant followed by a “y,” the base form of the verb will also change in spelling, like these:

Base VerbPast Tense
–       Marry–       Married
–       Study–       Studied
–       Cry–       Cried

Base verbs that end in a consonant followed by a “y” require you to change the “y” to an “i” before adding your -ed suffix.

Irregular verbs, however, are not as simple. There are about 200 or so in the English language, and while you certainly do not need to memorize them, as you become more familiar, it’ll become easier to spot them.

Irregular verbs do not follow the normal patterns and rules, and you cannot change an irregular verb from present to past tense by adding -ed (source). Both the simple past and past participle forms are often spelled differently.  

Don’t get too caught up in the differences between simple past and past participles, but you should understand the nuances in each. Simple past refers to something that has happened in the past and has been completed independent of other events (source).

Here are a couple of examples:

1.     Yesterday, I ate yogurt for breakfast.  

2.     I went to the store to buy groceries.

The verbs above are irregular because the base verb form is different from its past tense form. In sentence number one, the base verb is “eat,” and the simple past form is “ate.” 

Similarly, in sentence number two, the base form of the verb is “go,” while the simple past form is “went.” In these cases, the word changes entirely rather than adding an -ed suffix. 

Past participles are a little bit different in that they are usually combined with a helping verb and show that some action has been completed before another event or prior to the present. 

Here is an example: Yesterday, I had eaten yogurt for breakfast before I left for work.  

You can see that the helping verb (had) is added before the irregular verb “eaten.” Because the verb phrase “had eaten” refers to something that has been completed prior to another event (leaving for work), it is a past participle verb form.

Image by David Travis via Unsplash

Four Categories of Irregular Verbs in Past Tense

When we want to show that something has happened in the past, either past simple or past participle, an irregular verb will essentially fall into one of four main categories. 

Again, do not feel that you need to memorize each of these categories, but they will help you to recognize patterns as you become more familiar with spelling changes and verb nuances. 

Category One: Verbs that have the same base form, past simple, and past participle forms.

These verbs are spelled the same and sound the same in each form. Below are some examples:

Base VerbPast Simple and Past Participle
–       Cut–       Cut/Cut
–       Let–       Let/Let
–       Hurt–       Hurt/Hurt
–       Set–       Set/Set

Category Two: Verbs that have a different base form but the same past simple and past participle forms.

These verbs have the same form in both past simple and past participle, but the base form of the verb is spelled and pronounced differently.

Base VerbPast Simple and Past Participle
–       Leave–       Left/Left
–       Feel–       Felt/Felt
–       Think–       Thought/Thought
–       Say–       Said/Said

Here are a couple of example sentences:

1.     I leave work every day at five o’clock. 

2.     I left work yesterday at five o’clock

3.     I had left work at five o’clock, and then I went home and made dinner.

The first sentence uses the base form of the verb, “leave” in present tense. The second sentence uses the same verb in the past simple.

The third sentence uses the past participle form in conjunction with the helping verb to show that the noun (I) had left work (past participle) before another event occurring (making dinner). 

Category Three: Verbs that have the same base form and the same past participle form, but a different past simple form.

The third category is where we find the verb “run.” In this category, we see verbs with the same base form and same past participle form but a different past simple form. We’ll take a closer look at the verb “run” here.

The base verb, “run,” changes to “ran” in past simple and back to “run” in the past participle form.

Base Verb RunPast Simple RanPast Participle Run
I love to run. I run every day.  I ran to the store an hour ago.I ran yesterday for thirty minutes.I had run to the store yesterday before picking up my sister.  I have run for many years as a way to get exercise. 

The key here is recognizing that run will always change to “ran” when used in past tense form unless you want to show that one event has occurred prior to another, as seen in the chart above.

An additional verb that falls into this category is “come.” Look at the sentences below:

–       I will come home after school. 

–       I came home after school.

–       I had come home after school before going to my afterschool job. 

The simple past tense form of “come” is “came.” The past participle form is the same as the base verb form, but there is a helping verb (had) before it to indicate that it happened in the past, prior to another event (the person’s afterschool job). 

The easiest way to figure out which form you want to use is to think about when the action is happening and whether it is happening in relation to another event. 

Additionally, you will find that past participle forms of verbs always appear in conjunction with a helping verb — see the list at the beginning of this article for more helping verb examples.

Category Four: Verbs with a different base from, different past simple, and different past participle form. 

In some ways, category four is the easiest category because all three forms of the verb are different. These verbs are each spelled differently depending on how they are used. Look at a few more examples below:

Base VerbPast SimplePast Participle
–       Go–       Went–       Gone
–       Know–       Knew–       Known
–       Fall–       Fell–       Fallen
–       Eat–       Ate–       Eaten
–       Drink–       Drank–       Drunk
–       Drive–       Drove–       Driven

Here are a few example sentences:

1.     I go to school every day. (present tense)

2.     I went to school yesterday. (past tense)

3.     I have gone to school every day this week. (past participle) 

Again, with the past participle form, you see the helping verb “have” is before the past tense of the verb, “go.”

These verbs can be pretty confusing, but don’t let yourself get overwhelmed! You’ll be surprised how quickly you get the hang of it and start remembering which verbs fall under what category.  

In the meantime, remember these tips and tricks to keep you organized as you learn.

Tips and Trick to Understanding Irregular Verbs
1. Most regular verbs require an -ed suffix to show that an action has happened in the past.
2. If a regular verb ends in a consonant followed by a “y,” first change the “y” to an “i” before you add your -ed ending.
3. Irregular verbs cannot be changed to past tense with an -ed ending, such as when “run” becomes “ran” in the past tense.
4. A past simple verb shows that something has happened in the past independent of another event or the present.
5. A past participle verb shows that something has happened in the past before another event has occurred or before the present time and is used in conjunction with a helping verb.

Try to also remember the four categories of irregular verbs. Doing so will help you as you organize the different spellings of verbs that fall into each category. 

When it comes to the verb “run,” remember that it falls into category three, making the present tense and past participle the same, while the simple past is different (ran). 

Understanding Types of Verbs 

Verbs play an important role — without them, you won’t have a sentence at all. Instead, you’ll end up with a fragment or incomplete sentence that may confuse your reader.

Remember that all sentences need both a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). In this way, you can correctly communicate what is happening, when, and how.  

The proper definition of a verb is that it is a word that shows an action or a state of being (source). Some verbs are easy to spot since they are physical actions, such as run, play, jump, kick, speak, or sit. 

Others can be trickier because they do not show a specific action — these verbs are called linking verbs or helping verbs. 

Below is a simple chart with a few examples illustrating the differences between the three main types of verbs.

Action VerbsLinking VerbsHelping Verbs
 These verbs show physical or mental action.These verbs connect or link the subject of a sentence to what follows. They are often a form of “to be.” These verbs come before action or linking verbs and act as “helpers.” 
1.     Run
2.     Eat
3.     Read
4.     Wonder
5.     Laugh
6.     Kick
7.     Whisper
8.     Dance
9.     Hit
10.  Throw
1.     Am/Am Being
2.     Is/Is Being
3.     Are/Are Being
4.     Was/Were
5.     Has/Have Been
6.     Could/Could Be
7.     Should/Should Be
8.     Will be or Will Have
9.     Might/Might Be
10.  Shall/Shall Be
1.     Can
2.     Will
3.     Must
4.     May
5.     Could
6.     Should
7.     Might
8.     Had
9.     Have
10.  Shall

Linking verbs and helping verbs can sometimes overlap. We won’t get into too much detail about that here since our main focus is on understanding past and present tense verbs, but it’s pretty easy to do a quick check to determine if your verb is a linking or helping verb.

To test, look to see if there is an action verb following the “to be” verb. If there is an action verb immediately following, then what you have is a helping verb (source).

If there is no action verb following but, rather, it stands alone, it is a linking verb. Take a look at the examples below:

1.     Tommy was reading his book in his room.

2.     Tommy was alone.  

In the first sentence, the verb “was” is followed by an action, “reading.”  Therefore, in this sentence, “was” is a helping verb.

Conversely, in the second sentence, “was” is not followed by a physical action but rather a state of being. Therefore, “was,” in this instance, is a linking verb.

To read and understand more about linking verbs and helping verbs, specifically with present and past tense, you can read “Have Run or Had Run: When to Use the Proper Past Tense.”  

Final Thoughts

Verbs can be tricky — there’s no doubt about it. But your sentences would be incomplete without them, so they are a vital component to making sure your message is clear and comprehensible to your reader.

Remember that irregular verbs like “run” often require a change in spelling to show the past tense form. Keep practicing with each new verb you learn, and you will find that you are memorizing them more quickly than you may realize!  

If you need helping with adding style to your writing or keeping track of some of these rules, be sure to check out both The Oxford New Essential Dictionary and Dryer’s English style guide on Amazon. They are both great tools to have on hand as you continue to learn.