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Does anyone know of a particular "rule" to know which words are their own past tense (such as "hurt"), and aren't modified for time? I'd like an easy rule to tell my students

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    You can do it only with a list. There are about 15 irregular verbs with three identical stem forms. All have the final consonant t, e.g. cut let hit put - hurt burst cast.
    – rogermue
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 10:10
  • @rogermue: and also the ones with final consonant "d", like spread and shed. Googling the examples will find you several lists of them. Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 10:46
  • @Peter Shor Right, a list of irregular verbs and three identical stem forms ending with final d is also needed. I forgot.
    – rogermue
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 17:28
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    My advice? Make them memorize a list of irregular verbs: In the long run, they will thank you. :)
    – Lambie
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 18:02

2 Answers 2

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"to hurt" is an irregular verb and irregular verbs are, well, irregular. There is no rule and the non-native student has to be introduced to them and learn them. Since there are so many of them, it would be sensible to omit those that are very rarely used.

Irregular verbs are those that don't form the past simple and past participle by adding "-ed" to the infinitive. There are three groups of such verbs.

In the first group the past simple and past participle are just like the infinitive:

  • cut, cut, cut
  • put, put, put
  • set, set, set

In the second group, only the past simple and the past participle are identical.

  • buy, bought, bought
  • win, won, won

Finally, in the third group, any form is different from the other two.

  • go, went, gone
  • take, took, taken.

According to Wikipedia the dozen most frequently used English verbs are all irregular. For a complete list of irregular verbs, including verbs formed by adding prefixes to the infinitive (mistake, overdo, undergo, etc) see "list of irregular verbs".

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  • For what it's worth, the third category ("strong verbs") tends to have its own internal rules, although they've been mutated over time. For example, an Anglo-Saxon i-stem verb is very likely to form it's past tense with -o- and its past participle with -en: hence drive, drove, driven; ride, rode, ridden; strive, strove, striven; stride, strode, stridden; smite, smote, smitten; bide, bode, bidden; etc. The verb to dive is currently toeing the line between strong and weak verbs, having acquired the past tense dove but resisting the past participle *diven.
    – Anonym
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 14:14
  • @Anonym It's difficult to establish rules for the third category as different formations exist nowadays. (begun, sown, shown, rung, etc.) I do agree, however, that the strong-type inflection "tends to have its own internal rules" but a student would have to learn which sub-group follows which rule, which imho wouldn't help much.
    – Centaurus
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 14:36
  • I suppose it depends on the student's learning style. I know that I remember material better when I understand the underlying patterns, however small their application may be.
    – Anonym
    Commented Aug 17, 2015 at 15:30
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It's not a rule; it's a verb class. Hurt is a member of a small class of verbs (call them hit, hurt, set) that have unusual characteristics:

  1. they're all monosyllables
  2. they all end in t or d
  3. they all have only one verb form

And the principal parts of these verbs (present, past, passive participle, like go, went, gone) are

set, set, set (also upset, offset, etc)
cut, cut, cut (also recut, etc)
wet, wet, wet (causative uses wetted)
thrust, thrust, thrust (also rethrust, etc.)
hit, hit, hit
shit, shit, shit
put, put, put
let, let, let
hurt, hurt, hurt
split, split, split
cast, cast, cast
fit, fit, fit
cost, cost, cost
bet, bet, bet
bid, bid, bid
knit, knit, knit
quit, quit, quit
rid, rid, rid
shed, shed, shed
shut, shut, shut
spread, spread, spread
wed, wed, wed

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  • I know you know this, but for future visitors I'd like to point out there are actually two different put verbs, and these have distinctive inflectional patterns. Presumably because golf and putting greens are “new”, the put rhyming with cut and shut is regular with put, putted, putted. The put, put, put that your post mentions is the older and more general-purpose put rhyming with root and foot.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 20:33
  • The verb for golfing is spelled putt, with a double T, to comply with English spelling. So it's putt, putted, putted. Commented Jan 22, 2023 at 23:12

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