Conjugation refers to the different form of a verb depending on how it is used and who uses it.
Unlike many other languages, English conjugation is fairly straightforward and presents few problems.
This is the conjugation of a regular English verb, walk.
present: I, you, we, they walk
present: he she it walks
present participle walking
past participle walked
Since almost all verbs have the -s and -ing endings, verbs are usually written just showing the present, past and past participle like this:
walk – walked – walked
Fortunately most verbs in English are regular and spelt this way. There are a few spelling variations (see below) but as a teacher you can deal with these when they arise. Teaching the basic regular forms above will cover the majority of cases.
Irregular verbs can have slightly different conjugations, but they generally differ in the past and the past participle. For example, this is the conjugation of the irregular verb eat.
present: I, you, we, they eat
present: he she it eats
present participle eating
past participle eaten
As you can see, the present third person (he, she it) still takes an –s on the end of the infinitive and the present participle still has an ing on the end of the infinitive. There is a full list of irregular verbs along with their conjugations.
Irregular Third Person
There are also a very few verbs which do not follow the usual -s rule for the third person.
be/am/are/is – was/were – been
can – could – was able to
may – might –
must – had to -had to
ought – –
shall – should
will – will – will
Note that some of these verbs do not have a past and/or participle form.
As you can see, aside from be, these are modal verbs and none take an -s on the third person. Special care should be taken when teaching them.
Sometimes, depending on spelling, regular verbs may change a little more than just adding an -s or -ed to the end.
In this example, the final consonant is doubled up. This happens when the verb ends with a short vowel sound and then a consonant.
present: I, you, we, they shop
present: he she it shops
present participle shopping
past participle shopped
If a verb ends with a consonant and then -e, instead of adding -ed we just add -d and we drop the final -e when we add -ing.
present: I, you, we, they create
present: he she it creates
present participle creating
past participle created
For verbs ending in sibilants (s type sounds) then -es is added to the third person and -ed to the past.
present: I, you, we, they kiss
present: he she it kisses
present participle kissing
past participle kissed
Finally, with verbs ending in -y, the end is replaced by -ies or -ied.
present: I, you, we, they cry
present: he she it cries
present participle crying
past participle cried