Strong Verbs vs. Weak Verbs: What’s the Difference?

Strong verbs definition: Strong verbs are those that change the stem vowel in order to form the past tense or past participle.

Weak verbs definition: Weak verbs are those that add a “-d” or a “-t” ending to the past tense or past participle

What is a Strong Verb?

What are strong verbs? Strong verbs have a change in the vowel of the original verb when they are used in the past tense or as a past participle—or they don’t change at all.

There is no general rule or formula to create the past tense for these verbs. Using most of these verbs in the past tense requires great familiarity with the language.

This is why many new English speakers (whether children or adults) make mistakes when conjugating strong verbs into the past tense. Some native English speakers will even make mistakes when they are speaking quickly or without thinking.

Example of Strong Verbs:

  • Verb: to bring
  • Past tense/participle: brought

Strong and weak verbs The past tense of “to bring” really looks nothing like the original verb. Furthermore, there is a change in stem vowel and stem vowel sound. (“i” to “ou”).

  • Verb: to swim
  • Past tense: swam
  • Past participle: swum
  • Example: The fan, identified as Suli by Spanish newspaper Mundo Deportivo, swam over half a mile to the Barcelona star’s yacht, where he was spotted by security. –The Washington Post

Strong verbs don’t act in a predictable way. Some of them don’t change at all to form various tenses.

For example, Quit > Quit > Quit.

Strong verbs, which are also called irregular verbs, were given their name because they are “strong enough” to create their own endings. They don’t need the usual endings because they can create their own from their own devices.

What is a Weak Verb?

Strong verbs examples What are weak verbs? Weak verbs do not change the stem vowel of the original verb when they are used in the past tense or as a past participle.

There is a general rule or formula to creating the past tense or past participle for these verbs.

Example of weak verb conjugation:

  • Verb: to love
  • Past tense/participle: loved
  • Verb: to sleep
  • Past tense/participle: slept
  • Verb: to work
  • Past tense/participle: worked
  • Example: The site has about forty full-time employees, mostly in New York, where the publication is based, and so far they have worked with more than nine hundred athletes, Robertson told me. –The New Yorker

The past tense of “to love” looks much like the original verb. There is no change in stem vowel (Although, sometimes the sound of the stem vowel will change from long vowel to a short vowel as in the example above.).

Strong Verbs List

Here is a list of some verbs in the base form with their past tense/participle conjugation. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it includes many of the most common ones.

Base verb/past tense or participle:

  • give/gave
  • sing/sang
  • bring/brought
  • choose/chose
  • drive/drove
  • bear/bore
  • wear/wore
  • shake/shook
  • fall/fell
  • sink/sank
  • swim/swam
  • ring/rang
  • stick/stuck
  • catch/caught
  • blow/blew
  • swing/swung
  • string/strung
  • sit/sat
  • come/came
  • grow/grew

Weak Verbs List

Here is a list of weak verbs in the base form with their past tense/participle conjugation. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it includes many of the most common ones.

Base verb/past tense or participle:

  • annoy/annoyed
  • decided/decided
  • close/closed
  • clean/cleaned
  • bounce/bounced
  • jump/jumped
  • look/looked
  • play/played
  • smile/smiled
  • hate/hated
  • move/moved
  • dream/dreamt
  • sleep/slept
  • leap/leapt
  • meet/met
  • bleed/bled
  • keep/kept

Strong Verbs vs. Action/Power Verbs

Strong weak verbs Strong verbs are called such because of their grammatical distinction. That is, strong verbs are only called strong verbs as a result of their past tense conjugation.

Strong verbs should not be confused with action verbs or power verbs.

Actions verbs are generally those which writers think are active or that express action. Action verbs are usually not linking verbs.

Example of action verb:

  • The baby imitated the bird.

This is called an action verb because it “shows” an action. Furthermore, the baby is doing the action, therefore this sentence is written in the active voice.

Power verbs are a kind of action verb. While not a technical grammar term, the term power verb is usually used in the context of business or resume writing.

They include verbs that are active and descriptive about a particular job duty you once had.

Example of power verb:

  • During my tenure, I generated a 300 percent increase in company revenue.

Compare this to something more passive like,

  • Helped increase profits.

Summary: Weak Verbs vs. Strong Verbs

Define strong verb: In grammar, the definition of strong verb is a verb that is not inflected according to a predictable pattern or rule.

Define weak verb: In grammar, the definition of weak verb is a verb whose past tense and past participle are formed predictable according to a rule.

In summary:

  • strong verbs require a change in stem vowel to create the past tense
  • weak verbs do not change stem vowel to create the past tense
  • strong verbs are not action verbs