When speaking or writing English, using the past tense can be confusing. There are many types of tenses when referring to events that have already happened. To make matters worse, English contains many irregular verbs that are conjugated in ways that don’t immediately make sense.
This lack of consistency can (and does) lead to quite a few mistakes. One of the easiest mistakes to make is to misuse began and begun, which are two forms of the irregular verb begin.
In spoken English, the two words are often used interchangeably, but in academic and professional writing, knowing the difference between these words is important.
Began vs Begun: What’s the Difference?
What is the difference between began and begun? In this article, I’ll explain the differences between began and begun, use these words in a sentence, and demonstrate how to choose began or begun and use each correctly.
When to Use Began
What does began mean? Began and begun are both conjugations of the irregular verb “to begin,” which means to start or proceed with something.
Began is the simple past tense form of begin. It does not need any helping, or auxiliary verbs, like had.
So, while you might say,
- Gavin began to open the package.
You would not say,
- Gavin had began to open the package.
Began is never used with a helping verb.
When to Use Begun
You could say,
- Yasmin had begun to eat the cake.
But you wouldn’t say,
- Yasmin begun to eat the cake.
If you’re using begun, it needs a helping verb in order to be correct.
This brings us to the differences between simple past and past participles. Simple past tense describes things that happened in the past. The sentence “Gavin began to open the package” describes an event that happened in the past. The past participle describes something that happened in the past in conjunction with other events in the past.
“Yasmin had begun to eat the cake” describes one of a sequence of events. For instance, one could say,
- Yasmin had already begun to eat the cake by the time we sang to her.
Outside Examples of Began and Begun
- In recent years, it has gone from sort-of moneymaker to money pit: In fiscal 2009-10, BookEnds pocketed $27,897. But revenue began declining after that — from about $20,000 to about $10,000 in fiscal years 2013-14 and 2014-15. –The Dallas Morning News
- The operator of the duck boat, Boston Duck Tours, said after the crash that safety was its top priority and that it had begun taking steps to address the concerns. –Houston Chronicle
As you can see, began is not used with a helping verb.
Begun, on the other hand, is always used with a helping verb.
Trick to Remember the Difference
Because began and begun are so similar, it can be difficult to remember which word is which.
If you find yourself confused, remember that begun rhymes with one, and since begun is a past participle, it needs one more word to go with it: a helping verb.
Summary: Begun vs. Began
Began and begun are two forms of the irregular verb begin.
Began is the simple past conjugation. Began is not used with any helping verb.
Begun is the past participle form. Begun must always have a helping verb to be correct.
If you have trouble deciding which word to use, remember that begun rhymes with one and always needs one helping verb in grammatically correct English.
Being able to use each word accurately when speaking or writing signifies intelligence and professionalism. If you’re having trouble deciding whether to use began or begun, you can always revisit this article as a quick refresher.