Lindsay McMahon
"The English Adventurer"

English conversations forget past tense English verbs

What should you do if you are speaking in a group of people and you forget the past tense of a word that you want to use?

Should you ask someone? Should you say it incorrectly? Should you use gestures to help them guess?

Find out today.

A practical example:

When it comes to the past tense of some English verbs like “swim” even native speakers get confused.

The correct forms are: swim, swam, swum but it sounds weird to us to say “swim.”

A native speaker might talk about this verb and use a different word to avoid using it in the past tense.


Let’s take a question from a listener:

What should I do when I can’t recall the past tense of an irregular verb during a conversation?

For example, I want to say “I flew from New York to Boston”, but I don’t know the past tense of the verb “fly“. Perhaps the best way would be to rephrase and say something like “I took a plane…,” but lets say I can’t come up with it at the moment.

And I don’t want to look it up because I don’t want to lose connection! Is it okay to say “I did fly from…”, or use the regular pattern “I flied from…” or just to use the present tense “I fly from..”?

Which one of them would sound the least unnatural?

Or is it better to say “I…. what is the past tense of fly?…”.

Another example would be “I left something at home”, “I wore a jacket“, “I swam“, “I sold my car“ etc.


Great question!

We all deal with this.

We’re going to give you a list of steps in the right order of things to try.


First rephrase it:

Instead of using that specific verb where you don’t know the past tense, try a different one.

So instead of “I flew” you could say “I took a flight,” or  “I was on a flight.”


What if you can’t come up with other ways to rephrase it?

You should be building your vocabulary so that you can quickly substitute in something else.

How can you do this?

When you speak English and you use a phrase like “I rode my bike to work today” you should also always be brainstorming in your mind another way to say that such as:

  • I took my bike to work today.
  • I got to work today by bike.

If you do this often as an exercise in your head then you will always have another phrase available if you need it.


What NOT to do:

Don’t use “did.”

It builds a bad habit and it doesn’t make sense to put did in there by saying “I did fly” when you wanted to say “I flew”unless you are asserting something because it changes the meaning. For example:

  • A: You didn’t fly to Boston. You took a bus, right?
  • B: No, No I did fly to Boston.

In this case “I did” changes the feeling and the meaning of what you are saying. You are disagreeing with what the person said.


Should you use the incorrect past tense?

You asked if you should just use the incorrect past tense when you can’t think of the correct one like ”I flied.”

On one hand we focus on Connection not Perfection here so if you must just get your point across to connect then say it wrong, but there is a better way and that is our next point.


Just ask

I think that asking for help is ideal.

As long as the person has time and seems willing you could build a nice connection by asking someone for a little help.

It doesn’t need to be a huge deal.

It’s not like you are asking them to sit down and give you a full English lesson.

You could gesture that the action happened in the past and say “I fly yesterday” how do you say that again?



Don’t cement bad habits. Prioritize Connection, but don’t make that an excuse not to ask for the correct way to say something.

Ask people you like to help you. When you get the right answer from them write it down and make sure you never make that mistake again.

Just like the native speakers that came to the Boston Adventure,you guys know that they enjoyed helping students. Most people will be happy to help if they can.

Have confidence in their kindness and ask for help!


What questions do you have?

Let us know in the comments below.

  • Badges (1)
  • Badges-1 (1)
  • Badges-2 (1)
  • US_ListenOn_AmazonMusic_button_black_RGB_5X
  • App-Store-Button
  • google-play-badge
  • Badges (1)
  • Badges-1 (1)
  • Badges-2 (1)
  • US_ListenOn_AmazonMusic_button_black_RGB_5X