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Spelling Rules for Regular Past Verbs

May 10, 2018

For the past few weeks at ESL Library, we’ve been stuck in the past! We’re rewriting our Simple Past lesson (in the Grammar Practice Worksheets section) to include grammar notes, speaking exercises, a writing exercise, and a quiz (available on June 1, 2018). This has inspired us to blog about the Pronunciation Rules of Past Tense Endings and has prompted us to make a new Grammar & Usage Resource on the Spelling Rules for Regular Past Verbs.

English spelling can be tough, but luckily there are some rules to help students in certain situations. While irregular past verbs have far too many spelling changes to list, forming the past tense for regular verbs is relatively easy. We thought we’d share these simple rules in this week’s blog post!


Go over the spelling rules and examples with your students. See if your students can think of other examples for each rule.

Rule #1

If a verb ends in -e, add -d.

  • like → liked
  • arrive → arrived
  • decide → decided

Rule #2

If a verb ends in consonant + -y, change -y to -i and add -ed.

  • carry → carried
  • try → tried
  • study → studied

Rule #3

If a verb ends in vowel + -y, add -ed.*

  • play → played
  • stay → stayed
  • enjoy → enjoyed

Rule #4

If a verb ends in a consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC) pattern, double the final consonant and add -ed.**

  • hug → hugged
  • plan → planned
  • stop → stopped

Rule #5

For all other verbs, add -ed.

  • watch → watched
  • ask → asked
  • clean → cleaned


*Note 1:

There are some exceptions to Rule #3:

  • pay → paid
  • lay → laid

**Note 2:

Rule #4 is true only for verbs that have the stress on the final syllable. Notice the difference below:

  • prefer → preferred
  • visit → visited

Rule #4 also depends on which country’s spelling system you’re using. In the American spelling of words ending in the CVC with consonant + e + l, the final l will not double in the most commonly accepted form (e.g., travel → traveled, cancel → canceled). Most other English-speaking countries prefer to double the final l (e.g., travel → travelled, cancel → cancelled).


Write the following words on the board or print out the worksheet if you’re a subscriber. Have students write the past tense form for each of the following verbs.

  1. cry
  2. decide
  3. walk
  4. sob
  5. enjoy
  6. wash
  7. hurry
  8. refer
  9. clean
  10. free
  11. pour
  12. check
  13. visit
  14. dye
  15. smile
  16. bake
  17. admit
  18. love
  19. pray
  20. listen

Answer Key

  1. cried
  2. decided
  3. walked
  4. sobbed
  5. enjoyed
  6. washed
  7. hurried
  8. referred
  9. cleaned
  10. freed
  11. poured
  12. checked
  13. visited
  14. dyed
  15. smiled
  16. baked
  17. admitted
  18. loved
  19. prayed
  20. listened

Spelling Rules for Regular Past Verbs

Grammar & Usage – Spelling Rules for Regular Past Verbs

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Comments (10)

Marlys A.(Teacher)

Good review.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thank you!

Frédéric (Guest)

Thank you.

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

You're welcome, Frédéric!

Anne H.(Teacher)

Excellent resource, Thank you for sharing

Reply to Comment

Evelyn Chang(Guest)

According to the rule 4, why doesn't the past tense of words look and cook follow the rule 4 CVC pattern?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Evelyn, that's because "look" and "cook" have a VVC (vowel-vowel-consonant) pattern, not a CVC pattern. Hope that helps!

Dulce Anahì Gomez Zúñiga(Guest)

Me encanta lo que se muestra en toda la pagina

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

I'm happy to hear that, Dulce!

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