Verb tenses: adding -ed and -ing

The basic form of a verb is called the infinitive. It normally occurs with the word to as in ‘I want to ask you a question.’ Verbs may change their spelling according to which tense is being used.

The past tense refers to things that happened in the past. To make the past tense of regular verbs, the ending -ed is added to the infinitive ('I asked her a question'). The present participle refers to things that are still happening. To make the present participle, the ending -ing is added to the infinitive ('I am asking her a question').

Often there's no need to make any other spelling changes when you add -ed and -ing to the infinitive but there are some cases when it's necessary to do so. Here are some rules to help you get it right:

Verbs ending with a silent e

If the verb ends with an e that isn’t pronounced (as in bake or smile), then you need to drop this final -e before adding -ed and -ing:

verb past tense present participle
bake baked baking
smile smiled smiling

 

Verbs ending in -ee, -ye, and -oe (such as free, dye, and tiptoe) do not drop the final -e when adding -ing:

verb past tense present participle
free freed freeing
dye dyed dyeing
tiptoe tiptoed tiptoeing

 

A very few verbs keep the final -e when adding -ing to distinguish them from similar words. For example, singe becomes singeing rather than singing (which is the present participle of sing).

Verbs ending with a vowel plus -l

If the verb ends with a vowel plus -l (as in travel or equal), then you need to double the l before adding -ed and -ing in British English:

verb past tense present participle
travel travelled travelling
distil distilled distilling
equal equalled equalling

 

This rule doesn’t apply in American English: see more information about the differences between British and American spelling

Verbs ending with a single vowel plus a consonant

If the verb ends with a single vowel plus a consonant, and the stress is at the end of the word (e.g. refer), then you need to double the final consonant before adding -ed and –ing:

verb past tense present participle
admit admitted admitting
commit committed committing
refer referred referring

 

If the verb ends with a vowel plus a consonant and the stress is not at the end of the word, you don’t need to double the final consonant when adding -ed and -ing:

verb past tense present participle
inherit inherited inheriting
target targeted targeting
visit visited visiting

 

If the verb has only one syllable and ends with a single vowel plus a consonant (e.g. stop), then you need to double the final consonant before adding -ed and -ing:

verb past tense present participle
stop stopped stopping
tap tapped tapping
sob sobbed sobbing

Verbs ending with two vowels plus a consonant

If the verb ends with two vowels plus a consonant, you should generally not double the final consonant:

verb past tense present participle
treat treated treating
wheel wheeled wheeling
pour poured pouring

Verbs ending in -c

If the verb ends in -c (e.g. panic), you need to add a -k before adding -ed and -ing, and also -er.

verb past tense present participle related noun
picnic picnicked picnicking picnicker
mimic mimicked mimicking mimicker
traffic trafficked trafficking trafficker

 

Back to spelling.

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