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:

verbpast tensepresent participle
bakebakedbaking
smilesmiledsmiling

 

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

verbpast tensepresent participle
freefreedfreeing
dyedyeddyeing
tiptoetiptoedtiptoeing

 

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:

verbpast tensepresent participle
traveltravelledtravelling
distildistilleddistilling
equalequalledequalling

 

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:

verbpast tensepresent participle
admitadmittedadmitting
commitcommittedcommitting
referreferredreferring

 

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:

verbpast tensepresent participle
inheritinheritedinheriting
targettargetedtargeting
visitvisitedvisiting

 

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:

verbpast tensepresent participle
stopstoppedstopping
taptappedtapping
sobsobbedsobbing

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:

verbpast tensepresent participle
treattreatedtreating
wheelwheeledwheeling
pourpouredpouring

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.

verbpast tensepresent participlerelated noun
picnicpicnickedpicnickingpicnicker
mimicmimickedmimickingmimicker
traffictraffickedtraffickingtrafficker

 

Back to spelling.

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