“Mr. Grinch! The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!” This wonderful lesson in irregular verbs is from the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

“Mr. Grinch! The three words that best describe you are as follows, and I quote: Stink, stank, stunk!”

This wonderful lesson in irregular verbs is from the song “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch” in the animated adaptation of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!”

Irregular verbs are those that don’t follow the “regular” pattern of inflection. For a regular verb, like “walk,” the pattern is:

“I walk a mile every day” (present tense).

“We walked to the bus stop” (past tense).

“They have walked that same route for years” (past participle).

But notice what happens when our cast of characters decides to go faster:

“I run a mile every day.”

“We ran to the bus stop” (no “-ed” ending).

“They have run that same route for years” (back to the same form as the present).

A different irregular verb pattern emerges when they don’t move at all:

“I stand” (present), “we stood” (past), “they have stood” (past participle).

There seems to be something about verbs with “in” in the middle that creates irregularity. In the Grinch quote above, for example, we have “stink,” “stank,” “stunk.” Yes, those are the correct forms.

When an athlete, commenting after a bad loss, says, “We really stunk it up out there,” he (or she) should say “stank.” That won’t make it smell any better, though.

Webster’s allows the option of “stunk” for the past tense, but Bryan A. Garner is adamant in “Garner’s Modern American Usage”: That use of “stunk” stinks.

Other verbs in the “stink” club are “drink” (“drank,” “drunk”); “shrink” (“shrank,” “shrunk”); and “sink” (“sank,” “sunk”).

However, “slink” becomes “slunk” in both the past and past participle, and “think” goes an entirely different direction with “thought” for both forms. What were they thinking? “Bring” (“brought,” “brought”) does the same thing.

Also among the “-ing” clan (there’s that “in” again), we have “ring” (“rang,” “rung”); “sing” (“sang,” “sung”); and “spring” (“sprang,” “sprung”).

And there’s that other pattern that includes “swing” (“swung,” “swung”); “sting” (“stung,” “stung”); “string” (“strung,” “strung”) and “fling” (“flung,” “flung”).

Of course, there are some regular verbs in the “in” crowd, like “wink” and “blink” — both eye actions, for some reason.

Some of you may have noticed that there’s another irregular verb in the Grinch introduction — in the title. That would be “stole,” the past tense of “steal.” The past participle is “stolen.”

Two other irregular verbs probably cause more trouble than all the rest of them combined, our old buddies “lay” and “lie.”

“Lay” (in the simplest sense, “to place”) changes to “laid” in the past tense and past participle.

“Lie” (“to rest”) becomes “lay” in the past tense (why, oh, why did they do that?) and “lain” as past participle.

One of the most common errors with them, however, involves the present participles — specifically, using “laying” (which requires an object) in place of “lying” (which doesn’t). Things that are at rest on a surface are “lying” there, not “laying” there.

Finally, three unusual irregular verbs are also the smallest:

“Do” becomes “did” in the past tense and “done” as past participle. OK, that’s not all that strange. But how about “go,” “went” and “gone”? Where did “went” come from?

The champion of change, though, is “be.” In the present tense, the state of being is expressed I “am”; he, she or it “is”; and you, we and they “are.” For the past tense, we have “was” and “were.”

The past participle is “been.” For all but third-person singular pronouns, we use the phrase “have been.” But for “he,” “she” or “it,” it’s “has been” — which also has become an informal noun, “has-been,” for someone who used to be somebody.

As is often said in medical venues and advertising for laxatives, irregularity can be a problem.

Next time: Literal and figurative.

Read Barry Wood’s Wood on Words blog at www.rrstar.com/blogs/barrywood.