So it begins: you’re writing a paper for school, and you need to use a past tense form of the word begin. The problem is, you aren’t sure whether to use begun or began. Now the grammatical battle of begun vs. began has begun to rage inside your brain. The good news is, you’re in the right place. Our lesson begins now!
You use the verb begin to show that a process has started. Both begun and began are past tense forms of begin. Begun vs. began can be so confusing because begin is an irregular verb (also known as an “action verb,” or a word that shows that something is happening: run, paint, jump, etc.). An irregular verb is one that, when taking its past tense form, doesn’t follow the usual grammar rules. That’s one of the reasons that it’s so easy to mix up began and begun.
Knowing When to Use Begun vs. Began
The main thing to know about begun vs. began is that begun is the past participle form of the verb begin. That means it has to refer to something that happened in the past. However, for begun to be used properly, it has to be paired with another verb, like has, had, or have. Begin, on the other hand, is the simple past tense form, which in this case means it doesn’t get paired with has, had, or have. Some examples below will clarify how this works in practice.
Examples of Begun
Let’s look at two examples: the first example is incorrect, and the second is correct.
Incorrect: I begun the essay when my little brother interrupted me.
Correct: I had begun the essay when my little brother interrupted me.
As you can see, the correct example includes the word had, which is one of the verbs that must be paired with begun for the usage to be correct.
Examples of Began
Here are two examples of began. Again, the first example is wrong while the second is correct.
Incorrect: The conference finally had began at eight thirty even though it was supposed to start at seven.
Correct: Dinner began at six o’clock—right on time.
The examples above show that forms of the verb have are never paired with began when it’s being used in the past tense.
To review, let’s do just a few more begun vs. began examples. First we’ll look at two correct examples of begun and then two correct examples of began:
I had begun to wrap up my project when my tablet crashed, erasing all my work.
Now that they’re locked up in prison, both robbers have begun to rethink their actions.
I stubbed my toe and began whining but then realized that there are much worse things that can happen to a person.
My boat’s engine began to sputter, and I feared it might be low on gasoline.
Hopefully these examples clear up your confusion. Just remember that there’s always more to learn…your grammatical journey has only just begun!