Began vs begun: The correct uses and clearing confusions

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Began vs begun: The correct uses and clearing confusions

Verb tenses can be confusing because the same verb may have multiple variations for different tense forms. Irregular verb forms complicated the matter because their conjugating varieties often don't make immediate sense.

One such irregular verb is "begin". Many people struggle with congregating “begin” correctly in the past forms: began and begun. Comparing "began" vs "begun" will yield considerable differences, but people still misuse them often and make silly mistakes. 

Regular verbs in the English language follow a simple rule for past tenses – they add the suffix '-ed' at the end of the word. For example, the past tense and past participle tense forms of the words "talk" and "dance" are "talked" and "danced," respectively. But irregular verbs like "begin," "drive," or "eat" don't follow this rule.

Began vs begun: The differences

When people speak, they often interchange "began" with "begun" and vice versa. But you cannot interchange them when writing in either academic or professional capacity. 

Both "began" and "begun" are the tense forms of the verb "begin," meaning "to start" or "get going." The word is used in the simple present tense to describe an action happening at the moment. 

So 'begin' is the main verb, and 'began' is its simple past form. On the other hand, 'begun' is the participle variation used in perfect tenses.

Some examples of "begin":

  • How do you begin your day?
  • The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
  • He begins a new project.
  • Let's begin our practice.
  • The football match will begin soon.

Let's see how it functions in the past and participle tenses. 

When to use began

"Began" is the simple past tense form of the verb "begin," referring to a past action. It indicates that an activity or event started or happened at some point. You can use the word with both simple and progressive verbs, as in the following examples:

  • Example 1: I began to study more diligently.
  • Example 2: She began to feel better after taking some medication.

In most cases, using "began" is appropriate when describing an event with a definite beginning point in the past. While it refers to a finished activity, it may also indicate an ongoing action that was started in the past (Example 2). 

Here are some more examples for your better understanding:

  • I began my karate lessons two months ago.
  • The football World Cup began in 1930. 
  • I can't remember when the storm began. 
  • Beth is a professional singer, but she began her career as an actor. 
  • He began working at 6 am.

Always remember that you cannot use "began" with an auxiliary verb. So, using it with have, has, is, are, or other helping verbs is incorrect.  

  • The project was began on time. (Incorrect)
  • I have began my karate lessons two months ago. (Incorrect)
  • The football World Cup had began in 1930. (Incorrect)

When to use begun

"Begun" is the participle form of the verb "begin," so it's only correct when you use it in perfect tenses. 

To use the word correctly, you must use it in conjunction with another verb, or a helping verb, to be precise. For example, "I have begun to study for my test." In this sentence, "have begun" is the main verb, and "to study" is the infinitive. You cannot use the word "begun" by itself.

The word is applicable for past, present, and future tenses. Check these examples for a better understanding:

In the present perfect tense

We use the present perfect tense when we want to talk about an action that began in the past and continues into the present. The present perfect verb tense is formed with has or have + past participle. 

For example, "I have begun my project'' means that I started it in the past and am still working on it.

In the past perfect tense

We use the past perfect tense when discussing an action that began and ended in the past. The formation of the past perfect verb tense includes had + past participle. 

For example, "I had begun my project'' means that I started it before something else happened, and it was already completed by then.

In the future perfect tense

The future perfect tense indicates that an event or activity will start at a certain point. 

For example, "I will have begun studying for my test tomorrow morning" means that I will start studying for my test tomorrow morning.

Common confusions about the usage of "began" and "begun"

"Began" and "begun" are two different forms of one verb and have separate functions and meanings in English grammar. However, non-native speakers can still confuse their usage in some specific contexts. 

In a negative sentence

To determine the use of the correct word in a negative, you need to dissect the sentence structure. "Begun" is the right word for all present perfect and past perfect sentences. For instances:

  • Present Perfect: The party has not begun yet.
  • Past Perfect: The party had not begun yet.

A simple present or past sentence negation will include "did not" or "do/does not" and the base verb. So, the simple past form "began" won't be used in these cases. For instances:

  • Present Perfect: The organiser does not begin the concert on time.
  • Past Perfect: The organiser did not begin the concert on time. 

In possessive words

Possessive words or contractions create another ground for confusion. Since a contraction is a shortened form of a word or words, it's easy to mix up the missing letters. Is it a verb, auxiliary, or modal? Look at the following examples:

  • She's begun working out.
  • It's just begun. 

Some people may consider these examples wrong, thinking that the complete forms of "she's" and "it's" are "she is" and "it is." However, the apostrophe here represents the short form of "has," so the use of "begun" in the sentences is correct. 

"Began" or "begun": How to remember?

The spellings of these words are pretty similar, except for an "a" and "u." However, their pronunciations are somewhat different:

Began: /bɪˈɡæn/ — sounds like bee·gan (American) and buh·gan (British)

—Some similar sounding words are undone, shun, and bun.

Begun: /bɪˈɡʌn/ — sounds like bee·guhn (American) and buh·guhn (British)

—Some similar sounding words are scan, fan, and clan.

When it comes to grammatical applications, remember that "begun" always needs a helping verb (a variation of "have" in most cases). Sometimes, you can pair it up with am, is, are, was, or were in passive sentences. 

FAQs about began vs begun

Has officially "begun" or "began?"

"Has officially begun" is the correct sentence here because it's a present participle tense, and "begun" is the right participle form of "begin." You can use "began" only in the simple past tense. For instance: 

  • The mayor has officially begun her campaign for reelection.
  • The mayor began her campaign for reelection last month. 

"Was begun": Is it correct?

From a grammatical sense, "was begun" is correct. The sentence uses the "verb + past participle" structure, so using "began" would be a mistake in this case. But using "begun" in the passive voice sounds a bit forced. Any English speaker will use the active form instead. 

  • The charity was begun as his dream project. (sounds forced)
  • He began that charity as his dream project. (sounds natural)

How do you use the word "begun" in a sentence?

You can use "begun" in a sentence if it's in the participle form. 

  • Present Perfect: He has begun learning the language.
  • Past Perfect: He had begun learning the language.
  • Future Perfect: He will have begun learning the language before the new semester. 

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