When you begin to learn English, everything appears intimidating.
Things start to fall into place over time but the nagging lack of clarity over small differences in some words could be irritating.
You may learn to speak fluent English in a few months. You might even attain a fairly good level of spoken English and yet may not know the difference between variations like ‘began and begun’.
Don’t worry! We will clarify everything.
Began and Begun are two verb forms of the infinitive “to begin”.
There’s only the difference of a letter but the two words are used in quite different ways. This irregular verb in the English language serves several functions. It most commonly describes an action that starts to take place. For example, ‘He begins to eat’.
Learning to deal with irregular verbs can come easy if you spend time with them. Do a lot of listening, reading and writing out the conjugations. Over time, you will learn to use irregular verbs naturally, confidently and correctly when speaking and writing.
‘Began’ Prefers to Remain Alone
If you can think of words as living (personified), you may attribute to the word ‘began’ the characteristics of an introvert, who prefers to remain alone. So when using the word “began”, remember to use it on its own.
Grammatically ‘begin’ is the verb whose simple past tense is ‘began’. This tense is used for action words that were over or finished in the past. Here are some examples to note:
The child began to cry.
The girl began to sing.
The boy began to cry when he saw the scary clown.
I began to study when the exam approached.
You began to run because you were scared.
You may note from the above that ‘began’ can come before a conjunction such as ‘when’ to introduce another clause.
In the above examples, these are ‘he saw the scary clown’ and ‘the exam approached’. The word ‘began’ never changes its form. It stays the same whether the sentence begins with I, you, he/she, they, etc.
The other important thing to note is that ‘began’ stays alone. It is known as the ‘auxiliary’ verb.
‘Begun’ Needs a Friend
In contrast to the word ‘began’, the word ‘begin’ is an extrovert who needs a friend to hang around.
If you can remember this major difference, you will probably never mistake the two forms again.
The English verb ‘to have’ gives us the most common auxiliary verb forms such as will have, have, has, and had, etc.
Began is the simple past. In contrast, ‘begun’ is a past participle that can be used with three perfect – past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect – tenses. It means this word describes an action that is completed. However, there is more to its complexity. It suggests the impact of a previous action on the current situation. Here are some examples:
I had begun to get ready for the party when I realized there was a guest coming.
These sentences are formed beginning with an auxiliary verb followed by “begun”.
They had begun the meeting before I arrived there.
He has begun to gamble again.
We have begun admitting the students that we are going to teach.
I will have begun my lecture by the time you arrive.
As a student of spoken English, you should remember that in speech and informal writing, a contraction of the personal pronoun and the auxiliary verb takes place. For example, they had becomes ‘they’d’. This helps in using the language naturally.
“Began”/ Begun” Can be Expressed in Another Way
If all else fails, there are alternatives available in place of these words. These alternatives follow from the alternatives of the verb “to begin”.
The alternative verb is “to start”. In formal writing, ‘to begin’ is the recommended verb to use.
There might be some confusion choosing ‘began’/’begun’ but ‘to start’ is relatively easier to use.
Here are some examples of the use of ‘to start’ in the simple past:
I started to sing last night.
They started laughing when they saw the comedy show.
We started fresh swimming class.
You started learning aerobics.
Here are some examples of the use of ‘to start’ as a past participle with the perfect tenses. Once again, we have to use the auxiliary verb.
He had started learning music.
She had started yoga classes.
It has started to rain.
We have started our regular prayer meetings.
He will have started at the airport now.
You may note that the application of ‘start’ is easier than ‘began’/’begun’. ‘Start’ becomes ‘started’ in both cases.
“To begin”: Idiomatic Expressions
To begin has several idiomatic expressions. Here are some of them: Life begins at (age), to begin to see the light, and to begin by doing something.
Life begins at 40/50/70 means a beginning or a fresh start at a certain age. Here are the examples of sentences with this expression, in simple past and in a perfect tense with the use of auxiliary verb + begun.
Life began at 70 for the president (simple past using began).
Life has begun at 73 for the retired headmaster (auxiliary verb + begun).
We hope you have gained some clarity with the use of some of these words. With time and practice, you will gain proficiency in the use of the language.