Irregular English verbs: say, lay, pay

by Jakub Marian

Tip: See my list of the Most Common Mistakes in English. It will teach you how to avoid mis­takes with com­mas, pre­pos­i­tions, ir­reg­u­lar verbs, and much more (PDF Version).

Most English learners are well aware of the pattern -ay/-aid of irregular English verbs. However, this is more the exception than the rule. There are basically only 3 verbs that follow the pattern:

lay – laid – laid, pronounced /leɪd/
say – said – said, pronounced /sɛd/
pay – paid – paid, pronounced /peɪd/

The only other verbs that follow the pattern are those derived from these by adding a prefix:

lay – inlay, interlay, mislay, overlay, relay*, underlay, waylay
say – gainsay, unsay
pay – overpay, prepay, repay

* “relay” is irregular only in the sense of re-lay (“lay again”). In the sense of “receive and send on information”, it is regular, e.g. “the programme was relayed by satellite”.

All other verbs ending with “ay” are regular, for example:

essay – essayed – essayed
play – played – played
stay – stayed – stayed
[... and many others]

By the way, if you haven’t read my guide on how to avoid the most common mistakes in English, make sure to check it out; it deals with similar topics.

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