Understanding the difference between words like begun and began is important as it will save you from making mistakes in your English writing and understanding different English conversations.

The debate of begun vs began requires a lot of attention to detail. Both of these verb forms are derived from the English infinitive “to begin.” Even though there is only one letter difference, they are used in very different ways.

As explained earlier, they both are different forms of the verb “to begin”. This irregular verb has several functions. For example:

Annie begins to read.  

Spending a lot of time with irregular verbs like this is one of the best ways to deal with them. Try writing the conjugations out, as well as doing a lot of reading and listening. Using irregular verbs correctly will become second nature to you over time, and you’ll be able to use them with confidence when speaking and writing.

In your initial learning stages, you will make several mistakes and that is not a big problem. Learning English tenses is a gradual process that requires excessive time and practice.

Several tricky English words may confuse you at first. For instance, a lot of people get confused between has vs. have. Stick to this guide till the end and you will understand some valuable tricks to distinguish between begun and began.

Explaining ‘Began’

The simple past tense of the verb “to begin” is “began.” This tense is used to describe a completed action (of any duration). When we use the word “began” in English, we must remember to use it alone.

Let’s explore it with the help of a few examples:

  • It began to rain.
  • He began to sing.
  • I began to cry when I saw my bleeding knee.
  • Annie began to run because she is afraid of dogs.

As seen in the last two examples, “began” can be used before a conjunction (such as “when”) to introduce another clause (e.g. when I saw my bleeding knee). It never changes shape.

So, no matter where you are starting your sentence from, whether it is from ‘I, you, he, she, we or they’, ‘began’ stays the same. It remains unchanged.

The most important thing to notice is that “began” is always used without a “companion,” which is known as an auxiliary verb in grammatical terms. This will be more important in the following section, so say goodbye to “began” and hello to “begun.”

Explaining Begun

Begun cannot be used alone. Rather, it always needs a ‘companion’ (an auxiliary verb) around. That is the major difference between begun vs began and if you successfully remember this difference, you will end up making the right choice of words in your sentences.

The English verb “to have” is the source of the most common auxiliary verb forms. (For instance, had, has, and will have.)

Unlike the simple past, “begun” is a past participle that is used with the three perfect tenses: past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect. They, too, describe a completed action, but they are more complex, implying how a previous action affects a current condition.

Let’s take a look at the examples:

I had begun to style my dress for the party when I realized there was a storm outside.

To construct these sentences, we must begin with the auxiliary verb and then add “begun”:

  • They had begun to play cricket before I arrived.
  • John has begun to drink again.
  • The ladies have begun cooking the meal that we are going to eat tonight.
  • I will have begun my discourse by the time you arrive.

Remember that in informal writing and speech, the personal pronoun and the auxiliary verb are usually contracted and followed by an apostrophe, as in they’d begun. This is not intended to confuse language learners, but rather to make things easier to express when speaking in natural English!

Another prominent way to express “Began” or “Begun”

There are several alternatives to the verb “to begin.” For example, a very major alternative is ‘to start’. This verb is slightly more informal, and it can be used in most situations when speaking or writing. However, be cautious when using this in formal writing, as “to begin” is frequently a better option.

“To start” is also a common English verb. This means that, while choosing between “began” and “begun” may cause some confusion, dealing with the tenses of “to start” is easier and even lesser confusing.

Let’s look at a few examples in the simple past tense:

  • I started my job last week.
  • Kids started laughing when they saw the joker.
  • We started a new gym class.
  • Annie started learning French.

Now, here is “to start” as a past participle with the perfect tenses:

  • She has started riding an old bicycle.
  • It has started to rain.
  • We have started a new assignment at work.
  • He will have started his work till now.

That is how ‘start’ becomes ‘started’ so easily, this is the reason it is considered to be a very easy alternative to ‘to begin’. If you want to learn alternatives to tricky English words, you can book your lessons with italki. You can now learn English at italki under the supervision of the best online English teachers who will help you boost your English speaking and writing skills. Book your trial lesson with italki to avail yourself of the fantastic learning opportunities.

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Idiomatic expressions with the verb “To Begin”

To begin by doing something

The first idiomatic expression we’ll look at is to begin (by) doing something, which means to start something by doing something specific.

Let’s take an example using the infinitive form of “to begin.”

  • I begin by showing how to browse a file.

In the simple past (using “began”), it looks like this:

  • I began by adding chocolate to the cake.

By using a perfect tense (auxiliary verb+ begun), it looks like this:

  • He had begun by stretching before going out for cardio.

To begin to see the light

The second expression is to begin to see the light. This is a useful English expression for expressing how a situation is clear to you now but was not clear to you in the past.

For instance:

  • She begins to see the light about how horrible her landlady is.

In the simple past:

  • You began to see the light when it came to your family.

Using a perfect tense (auxiliary verb+ begun):

  • He will have begun to see the light by the time he realizes someone has stolen his wallet.

Life begins at (age)

This is a phrase used in reference to the aging process. It means that just because someone reaches a certain age (typically 40), that doesn’t mean they can’t restart their life and enjoy it.

For example:

  • Life begins at 40.

In the simple past (using began):

  • Life began at 70 for John.

And in a perfect tense (auxiliary verb+ begun):

  • Life has begun at age 50 for Annie.


So this was all about dealing with the confusion of begun vs began. Some fresh learners claim that English is hard to learn because of such tricky and twisted words. But, if you keenly observe their use in written texts, it will help to minimize your confusion and allow you to structure your sentences correctly with the right choice of words.  

You can develop your English grammar skills with italki. It allows you to book your trial lesson to set the required tone of learning. Highly qualified and professional English tutors (mostly native speakers) will train you to use the right English words in your daily and professional conversations.

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