Does the English language really need both “began” and “begun”? Wouldn’t it be simpler to just have one past tense version of “begin”? Of course it would, but nobody said English grammar would be easy (in fact, many have said the opposite).
So what exactly is the difference between “began” and “begun”? And why should you try to avoid confusing them in your work?
Began (Simple Past Tense)
The verb “begin” means “start.” But whether to use “began” or “begun” for something that has already started depends on how you phrase the sentence.
“Began” is the simple past tense of “begin” and used when describing an action or process that started in the past, but that has now finished:
The Second Boer War began in 1899 and ended in 1902.
You can also use “began” for an ongoing action or event:
The day began well and has gotten better since!
But it’s worth remembering that “began” is most often used for past events that have come to an end, since “begun” has a slightly different use.
Begun (Past Participle)
“Begun” is a past participle, used in the perfect tenses. These tenses help us refer to completed actions, combining a past particple with some form of “have,” “has,” or “had” as a helper verb. For example, the present perfect tense allows us to talk about something which began in the past but continues into the present:
Present Perfect Tense:I have begun writing my book.
The past perfect allows us to refer to something that began in relation to another past action or a specified point in the past. For instance:
Past Perfect Tense:I had begun writing my book by the time you met me.
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And the future perfect lets us refer to something that will have started by a certain point in the future. For example:
Future Perfect Tense:I will have begun writing my book by then.
The key point to remember, then, is that if this word is preceded by some variation of “have,” the correct term to use will be “begun.
Summary: Began or Begun?
There are two things to consider when using “began” or “begun.”
The first is whether your sentence contains a helper verb (usually a variation of “have”), since this will usually mean you need “begun.”
The second is whether what you are describing has already ended. If so, you will usually need to use “began.” Remember:
Began = Simple past tense
Begun = Past participle
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