Word Choice: Began vs. Begun
  • 2-minute read
  • 25th November 2014

Word Choice: Began vs. Begun

They are similar in spelling, but what exactly is the difference between the words ‘began’ and ‘begun’? Both stem from the verb ‘begin’, but they have specific uses. Read on to learn more about how they should be used.

Began

The word ‘began’ is the simple past tense of ‘begin’, which means ‘start’. ‘Began’ is therefore used to describe things which happened in the past:

I began to run just as the bus pulled away.

However, ‘began’ is never used with auxiliary verbs (i.e. verbs, such as ‘has’ or ‘would have’, that add additional information to another verb in a sentence).

Begun

The word ‘begun’ is the past participle of ‘begin’. ‘Begun’ is used in the perfect tense sentences. It is, therefore, incorrect to write ‘I begun’, as ‘begun’ can never be used without an auxiliary verb (‘has’, ‘have’ or ‘had’). Thus, we must say that something ‘has begun’ or ‘had begun’.

The auxiliary verb used with ‘begun’ affects the tense of the sentence. When combined with ‘has’ or ‘have’, it is part of the present perfect tense. Typically, this shows that something started in the past and continues in the present:

I have begun writing my novel.

When combined with ‘has’, ‘begun’ is part of the past perfect tense. This is typically used when describing a completed action in relation to another event:

I had begun to write when my computer died.

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The auxiliary verb and past participle in sentences like these can sometimes be separated by a negative, such as ‘not’ or ‘cannot’, as in the following:

I have not begun to write my essay yet.

The Difference

The difference between ‘began’ and ‘begun’ is a matter of tense. Remember that the simple past tense (‘began’) does not require an auxiliary verb, while the past participle (‘begun’) always needs one.

I have began attending art classes.Incorrect 

I have begun attending art classes.Correct

I begun dancing when I was three years old.Incorrect

I began dancing when I was three years old.Correct

If you would like to have your work checked for errors, why not try out Proofread My Essay’s specialist academic proofreading service?

Comments (28)
Kristina
28th September 2017 at 21:13
Fall break has officially begun.
Vinayak
22nd May 2018 at 10:41
what about Well begun is half done
    Proofed
    22nd May 2018 at 10:50
    Hi, Vinayak. Could you clarify what you intend by 'well begun is half done'? If you can, we can try to make some grammatical recommendations.
      The Rama
      20th June 2018 at 16:27
      I'm sure Vinayak was asking about the well-known proverb "Well begun is half done." and was wondering why it didn't follow these rules. My assumption as to an answer to his question is that since the proverb is very old (referred to by Aristotle) we're probably looking at a translation issue. More than likely, when translating into English, the word begun was used because of it rhyming with done in an attempt to make the proverb easier to remember.
      Proofed
      21st June 2018 at 08:15
      Ah, apologies. Didn't know the phrase until now! Translation might be part of the issue, but more important is that it's not meant to be a full grammatical sentence. If you unpack it, it would be something like 'Something that has begun well is half way to completion', which fits the rules above.
reko
23rd May 2018 at 16:35
Let the Journey begun
    Proofed
    24th May 2018 at 10:11
    Hi there. The correct phrasing there would be 'Let the journey begin'.
dharmydee
27th May 2018 at 13:59
Hi! I think what Vinayak meant to ask was like in the case of 'well done'. I think the statement is correct. He only needed more explanation to help him understand it. I really don't have one now, so, don't ask me. Thanks!
Debra Mccaughern
1st July 2018 at 20:34
What about The holidays have began ...
    Proofed
    2nd July 2018 at 09:07
    Hi, Debra. That should be either 'the holidays have begun' (present perfect tense) or 'the holidays began' (simple past tense).
Jordan Gosnell
22nd July 2018 at 03:10
Befor e and after the storm begun. Stella’s face says it all.
    Proofed
    23rd July 2018 at 08:58
    Hi, Jordan. 'Begun' is a past participle, so it should be combined with a helper verb (e.g. 'had begun'). We're not sure whether 'began' or 'begun' fit in that sentence as it stands, though, since 'says' is the present tense (you've also got a sentence fragment in the first clause there). You could say, 'Before and after the storm began, Stella's face said it all.'
Vivek Fadat
1st August 2018 at 14:57
"Program is begun" or "progarm has begun" which sentence is correct .
    Proofed
    2nd August 2018 at 11:26
    Hi, Vivek. 'Is' is a present tense verb, so it cannot be used with the past participle 'begun'. The correct phrase would therefore be 'the program has begun'. However, keep in mind too that British English only uses 'program' for computer programs. In any other context, it would be 'programme' instead.
Dianathaway
22nd August 2018 at 11:21
?What about 'The adventure just began.' Is it correct?
    Proofed
    22nd August 2018 at 14:36
    Hi, there. Yes, 'The adventure just began' is grammatically correct (simple past tense).
Zoe
31st January 2019 at 22:05
"Cleanup efforts begun in the 1990s are ongoing" Is that correct?
    Proofed
    1st February 2019 at 08:53
    Hi, Zoe. As mentioned in our post, 'begun' is a past participle, so it is always preceded by 'has', 'have' or 'had'. Your sentence needs 'began', and it should read as follows: 'Clean-up efforts that began in the 1990s are ongoing.'
April
13th March 2019 at 12:27
So which is CVV perfect?...I'm over today and it hasn't even begun/began?
    Proofed
    13th March 2019 at 12:33
    Hi, April. As mentioned in the post, if you have a helper verb such as 'has' (in your case, as part of 'hasn't') in your sentence, you will need the past participle. So your sentence should read 'I’m over today and it hasn’t even begun.'
May
21st July 2019 at 21:50
I began studying english but i felt there is no improvement.
    Proofed
    22nd July 2019 at 08:03
    Hi, May. The use of 'began' there is fine, but the overall sentence is a little confusing. Should there be a period of time included? E.g., 'I began studying English [two weeks ago], but I do not feel I have improved since then.'
Laura
22nd August 2019 at 07:49
officially began on or officially begun on?
    Proofed
    22nd August 2019 at 08:35
    Hi, Laura. It depends on the tense of the sentence (e.g. 'It officially began on...' would be the simple past tense, but 'It will have officially begun...' would be the future perfect tense). Check the blog post for advice on when to use each term.
sofia
24th September 2019 at 18:30
Is the sentence “Jake and his dad have begun their journey.” correct?? I’m from Germany and i’m a little confused.
    Proofed
    25th September 2019 at 08:21
    Hi, Sofia. The sentence is in the present perfect tense, so the past participle form 'begun' is correct, yes.
Naha
27th September 2019 at 05:39
Which one is correct? It just Begun or it just Began or it just Begin ???
    Proofed
    27th September 2019 at 08:25
    Hi, Naha. Depending on the tense of the sentence, it would have to be 'it just began', 'it has just begun' or 'it is just beginning'.

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