Scots Learners’ Grammar


3. Verbs

3.1 Present tense

Regular Scots verbs ‘doing’ words in the present have forms not unlike English:

A ken  I knowye kenshe/he kenswe kenyouse ken (plural)

they ken

A greet  I cryye greetshe/he greetswe greetyouse greet

they greet

Thus in the simple present tense start with the root e.g. ken, greet (with tae this is known as the infinitive i.e. tae ken, tae greet) and add -s for the she/he form (but see below).

For verbs ending in -sh, -lch, -nch, -rch or -tch, add -es e.g. she nivver fashes (worries).

The ‘you’ plural youse, seems to have spread from the West, but ye as a plural is also used.


There are several features of the Scots present that differ markedly from standard English

Plural subjects (apart from youse) can take singular verbs

the gless wis clairtie, the glesses wis clairtie

the lassie eats a fish supper, the lassies eats fish suppers.

Many speakers however now use the English-like plural form (i.e. they drop the -s).

Present-tense third person plurals regularly take an -s  if they don’t have the pronoun immediately before the verb

They ken aw aboot it but Thon laddies kens aw aboot it

Thaim that kens aw aboot it… (Those who know all about it…).

This feature even has a name, the ‘Northern Concord Rule’, as it is also found in northern dialects of English in England.

A ‘present-historic’ narrative form is very common, adding an -s, is often used when telling stories.

Sae we gangs up tae him an A says ‘Awa hame!’

So we went up to him and I said ‘Go home!’

The ‘present-historic’ form can also indicate a repeated action.

Whan A gets hame A aye mak ma tea.

3.2 Present participle

The present participle is formed by adding -in to the root e.g. stert, stertin.

If the root ends with a consonant after a single vowel, double the consonant e.g. ken, kennin; mak, makkin.

Verbs ending in -e drop the last vowel e.g. come, comin; ettle (try), ettlin, and verbs ending in -ie change the spelling e.g. cairrie, cairryin.

The only real irregular is the verb gae (go). Although gaein is used, the form gaun is just as popular.

A’m gaun hame.

The spoken contraction gaunae, often replaces gaun tae before a verb.

A’m gaunae mak the tea

(but A’m gaun tae the gemm if not followed by a verb).

The present participle is used more in Scots than in English. Again this could be a Gaelic influence.

A’m no needin ocht the noo (I don’t need anything just now)

She stairtit greetin (She started to cry)

A’m no wantin (I don’t want to)

A’m thinkin he’s no in.

As in English, the present participle is used to form nouns such as biggin (buiding) and flittin (house moving).

3.3 Simple past tense – regular verbs

The simple past tense of regular (‘weak’) verbs is formed by adding -it, –t or – ed to the root. The rules seem quite complicated but really follow the sound of the root and you do get used to them.

Verbs ending with Past tense ending Examples
-b, -d, -g, -k, -p, -t, -te and unstressed vowels -it   big (build), biggit; howk (dig), howkit, pent (paint), pentit; keep, keepit
-ch, -f, -l, -le, -n, -r (sometimes), -s, -se (with s sound), -sh, -ss, -th, -ie/y, -x -t add apostrophe after silent -e, -le and -ll becomes -ilt   ken, kent (know); birl (spin) birlt; speir (ask), speirt; lauch (laugh), laucht; fash, fasht; hirple (limp), hirpilt; skoosh (spray), skoosht; fix, fixt; bile, bile’t (boil), mairrie, mairriet
– m, r (sometimes), -se (with z sound), -w, -zstressed vowels i.e. -e (except those above) -oo -ed (displaces –e) Add apostrophe for verbs ending –ee daur, daured (dare); stey, steyed; cry (call), cried  

 3.4 Simple past tense – irregular verbs

As in all Anglo-Saxon languages, many common Scots verbs are irregular (also known as ‘strong’). This means that their past tenses and past participles do not follow the rules above. There are considerable differences between Scots and English in this respect.

Verbs which are irregular in English may be regular in their Scots equivalents: keep, keepit; sell, sellt; tell, telt; while several verbs which are regular in English are irregular in Scots e.g. quit, quat; hit, hut.

To make matters more complicated, a few Scots verbs have both regular and irregular forms of the past forms e.g. stick has the forms stickit (regular) or stack (irregular). Unfortunately all you can do is learn them as you go along.

The list is long and some may now be rare but some of the most common ones are as follows (the past participle is also given – see Perfect tense below) The Essential Scots Dictionary has a fuller list.

English Scots simple past past participle
be be wis been
become become becam become
begin begin begoud began
break brek brak brukken
bring bring brocht, brang brocht, brung
build big biggit, bug biggit
buy buy bocht bocht
choose choose choose choosen
come come cam come
do dae did duin
draw draw drew drewn
drink drink drunk drunken, drukken
drive drive drave driven
eat aet/eat ett etten
fall fa(a)/faw fell fawn
find fin(d) fan(d) fun(d)
forget forget forgat forgotten
get git/get gat gotten
give gie gied. gien gien, gied
go gae, gang, gau gaed gaen, gaun, went
grow growe growed growed, growne
have hae haed haen, haed
hear hear haird haird
hold haud held hauden
let lat lat, loot latten
make mak makkit, made makkit, made
put pit pat, pit pit, pitten, putten
run rin run, ran run, ran
see see seed, saw seen
seek seek socht socht
sit sit sut, sat sutten
speak speak spak spoken
stand staun stood stooden
stay bide bade bidden
take tak taen, took taen
win wun wan wun
work wark wrocht wrocht
write write wrut, wrate wrutten

3.5 Perfect tense

The perfect tense  normally uses the present tense of hae / hiv (have) with the past participle in a similar way to English though the forms often differ – hae / hiv is described later.

The hae component can be dropped after an auxiliary (see below)

A wudna bin sae daft  I would have not been so crazy

Stairt and come can take forms of be:

He wis come the day  He came today

Unlike English jist (just) doesn’t need to take the perfect; Jamie jist cawed (Jamie has just called).

3.6 Pluperfect tense

A form of hae is regularly inserted in conditional structures in this tense;

If ye haed’v come airlier  If you had come earlier

I wish he’d’v tellt me afore  I wish he had told me before

3.7 Future tense

In English, will and shall can be used almost interchangeably to form the future tense.

This is not the case in Scots, only will (or wull) or the abbreviated form ‘ll simply implies future action but s(h)all, when used at all, in Scots always implies assertion. To a Scot, A wull gae tae the pub the nicht and A shall gae tae the pub the nicht state quite different levels of commitment to pub-going.

The immediate future tense is widely used A’m gaunae gae tae the pub, meaning I’m about to go.

Wull can also indicate supposition, as in the stereotype Edinburgh welcome

Come in, ye’ll hae haed yer tea

Or for politeness

Hoo auld’ll yer faither be?

The negative is wunna or ‘ll no

A’ll no gae tae the pub or A wunna gae tae the pub.

The negative question is

Wull ye no gae tae the pub?

3.8 Forming the negative

Scots no is used generally in the same ways as English not e.g. A’m no gaun oot. Nae carries out this function in the North East dialect; otherwise ‘nae‘ before nouns is the equivalent to English ‘no’ e.g. Therr nae luck aboot the hoose.

Note however the auxiliary verbs (as with wull above) have particular negative forms (see below).

Negation is quite flexible in Scots e.g Gauna(e) no dae that! (Don’t do that!), He isna still no warkin?

Multiple negation is quite common, reinforcing rather cancelling out A’m no sayin naethin. These are regarded as colloquial.

Niver, a common general marker of negation is also regarded as colloquial ; A niver did it (more ‘I didn’t do it’ than ‘I have never done it’) and nut, an emphatic variant of no especially in children’s speech; Ye wis! A wis nut!

3.9 Passives

Often formed with get, unlike English even when the ‘agent’ is stated.

We got liftit by the polis  We were arrested by the police

The prepositions fae and wi are also commonly used to indicate the ‘agent’.

3.10 Imperatives

Generally the same as structure as in English

Gang hame!  Go home!

Dinna gang hame!   Don’t go home!

Lat’s (no) gang hame!  Let’s (not) go home!

Unlike English the subject pronoun can be used for emphasis

Dinna you fash  Don’t worry

Note the use of an, where the English equivalent is ‘to’

Come an see me the morn  Come to see me tomorrow

Mind an pit the cat oot   Remember to put the cat out

Dinna is not used after an

Come awa an no get cauld  Come in so as not to get cold

Polite ‘imperatives’ are common: Wull ye gang hame, Ye cudna gang hame, cud ye?

The pseudo verb awa is often used as an imperative as in

Awa hame! Go home!

Awa wi ye!  Come off it!

Awa bile yer heid!  Clear off!

Other adverbs can be used in the same way: Ootside! Noo!

3.11 Auxilliary Verbs

These are verbs (in English such as be, have, will etc.) used together with a main verb to expand meaning and expression. Scots usage is similar to English, but the forms are quite distinct.

Be and hae are the usual auxilliaries used to build compound tenses, be is used to make the present and past progressive tenses Whit are ye daein? and hae the present and past perfect tenses e.g. Whit hae ye bocht?, Whit haed ye bocht?.

Dae is the supporting auxilliary used for negatives, questions etc e.g. D‘ye ken whit’s wrang? Whit did ye brek?

Wull, maun and micht are the modal auxilliaries which form the future and tenses which express uncertainty e.g. Wull ye gang the morn? Auxilliary verbs have distinct negative forms in Scots and several also have emphatic forms. You will come across many spelling, dialectical and form variants of Scots auxiliary verbs. I’ve tried to pick a fairly conservative/neutral set here.


Be has eight different forms: be, am, are, wis, wur, bin/been which correspond to the English cognates. As Scots has survived as a mainly spoken language, elision (missing out letters) is normal in many auxilliary verbs (and indeed throughout the language) where there are two adjacent vowels. The elided form of the present tense of tae be is therefore:

A’m  I amye’r(e) arehe/she/it’s he/she/it iswe’re we areyouse are you (plural) are

they’re  they are


The negative of most auxiliaries is formed by adding -na(e), to the unelided form: A’m, A amna; ye are, ye ar(e)na, ye wis, ye wisna etc. The older negative of be is binna ie binna feart (afraid) but nowadays dinna be feart would be more common.

Note that the English ‘there is/are’ is often simply there/ therr (i.e. ‘is/are’ is not used)

Therr yer tea. There is your tea

The question form Is therr? (colloquially Is they?) and the past form therr wis is similar to English.

Here can take a similar form to therr; Here the buik ye gied me.

The past tense is usually written wis and war. Remember the singular forms is and wis often replace are and war

Thae lassies is fleein  Those girls are drunk

The English wis bate at Bannockburn .The English were beaten at Bannockburn.


Hae has the present tense forms: hae, his,

A hae  I haveye hae you havehe/she/it his  he/she/it has we hae we haveyouse hae you (plural) have

they  hae  they have

With the past tenses haen, hid/hed/haid, haen (see irregular verb table), so for example

they haed – they had

A hae haen – I have had

There is a common alternative to hae sometimes used as an ’emphatic’ form hiv providing A’v the common elided form to A hae.

The negative forms are distinct: hisna (often shortned to hinna) /, hidna etc. The past is haed(na), elided to ‘d.

Hae is also of course used not as an auxiliary but as a possessive, often hae got as in English.

Note the reduced forms in If a haed’v kent or colloquially If A’d haed a kent.


Dae has forms dae, dis as well as an ’emphatic’ form div.

A dae  I doye dae you dohe/she/it dis  he/she/it doeswe dae we doyouse dae you (plural) do

they  dae  they do

With the past tenses did, duin/done (see irregular verb table), so for example

they did – they did

A hae duin – I have done

The elided form of the past is’d. ‘To do’ is often written adae.

Dae has an irregular negative, dinna (disna in the he/she/it form), didna etc. The past is did(na).

With short verbs, sometimes you still hear a form of asking questions without dae.

Hae ye onie siller? Do you have any money?

Hae/Hiv ye tae gang the noo? Do you have to go now?

Cam ye wi the bus? Did you come by bus?

Think ye sae? Do you think so?

3.12 Modal Verbs

Modal verbs such as can and wull are used in a similar way to English except for in the future tense (see above).

The negative forms are wull, wullna (often shortned to winna); maun, mauna (note single ‘n’); micht, michtna, daur, daurna, need, needna.

The past is usually written as wad(na), micht(na), durst(na), needed. Maun has a rarely used past bud ie it bud tae be. Negative past forms are wadna, michtna, durstna.


Must (negative forms mustna or mustn’t) in Scots implies a ‘truth statement’ rather than an obligation

Tam must hae it Tom will (definitely) have it

For ‘real’ obligations ‘I must do it’,  maun, need tae or hae (got) tae are more typically Scots

A maun speir at the high heid yin  I must ask the boss

The hae in the idiom hae better is often dropped Ye better dae it noo, A’ll better no gang.

The idiom A maun awa implies the verb gang and means ‘I must go’.

Daur / need tae

Daur and need (tae) are not really modals, but still take the -na(e) form that was once more widespread in Scots.

Can, cud, shuid, wid/wad

Can, cud, shuid, wid/wad all have -na(e) negative e.g. canna, shuidna, cudna. Wad has the elided form -‘d.  As the Scots equivalent of ‘be able’ is tae can, a distinctive modal future format is possible

A micht can dae it the morn I might be able to do it tomorrow

She’ll can wark on it aifter . She’ll be able to work on it later.

There is no direct equivalent of English ‘may’; (tae) can or get (tae) are used in the sense of being allowed to.

A wantit tae gang, but cudna get I wanted to go but wasn’t allowed

Ye can gang hame airlie You may go home early

Ye hae tae can lauch at yersel You must be able to laugh at yourself.

Note in the last example with tae can, double modals appear

A micht can dae it the morn I might be able to do it tomorrow.

The past is usually written cuid and shuid, and can also be used in complex multiple modals

She micht cuid hae tae gang She might have been able to go

He michtna cuid no hae duin it He mustn’t have been able to do it

He shuid no can come It should not be possible for him to come

Remember that you can still use the no from of negation with auxiliaries. E.g. The buik isna bad or The buik’s no bad. She hisna come or She’s no come with largely the same meaning but there is a definite difference between the following pair

Ye canna come tae the pairtie (not permitted)

Ye can no come tae the pairtie (implies a choice).

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