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Burst or Bursted: What’s the Past Tense of Burst?

Burst is an irregular verb with one form. Like other irregular verbs (set, cut, hurt, and shut), burst does not change its form to reflect tense.

Forms of the irregular verb, burst, in text conversation.
Forms of the irregular verb, burst, in text conversation.

Burst or bursted? What’s the past tense of burst?

Irregular verbs come in various forms, but sometimes verbs show no change between the present, past and past participle verb forms. Such is the case with burst, and other irregular verbs like hurt, shut, bet and set.

Verb forms of burst

simpleI burstI burstI will burst
continuousI am burstingI was burstingI will be bursting
perfectI have burstI had burstI will have burst
perfect continuousI have been burstingI had been burstingI will have been bursting
Tenses of ‘burst

Let’s define the topic first. The verb burst, as defined by Collins Dictionary is understood as the following:  “If something bursts or if you burst it, it suddenly breaks open or splits open and the air or other substance inside it comes out.” For example, you might say, ‘It is not a good idea to burst a blister.’

1. To burst is in the present tense:  So is this burst of speed sustainable?

2. Burst is the simple past:  A dam burst and flooded their villages.

3. Burst is also the past participle: ‍ She had burst with emotion at the news.

4. Bursting is the present participle: We were bursting with emotion at the news.

5. Bursts is third person singular present tense.

Past tense vs. past participle of burst

1. The balloon burst with confetti. (past simple)

2. The balloon had burst with confetti, which spilled all over the floor. (past perfect)

If we remember our tenses, we know that participles use auxiliary verbs, such as had in the past perfect tense. Since the second sentence pairs the auxiliary had with burst, this signals that it’s the past participle verb form being used rather than the simple past tense.

True to its name, the simple past tense really is simpler, and it’s often used in simpler sentences. The past perfect, on the other hand, is a more dynamic way to describe what took place at a past time. It conveys past actions that occur in succession, and highlights their correct sequence (order that they took place). If you want to emphasize past events and their correct order, the past perfect tense is how we do so.

‍Verbs with one present and past tense

base verbpast tensepast participle
burstburst burst
betbet bet
shutshut sunk
hithit hit
Irregular verbs (with one present, past and past participle form).

Examples of burst in sentences (present tense)

1. Every now and then you hear some bombs bursting. (present participle)

2. It is easier to cope with short bursts of activity than with prolonged exercise.

3. He burst into the room.

4. The hall was full to bursting. (present participle)

5. The roads are bursting with cars.

Examples of burst in sentences (past tense)

1. Monsoons caused the river to burst its banks.

2. The door burst open and an angry young nurse appeared.

3. Rachel burst out as the door was flung open again.

4. He burst onto the fashion scene in the early 1980s.

5. He almost burst with pride when his son John began to excel at football.

Examples sentences of burst as a participle

1. The river had burst its banks and flooded nearby towns.

2. There was a danger that the engine would burst apart.

3. The pipe had burst and liquid leaked everywhere.

4. Radha used her bubble wand to fill the park with bubbles, which burst when they hit the banyan trees.

5. The balloon had burst with confetti which spilled all over the floor.


Synonyms of burst

  • explode
  • blow up
  • erupt
  • detonate

Origin of the verb burst

From etymology online on burst (v.):

Middle English bresten, from Old English berstan (intransitive) “break suddenly, shatter as a result of pressure from within”. The transitive sense (“to cause to break, cause to explode”) is from late 13c. The meaning “to issue suddenly and abundantly” is from c. 1300 (literal), mid-13c. (figurative). The meaning “break (into) sudden activity or expression” is from late 14c. Related: Bursting.


Other commonly confused verb tenses

Learn more about grammar


  1. Most material © 2005, 1997, 1991 by Penguin Random House LLC. Modified entries © 2019 by Penguin Random House LLC and HarperCollins Publishers Ltd
  2. Harper, Douglas. “Etymology of burst.” Online Etymology Dictionary, Accessed 26 February, 2023.

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