Swum vs. Swam: Which Is Correct? (Helpful Examples)

The past tense of “swim” follows irregular rules. Naturally, that means it’s more difficult than you might first realize when it comes to using it. There are two different verb forms we can use, and this article will explore both of them to show you how it works.

Swum or Swam: Which Is Correct?

“Swam” is correct when talking about someone “swimming” in the past; it’s the simple past tense of “to swim.” “Swum” is the past participle of the same verb, which is incorrect unless we include an auxiliary verb along with it to turn it into the perfect tense.

Swum or Swam: Which Is Correct?

These examples will help to show you what the differences in verb forms can look like:

  • I swam to the other side of the shore.
  • We have swum for a long time, and I need a rest!

“Swam” is much simpler than “swum.” It works on its own, while “swum” requires a second helping verb (“have”) to be correct.

Remember this when it comes to using the verb “swim:”

Past ParticipleSwum
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When Is “Swam” Correct?

“Swam” is simple enough to use, so we’ll teach you how it works.

“Swam” is correct when talking about “swimming” in the past. There are no extra language rules or grammar hoops that we have to jump through when using it in this way.

You can use “swam” regardless of the pronoun in the sentence. There is never a need to change the verb form (unlike how you might do it with certain present tense verbs):

  • I swam
  • You swam
  • She swam
  • He swam

As you can see, “swam” always stays as a standard spelling and form for the simple past tense.

Example Sentences Using “Swam”

The simple past tense looks like this:

  1. I swam the English channel when I was fifteen.
  2. We swam together in our school team.
  3. The dog swam across the river, making it difficult for his owner to catch him.
  4. You swam out to save that man! Very impressive!
  5. If you swam as fast as you said, then you should have broken some records in your youth.
  6. He swam for a national team until his terrible injury.

“Swam” refers to someone “swimming” in the past. The event has already happened, and there’s nothing more that anyone can do to change the outcome of it.

When Is “Swum” Correct?

“Swum” is the more complicated of the pair, so we’ll focus our attention on that now. Being the past participle, “swum” has a few extra rules that we need to understand.

“Swum” makes no sense alone in a sentence. We need an auxiliary verb like “have” to correct this issue. Once we use “have swum,” it becomes the present perfect tense, which is one of three possible perfect tenses that we can use.

The other perfect tenses all follow the same general idea. They are as follows:

  • Past perfect: Had swum
  • Present perfect: Have swum
  • Future perfect: Will have swum

The astute readers among you will notice that “swum” never changes form, no matter what the tense is. However, “have” does change the form, and it’s the verb we use to dictate which tense we write in.

“Had” is the past tense of “have,” which is why it works as the past perfect tense. This refers to a “swimming” event in the past that came before another event.

“Have” is the present tense of the verb “have,” which is why it works as the present perfect tense. We use it to talk about “swimming” in the past and continuing to “swim” in the present.

The future perfect uses “will” to manipulate “have” into the future tense. This talks about things that haven’t happened yet (related to “swimming”), though they’re likely to come true in a short amount of time.

Example sentences using “Swum”

We’ll split these examples into three sections to follow each of the perfect tenses. That way, if you only want to focus your attention on one or two of them, they are easily accessible for you.

Past Perfect

  1. I had swum a lot in my youth before my injury stopped me from taking part.
  2. You had swum for a long while before I got here. Sorry to interrupt you.

Though uncommon, the past perfect tense uses “had swum” to show that someone “swam” in the past. It gives us an order of how things happened in the past and shows that there might be some sort of impact on events in the present because of it.

Present Perfect

  1. I have swum a short distance in record time, but now I must do it again.
  2. We have swum here, but we can easily swim back if you want to.

The present perfect tense gives us “have swum.” We talk about someone “swimming” previously and continuing the action of swimming (or finishing it) in the present.

Future Perfect

  1. I will have swum for over two hours if I keep up with this workout!
  2. You will have swum more miles than anyone else on the planet if you go for this!

While the events of the future perfect tense haven’t happened yet, we can use it to talk about the possibility of them happening. The likelihood of them coming true is mostly based on our actions and decisions in the present.

“Have Swum” Vs. “Have Swam”

“Have swum” has already proven to be correct. We can see that from everything written above.

“Have swam” is incorrect, and there are no cases where it can be used. “Swam” is the simple past tense, which cannot work alongside an auxiliary verb like “have.” You can only use “have swum” in this way.

  • Correct: I have swum a long way to get to this destination!
  • Incorrect: You have swam for too long, which is why you’re so exhausted!

Final Thoughts

“Swam” is the simple past tense, which means it doesn’t need any further grammar to help us out. “Swum” is the past participle, which relies heavily on using an auxiliary verb before getting it correct. “Have swum” is the present perfect tense, which is a useful tense to remember.

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