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Verb

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English

A verb is a word that expresses an action, event, feeling, or state of being. They are often thought of as 'doing words', for example, 'she eats ' or 'the horse runs '. However, not all verbs are necessarily things that are 'done', they can also be experiences, eg. 'Homer thought about the donut' or 'Jack loved going to the beach'.

What is a Verb?

Verbs normally describe what the noun or the subject in a sentence is doing. To recap - the subject of the verb is normally the person or thing performing an action while the object of a verb is normally the person or thing which receives the action. In the case of this sentence 'Homer thought about the donut', the subject 'Homer' is the person who is 'thought' about the object (the donut). Therefore, the verb 'thought' shows what action the person is doing.

Types of verbs

There are a number of verb types:

  • Main verbs

  • Auxiliary verbs

    • Primary auxiliaries

    • Modal auxiliaries

  • Linking verbs

  • Dynamic verbs

  • Stative verbs

  • Irregular verbs

  • Imperative verbs

We will explain what each type of verb is and give you plenty of examples to help you understand how they are used.

What is a main verb?

A main verb is a verb that can stand on its own . It's a strong, independent verb that doesn't need anything else. The main verb is the word that ' heads ' the verb phrase, it carries most of the meaning in the phrase and carries the most important information.

Examples include:

  • Run

  • Find

  • Look

  • Want

  • Think

  • Decide

Main verbs usually come straight after the subject of the sentence. For example, in the sentence 'the unicorn rode the dinosaur' the main verb 'rode' follows the subject, which is 'the unicorn'. The word 'rode' is the main verb as it gives the most information about what the subject is doing.

Verb main verb unicorn dinosaur StudySmarterThe unicorn rode the dinosaur (Pixabay.com)

What is an auxiliary verb?

Auxiliary verbs are ' helping verbs ' - they 'help' the main verb to convey extra information. They are always used alongside the main verb and do not carry the main meaning of a phrase.

There are twelve auxiliary verbs, divided into two categories: auxiliary verbs and modal auxiliary verbs.

Primary Auxiliary verbs

The first three auxiliary verbs are very important. These are the verbs that 'help' to show a verb's tense , voice , or mood . These are called ' primary auxiliaries ' and consist of the various forms of ' to have ', ' to be ', and ' to do '. For example:

  • Forms of have - has, had

  • Forms of be - is, am, are, was, were

  • Forms of do - does, did

Let's take a look at these in action:

'He is enjoying the game'

As we know, auxiliary verbs 'help' the main verb. In the sentence 'he is enjoying the game', the verb 'is' helps the main verb 'enjoying'. In this case, it gives information about the tense of the action, the boy is currently and continually 'enjoying' the game in the present moment.

'He had enjoyed the game'

In the sentence 'he had enjoyed the game', the verb 'had' shows the action (main verb) was done in the past. Therefore, it helps add information to the verb phrase.

Modal Auxiliary Verbs

There are nine modal auxiliaries:

  • Could

  • Would

  • Should

  • Might

  • Can

  • May

  • Want

  • Must

  • Shall

These verbs show possibility, eg. 'I might go to the shop later'; ability, eg. 'I can dance well'; permission, eg. 'you may marry Juliet'; or obligation, eg. 'I should see my grandma'. As you can see from these examples, modal auxiliary verbs can never stand alone as a main verb; instead, they always appear alongside the main verb.

What is a linking verb?

Linking verbs are verbs that connect (or 'link') a subject to a noun or adjective. They stand alone as verbs and pull the different parts of a phrase together. For example, in the sentence 'the parrot is stubborn', the verb 'is' is used to link the subject (parrot) and the adjective (stubborn). In the sentence, 'he seems close', the verb 'seems' links the subject and adjective.

Types of main verbs

Main verbs can be further categorized into several other groups which help define features of verbs:

What are dynamic verbs?

Dynamic verbs are verbs that describe action or processes done by a noun or subject, as opposed to being about a 'state of being'. They are 'action verbs'. Examples of dynamic verbs include:

  • Run

  • Throw

  • Eat

  • Help

  • Kick

  • Work

What are stative verbs?

Stative verbs are different from dynamic verbs because they describe a state of being rather than an action. For example:

  • Know

  • Love

  • Deserve

  • Suppose

  • Imagine

  • Agree

What are imperative verbs?

Imperative verbs are verbs used to give orders or instructions , make a request, or give warning . They tell someone to do something. For example:

  • Clean your room!

  • Be careful!

  • Come over here, please.

  • Learn your verbs!

As you can see from these examples, imperative verbs are often used at the beginning of a sentence. They often sound demanding, like you are being shouted out!

Verb Inflections

In English, inflectional affixes may be added to a verb. These are added to the beginning or end of a word, and add information.

Verb inflections may be used to express:

  • Tense - eg. in the sentence 'the monkey play ed the piano', the inflection '-ed' on the verb 'played' shows that the action was done in the past.
  • Person or number - In English, the inflection '-s' is necessary for the third person: eg. 'I play' vs. 'she play s '.
  • Mood - For example, in the sentence 'I'd stay if I were you', the verb 'were' expresses a subjunctive or hypothetical mood.
  • Voice - inflections on words change depending on whether the sentence is in an active voice or passive voice. The active voice is where the subject in the phrase or sentence is actively performing an action (eg. 'I did my homework'). The passive voice is where the subject in the phrase or sentence isn't actively doing an action. Instead, the action is being done to them (eg. 'My homework was done ').

Tense and verb formation

Take a look at this table of tenses for the verb 'to study'. Don't worry about the name of the tenses for now; focus on the inflections of the verbs and the 'helping' auxiliary verbs, which are highlighted in bold:

Verb, inflections of verbs tenses of verbs StudySmarterTenses and inflections of verbs (StudySmarter Original)

As you can see, a single verb ('to study') may have a number of different forms, made by adding inflections. Key things to note:

  • Primary auxiliary verbs (was, am, have, has, had, been, will, etc.) give extra information about tense
  • The modal auxiliary 'will' is used to show that the verb is in the future.
  • The inflection '-ing' shows that an action is continuous, or ongoing.
  • The past tense (and perfect tense) are often formed by adding the inflection '-ed'. For example, both the past simple ('I studied') and the past participle ('I had studied') are formed by adding the inflection '-ed'. In these cases, it is the primary auxiliary 'had' that gives information further about tense.

What are irregular verbs?

Irregular verbs do not take regular inflections, such as the -ed ending. Instead, the whole word is spelled differently. Take the word 'begin' for example. In the past tense, this becomes 'began', or as a past participle it is 'begun'. This is similar to the verb 'to choose', which becomes 'chose' or 'chosen'. In these cases, we can't add the regular past tense inflection -ed as this would become 'beginned' or 'choosed' which plain wrong!

Let's have a look at another example:

Verb irregular verb to give StudySmarterDiagram: Irregular verb 'to give' (StudySmarter Original)

The diagram above shows the different forms of the verb 'to give' and its inflections. Each form gives information about tense - 'gives' is present tense and 'giving' is continuous present (the -ing participle, sometimes called the 'present participle'). The two irregular forms are 'gave', which is in the simple past tense, and 'given', which is the past participle. It is also important to note that not all of these can stand alone, eg. the word 'giving' often requires the help of a primary auxiliary verb such as 'he is giving' or 'he was giving'.

Suffixes

Suffixes may signal what word class a word belongs to. They often change a word from one word class to another, eg. the adjective 'short' can become the verb 'shorten' by adding the suffix '-en'.

Here are some common suffixes for verbs:

Verb common verb suffixes StudySmarterCommon suffixes for verbs (StudySmarter Original)

What is a verb phrase?

A verb phrase is a group of words that has a main verb along with any other auxiliary verbs that 'help' the main verb. For example, 'could eat' is a verb phrase as it contains the main verb ('eat') and an auxiliary ('could'). More complex verb phrases may also contain complements, direct objects, indirect objects, or modifiers in the phrase. The verb phrase 'I am running' consists of the main verb ('running'), the primary auxiliary ('am'), and the subject ('I').

Other types of verbs

Let's take a look at some other types of verbs that may crop up in the big wide world of verbs.

What is a multi-word verb?

A multi-word verb, sometimes called a phrasal verb, is a verb that has one or more prepositions or particles linked to it. For example, 'carry out', 'hand in' and 'grow up' are two-part verbs that consist of a verb (eg. 'grow') and a particle (eg. 'up') that gives the verb a new meaning. There are also three-part verbs that consist of a verb and two particles such as 'walk out on' and 'look up to'.

What is a transitive verb?

Transitive verbs are verbs that require an object in order to make sense. For example, in the sentence 'giraffes eat' you are left wondering 'what do they eat?'. This is where an object is required to receive the action and complete the sentence, eg. 'giraffes eat leaves'. Examples of transitive verbs include: bring, buy, show, lend, and impress. You have to bring something, buy something, or impress someone. These verbs, therefore, require an object (noun or pronoun) to complete the sentence.

What is an intransitive verb?

Intransitive verbs contrast transitive verbs as they do not require an object to complete the meaning of the sentence. Examples of intransitive verbs include: exist, work, walk, sigh, and die. You don't have to exist anything, sigh anything, or die anything. These verbs don't require anything to receive the action of the verb.

Verb - Key takeaways

  • A verb is a word that expresses an action, event, feeling, or state of being. They normally describe what the noun or subject is doing.
  • A main verb is a verb that can stand on its own whereas auxiliary verbs 'help' the main verb.
  • The primary auxiliary verbs are: to have, to be, to do. The modal auxiliary verbs are: could, would, should, might, can, may, will, must, shall.
  • A linking verb connects a subject to a noun / adjective. Eg. 'the parrot IS stubborn'.
  • Types of main verbs include: dynamic verbs, stative verbs, and imperative verbs.
  • Inflections on verbs can express tense, person / number, mood, and voice.
  • A verb phrase is a group of words that has a main verb along with any other auxiliary verbs that 'help' the main verb.
  • Other types of verbs include: multi-word verbs, transitive verbs, and intransitive verbs

Verb

A verb is a word that expresses an action, event, feeling, or state of being. Verbs usually describe what the noun or subject is doing.

Examples of verbs include verbs that describe action (dynamic verbs), eg. ‘run’, ‘throw’, ‘hide’, and verbs that describe a state of being (stative verbs), eg. ‘love’, ‘imagine’, ‘know’. Verbs may also be used to ‘help’ other verbs by showing grammatical information such as tense, eg. ‘had’, ‘will be’, ‘doing’. These are called auxiliary verbs.

Verbs are necessary in a sentence to show what the noun or subject is doing or feeling. A sentence often requires a subject that does the action (eg. Jack) and a verb that describes the action (e.g. kicks). There may also be an object that receives the action (eg. ball). This will form a verb phrase eg. ‘Jack kicks the ball’.

Final Verb Quiz

Question

What is the difference between a main verb and an auxiliary verb?

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Answer

A main verb is a verb that can stand on its own and carries most of the meaning in a verb phrase. For example, ‘run’, ‘find’. Auxiliary verbs cannot stand alone, instead, they work alongside a main verb and ‘help’ the verb to express more grammatical information e.g. tense, mood, possibility.

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Question

What is the difference between a primary auxiliary verb and a modal auxiliary verb?


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Answer

Primary auxiliary verbs consist of the various forms of ‘to have’, ‘to be’, and ‘to do’ e.g. ‘had’, ‘was’, ‘done’. They help to express a verb’s tense, voice, or mood. Modal auxiliary verbs show possibility, ability, permission, or obligation. There are 9 auxiliary verbs including ‘could’, ‘will’, might’.

Show question

Question

Which of the following are primary auxiliary verbs?

  • Is

  • Play

  • Have

  • Run

  • Does

  • Could

Show answer

Answer

The primary auxiliary verbs in this list are ‘is’, ‘have’, and ‘does’. They are all forms of the main primary auxiliary verbs ‘to have’, ‘to be’, and ‘to do’. ‘Play’ and ‘run’ are main verbs and ‘could’ is a modal auxiliary verb.

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Question

Name 6 out of the 9 modal auxiliary verbs.


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Answer

Answers include: Could, would, should, may, might, can, will, must, shall

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Question

‘The fairies were asleep’. In this sentence, is the verb ‘were’ a linking verb or an auxiliary verb?


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Answer

The word ‘were’ is used as a linking verb as it stands alone in the sentence. It is used to link the subject (fairies) and the adjective (asleep).

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Question

What is the difference between dynamic verbs and stative verbs?


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Answer

A dynamic verb describes an action or process done by a noun or subject. They are thought of as ‘action verbs’ e.g. ‘kick’, ‘run’, ‘eat’. Stative verbs describe the state of being of a person or thing. These are states that are not necessarily physical action e.g. ‘know’, ‘love’, ‘suppose’.

Show question

Question

Which of the following are dynamic verbs and which are stative verbs?

  • Drink

  • Prefer

  • Talk

  • Seem

  • Understand

  • Write

Show answer

Answer

The dynamic verbs are ‘drink’, ‘talk’, and ‘write’ as they all describe an action. The stative verbs are ‘prefer’, ‘seem’, and ‘understand’ as they all describe a state of being.

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Question

What is an imperative verb?


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Answer

Imperative verbs are verbs used to give orders, give instructions, make a request or give warning. They tell someone to do something. For example, ‘clean your room!’.

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Question

Inflections give information about tense, person, number, mood, or voice. True or false?


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Answer

True

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Question

What information does the inflection ‘-ing’ give for a verb?


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Answer

The inflection ‘-ing’ is often used to show that an action or state is continuous and ongoing.

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Question

How do you know if a verb is irregular?


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Answer

An irregular verb does not take the regular inflections, instead the whole word is spelt a different way. For example, begin becomes ‘began’ or ‘begun’. We can’t add the regular past tense inflection -ed as this would become ‘beginned’ which doesn’t make sense.

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Question

Suffixes can never signal what word class a word belongs to. True or false?


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Answer

False. Suffixes can signal what word class a word belongs to. For example, ‘-ify’ is a common suffix for verbs (‘identity’, ‘simplify’)

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Question

A verb phrase is built around a noun. True or false?


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Answer

False. A verb phrase is a group of words that has a main verb along with any other auxiliary verbs that ‘help’ the main verb. For example, ‘could eat’ is a verb phrase as it contains a main verb (‘could’) and an auxiliary verb (‘could’).

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Question

Which of the following are multi-word verbs? 

  • Shake

  • Rely on

  • Dancing

  • Look up to

Show answer

Answer

The verbs ‘rely on’ and ‘look up to’ are multi-word verbs as they consist of a verb that has one or more prepositions or particles linked to it.

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Question

What is the difference between a transition verb and an intransitive verb?


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Answer

Transitive verbs are verbs that require an object in order to make sense. For example, the word ‘bring’ requires an object that is brought (‘I bring news’). Intransitive verbs do not require an object to complete the meaning of the sentence e.g. ‘exist’ (‘I exist’).

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