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Action Verbs

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English

Think about these two sentences:

  1. "Fatima was in the chair and looked happy when there was music around her."
  2. "Fatima perched on the chair and smiled as she listened to the music."

You might notice that the second sentence feels like a clearer description of what's going on. That's because of action verbs! Many verbs you use every day are examples of action verbs. Their function in a sentence is to explain the action the subject is taking.

Action Verb Definition

Action verb: Also called a dynamic verb, an action verb expresses an action in a sentence.

In other words, the function of an action verb is to tell us what the subject of the sentence is doing.

Action Verb Examples

Action verbs show up everywhere in our speech and writing. Try listing out the first few verbs that pop into your head. Most of them are probably action verbs! Here is a list of some action verb examples in English:

jumpsitsigheatremovelaugh
runacceptsmilestandadjustown
declinelovesleepyellcleancatch

You can find an action verb in a sentence by asking, "what does the subject do?" Take this example sentence: "Henry paints a picture." What does Henry do? Henry paints.

Action Verbs vs. Linking Verbs

It's important to know the difference between the action verb and another common type of verb, the linking verb.

Linking verb: a verb that expresses a state of being in a sentence instead of an action.

Linking verbs link the subject together with the rest of the sentence. They show what the subject is instead of what it does.

Here are some examples of linking verbs in use:

She is a musician.

In the above sentence, the linking verb "is" doesn't express any kind of action. It just connects "she" with "a musician."

He seemed sad.

In the same way as in the previous example, the linking verb "seem" doesn't tell us what the subject is doing. It connects it with the adjective "sad."

Linking verbs are very common and useful in language, but in descriptive writing, it's encouraged to use action verbs when you can (more on that later!)

Action Verbs Linking Verbs vs Action Verbs StudySmarterReplacing Linking Verbs with Action Verbs - Abigail Amick, lingfrog.blog.

Types of Action Verbs

There are two main types of action verbs: transitive and intransitive.

Transitive Action Verbs

Transitive action verbs take an object. That means that something is doing the action, and something else is being acted upon. In linguistics, you would say this kind of verb takes two arguments: a subject and an object.

Here are some examples of transitive action verbs in use:

Henry paints a picture.

In the above sentence, "Henry" is the subject, the one doing the painting. "Paints" is the action verb, expressing the action of the sentence. "A picture" is the object, the thing being painted.

The duchess declined the invitation.

In this example, "the duchess" is the subject, the one declining. "Declined" is the action verb. "The invitation" is the object, the thing being declined.

Intransitive Action Verbs

Intransitive action verbs do not take an object. That means that something is doing the action, but nothing is being acted upon. These verbs take one argument.

Here are some examples of intransitive action verbs in use:

Caroline laughed.

"Caroline" is the subject, the one doing the laughing. The action verb "laughed" can't easily take an object. "Caroline laughed the movie" doesn't make sense.

The dog sleeps.

"The dog" is the subject, the one sleeping. Again, the action verb "sleeps" can't take an object. "The dog sleeps the bed" doesn't make sense.

Some verbs can be used as both transitive and intransitive. For example, you can say "Doug cleaned" with no object or "Doug cleaned the kitchen" with an object. Transitivity is about how you use the word, not just the word itself!

How can I use Action Verbs for Effective Description?

Action Verbs Late Night Essay Writing StudySmarterLate-night essay writing - Mohamed Hassan, Pixabay.

As already mentioned, it's a good idea to replace linking verbs with action verbs where you can in a descriptive essay. Using action verbs can make your writing clearer and more specific. Here are some tips for using action verbs effectively in your writing.

Look Out for the Links

Using more action verbs doesn't have to mean rewriting your entire paragraph. Making some little changes to the verbs can make a big difference. Picking out the linking verbs is a great start.

When you're done writing a sentence, try to find all of the linking verbs. Look for verbs like these examples:

  • Forms of the verb to be, including be, been, being, am, is, are, was, and were.
  • Verbs that express an impression of something, including seems, looks, appears, sounds, tastes, smells, and feels.

Shawna looked tired when she was in the kitchen after being in the garden.

The three linking verbs in the above sentence ("looks," "was," and "being") express an impression instead of an action.

Sometimes the same word can be used as both an action verb and a linking verb. For example, in the sentence "Luke feels sick," the verb "feels" is a linking verb, linking "Luke" with "sick" rather than expressing an action. In the sentence "Luke feels the cold wind," the verb "feels" is an action verb, showing what Luke is doing.

Replace them with Actions

When you've found the linking verbs in your writing, try replacing them with more descriptive action verbs!

This is just like identifying action verbs in a sentence. Look at the phrase with the linking verb and ask, "what is the subject doing?" This can help you come up with a more descriptive vocabulary.

Let's identify the linking verbs in the previous example and replace them with action verbs:

Shawna looked tired when she was in the kitchen after being in the garden.

  • What was Shawna doing that made her look tired?Maybe she yawned or rubbed her eyes.
  • What was she doing in the kitchen?Maybe she was washing the dishes or brewing a cup of tea.
  • What was she doing in the garden?Maybe she was planting seeds or pulling weeds.

Now that we've thought more creatively about the actions in the sentence, we can swap some of the verbs for a better description: "Shawna yawned while brewing a cup of tea after planting seeds in the garden."

Thinking about doing instead of being will fill your essay with action verbs. The more you practice this in your writing, the clearer your description will become.


Sometimes a linking verb really is the best option. If you try to come up with good descriptive action verbs to replace a linking verb, and nothing reads naturally, just leave it the way it is.

Using more action verbs in your writing applies beyond descriptive essays too! When looking for jobs, it's encouraged to include lots of action words in your resume and cover letters. This makes you come across as a more powerful job candidate. Building skills with action words in writing now will help you through your whole career!

Action Verbs - Key Takeaways

  • An action verb expresses an action in a sentence by telling us what the subject is doing.
  • An action verb is different from a linking verb which links the subject with the rest of the sentence by telling us what the subject is.
  • There are two types of action verbs: transitive, which takes an object, and intransitive, which doesn't take an object.
  • Using more action verbs in your descriptive essay can make your writing clearer and more specific.
  • Try to find the linking verbs in your writing and replace them with more descriptive action verbs. Ask yourself, "what is the subject doing?"

Action Verbs

An action verb (also called a dynamic verb) expresses an action in a sentence.

Some examples of action verbs are: jump, sit, sigh, eat, remove, laugh, run, accept, smile, stand, adjust, own, decline, love, sleep, yell, clean, catch.

An action verb expresses an action in a sentence by showing what the subject is doing.

Transitive action verbs take a subject and an object (e.g. "Henry paints a picture"). Intransitive action verbs take a subject but do not take an object (e.g. "Caroline laughed").

A linking verb is followed by the argument that needs to be connected with the subject (e.g., in the sentence "Sharon is happy" the linking verb "is" connects "Sharon" with "happy"). An action verb is followed by an object if the verb is transitive and nothing if the verb is intransitive. The rest of the sentence then follows.

Final Action Verbs Quiz

Question

What is an action verb?

Show answer

Answer

An action verb (also called a dynamic verb) expresses an action in a sentence.

Show question

Question

What is the function of an action verb?

Show answer

Answer

To show what the subject is doing

Show question

Question

Sara opened the fridge.

Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?


Show answer

Answer

Transitive

Show question

Question

What is a linking verb?

Show answer

Answer

A linking verb expresses a state of being in a sentence, instead of an action.

Show question

Question

Isaac smiled.


Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?

Show answer

Answer

Intransitive

Show question

Question

Which of these sentences uses "looked" as an action verb?

Show answer

Answer

Shawna looked out the window.

Show question

Question

Are words like am, is, are, was, and were examples of linking verbs or action verbs?

Show answer

Answer

Linking verbs

Show question

Question

Which of these sentences use action verbs? (select all that apply)

Show answer

Answer

Sean felt the cool breeze in his hair.

Show question

Question

Which of these sentences use action verbs?

(select all that apply)

Show answer

Answer

Lea is a florist.

Show question

Question

True or false: an action verb is either transitive or intransitive.

Show answer

Answer

False

Show question

Question

Which of these sentences uses "appears" as an action verb?

Show answer

Answer

Don appears in the middle of the room.

Show question

Question

You are playing the piano.


Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?

Show answer

Answer

Transitive

Show question

Question

Which of these sentences use action verbs?

(select all that apply)

Show answer

Answer

They are growing weary

Show question

Question

I laughed loudly.


Is this an example of a transitive or intransitive action verb?

Show answer

Answer

Intransitive

Show question

Question

Are words like sit, chuckle, throw, consume, and drive examples of linking verbs or action verbs?

Show answer

Answer

Action verbs

Show question

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