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Verb

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Verb

In English, words are grouped into word classes based on the function they perform in a sentence. There are nine main word classes in English; nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, pronouns, determiners, conjunctions, and interjections. This explanation is all about verbs.


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 experienced, e.g. 'Homer thought about the doughnut' 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 doughnut', the subject 'Homer' is the person who 'thought' about the object (the doughnut). Therefore, the verb 'thought' shows what action the person is doing.

Typically, a complete sentence should contain a subject, a verb and an object.

Types of verbs

It's easy to think that verbs are only 'doing words', but this isn't true; there are a number of different verb types. These are;

  • Main verbs

    • Dynamic verbs

    • Stative verbs

    • Transitive verbs

    • Intransitive verbs

  • Auxiliary verbs

    • Primary auxiliaries

    • Modal auxiliaries

  • Linking verbs (copula 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.

Main verbs

A main verb is a verb that can stand on its own. It's a strong, independent verb that doesn't need anything else. Main verbs usually describe the actions of the sentence's subject.

Main verbs can 'head' the verb phrase as it carries the most important information and meaning.

Examples of main verbs include:

  • Run

  • Find

  • Look

  • Want

  • Think

  • Decide

Main verbs usually come straight after the subject of the sentence. For example, in the sentence 'The man drove the car.', the main verb 'drove' follows the subject 'the man'.

Verbs, Image of man driving car, StudySmarterThe man drove the car - Pixabay

Main verbs can be categorised into four groups; dynamic verbs, stative verbs, transitive verbs, and intransitive.

Dynamic verbs

Dynamic verbs are verbs that describe an action or process done by a noun or subject. They are 'action verbs'. Examples of dynamic verbs include:

  • Run

  • Throw

  • Eat

  • Help

  • Kick

  • Work

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

Transitive verbs

Transitive verbs are verbs that can only work when placed alongside an object. Without an object, transitive verbs don't make sense and can't create a complete thought.

For example, 'Please close the door.'

Without the object 'the door', the sentence makes no sense. Please close ... what?

Intransitive verbs

Intransitive verbs are the opposite of transitive verbs - they don't need an object to make sense and can stand alone.

For example, 'They walked', 'He ran', 'We talked'

Auxiliary verbs

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; instead, they help convey the tense, mood, or modality of the main verb.

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

Primary Auxiliary verbs

The primary auxiliary verbs are very important. These are the verbs that 'help' to show a verb's tense, voice, or mood. These 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. Because of the use of the auxiliary verb 'is', we know that the boy is currently enjoying the game in the present tense.

'He had enjoyed the game'

In the sentence 'he had enjoyed the game', the auxiliary 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 modality, such as possibility (I might go to the shop later), ability (I can dance well), permission (you may marry Juliet), or obligation (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.

Linking (copula) verbs

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.

Imperative verbs

Imperative verbs are verbs used to give orders or instructions, make a request, or give a 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!

When using imperative verbs, there is often no subject as the subject is implied or assumed. The subject is usually 'you'. For example, '(you) clean your room' or '(you) be careful!'

Verb Inflections

In English, inflectional affixes (letters added to the beginning or the end of a word) may be added to a verb. These are added to the beginning or end of a word and provide us with extra information.

Verb inflections may be used to express:

  • Tense - We can add the inflection '-ed' to regular verbs to show they happened in the past, and we can add the inflection '-ing' to show that the action is continuing. E.g. in the sentence 'The monkey played the piano', the inflection '-ed' at the end of the verb 'play' shows that the action was done in the past.

  • Person or number - In English, the inflection '-s' is necessary when using the third person: e.g. 'I play' vs. 'she plays'.

Tenses and verbs

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 StudySmarterTensesInflections 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) 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.

Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs do not take regular inflections, such as the -ed ending. Instead, the word usually has a completely different spelling.

Take the word 'begin', for example. In the past tense, this becomes 'began', or as a past participle (verb 3), it is 'begun'. This is similar to the verb 'to choose', which becomes 'chose' or 'chosen'.

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, e.g. the word 'giving' often requires the help of a primary auxiliary verb such as 'he is giving' or 'he was giving'.

Unfortunately, there are no rules for irregular verbs.

Suffixes

Suffixes may signal what word class a word belongs to. They often change a word from one word class to another, e.g. 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

Verb phrases

A verb phrase is a group of words with a main verb and 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'). Verb phrases act as the verb in a sentence.

Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs, sometimes called multi-word verbs, are a combination of words that act as a verb, e.g. pick up, hand in, came out, and took off. Phrasal verbs must be read together to get their meaning and often will have a different meaning than the individual parts. For example, 'The movie came out in 2005'. The verb 'came' takes on a different meaning here.

Phrasal verbs are made up of two parts; the main verb (e.g. pick) and an adverb particle (e.g. up).

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.
  • Main verbs can be categorised as dynamic, stative, transitive, and intransitive.
  • Auxiliary verbs can be categorised as primary or modal.
  • Linking verbs (copula verbs) connect a subject to a noun/adjective.
  • Inflections on verbs can express tense, person/number, mood, and voice.
  • A verb phrase is a group of words with a main verb and any other auxiliary verbs that 'help' the main verb.
  • Phrasal verbs are a combination of a main verb and an adverb particle, which create their own unique meaning.

Frequently Asked Questions about Verb

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’.

  • Main verbs  

    • Dynamic verbs

    • Stative verbs

    • Transitive verbs

    • Intransitive verbs

  • Auxiliary verbs 

    • Primary auxiliaries 

    • Modal auxiliaries

  • Linking verbs (copula verbs)

  • Imperative verbs

Phrasal verbs are a combination of a main verb and an adverb particle, which create their own unique meaning. For example, pick up, look out, came out, hand in.

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.

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.

Show question

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.

Show question

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.

Show question

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!’.

Show question

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’).

Show question

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’).

Show question

Question

Identify the verb type:

'We might be round later'

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Answer

Modal auxiliary verb

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Question

Identify the verb type:

'I cam to pick up the takeaway'

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Answer

Phrasal verb

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Question

Identify the verb type:

'Please bring the keys'


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Answer

Transitive verb

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Question

Identify the verb type:

'I ducked under the bridge'


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Answer

Dynamic 

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Question

Identify the verb type:

'I hate spiders'


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Answer

Stative 

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