VERBS: Learning basic English grammar - What is a verb?

What is a verb?

A verb is a word or part of speech that expresses an action or state of being. Verbs are generally found after the subject in a sentence. It indicates what action the subject does or in what state the subject is in.

  • Lisa sings beautifully. (action)
  • Sarah won the lottery. (action)
  • The children look disappointed. (state)

Types of Verbs

1. Finite and Non-finite Verbs

A finite verb is a type of verb that agrees with a subject and shows tense. Every sentence has a finite verb, which is also called the main verb.

  • Michelle is hopeful. (In this sentence, “is” is finite because it agrees with the subject “Michelle” and it takes the present tense.)
  • They baked cookies. (In this sentence, “baked” is finite because it agrees with the subject “They” and it takes the past tense.)

In contrast, a non-finite verb does not follow a tense and does not agree with the subject. Non-finite verbs come in three types: gerund, infinitive, and participle.

  • A gerund is a verb that ends in -ing and functions as a noun.
    • Example: Cindy enjoys travelling in the Philippines. (In this sentence, “enjoys” is the finite verb while “travelling” is the non-finite verb.)
  • An infinitive is a verb in its basic form. It usually starts with “to”
    • Example: Suzy wants to eat sushi. (In this sentence, “wants” is the finite verb while “to eat” is the non-finite verb.)
  • A participle is a verb that follows the form of a present participle (ends with -ing) and past participle (usually ends with -ed). It functions as an adjective or adverb.
    • Example: The broken vase still looks beautiful. (In this sentence, “broken” is a participial adjective.)
    • Example: Working overtime for two days, Mark felt ill. (In this sentence, “working overtime for two days” signals a participial adverb where “working” is non-finite.)

2. Action Verb

An action verb tells us what the subject in the sentence does or executes. It can be classified as transitive or intransitive verbs.

A transitive verb is a verb that needs an object to receive the action. To check if the object is needed, answering the question “What” can help.

  • The manager discussed the new rules in the department. (“What did the manager discuss?” – This suggests that an object is needed for the verb “discussed”. Thus, the noun “rules” is the object.)

An intransitive verb is a verb that does not need an object to complete the sentence.

  • Belinda waited patiently. (The verb “waited” completes the sentence and does not need any object to receive the action. The action can be completed by the subject itself.)

3. Linking Verb

As the name suggests, a linking verb is a verb that acts as a link or connector between the subject and additional information about it. Linking verbs do not describe an action.

  • All be verbs such as am, is, are, was, were, etc. are linking verbs.
    • Example: Jay is friendly. (Jay = friendly)
  • Sense verbs (e.g. look, seem, feel, smell, appear) and other action verbs can act as linking verbs.
    • Example: The garden remained gorgeous even after the storm. (garden = gorgeous)
    • Example: She feels tired. (She = tired)

4. Auxiliary Verb

An auxiliary verb is a verb that comes together with the main verb. It generally helps indicate the tense, time, and possibility. Thus, an auxiliary verb is also termed a helping verb. This verb includes be verbs, have, and do.

See also  Counsel and Council: What's the difference?

TIP: Don’t get confused with be verbs used as linking verbs and auxiliary verbs. Be verbs used as linking verbs act as the main verbs in the sentence. Be verbs used as auxiliary verbs go together with main verbs.

Examples:

  • They are watching a movie. (“Are” is the auxiliary verb of the main verb “watching”.)
  • She has eaten breakfast. (“Has” is the auxiliary verb of the main verb “eaten”.)
  • Don’t travel without your passport. (“Don’t” is the auxiliary verb of the main verb “travel”.)

5. Modal Verb

A modal verb is an auxiliary verb that adds meaning to the main verb. It often expresses obligation, ability, advice, necessity, request, permission, or possibility. Included in this list are can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should, and must.

  • Terrence can swim very well. (ability)
  • I might take a vacation in Sri Lanka after the pandemic. (possibility)
  • You should see a doctor if you don’t feel well. (advice)

Verb Forms

Verbs are classified according to their form. We identify them as regular and irregular verbs. These verbs are formed based on their past tense and past participle.

Regular Verbs

Most of the verbs follow a regular form. We add -d or -ed to the end of the verb when forming their past tense and past participle.

Example:

Base formPastPast Participle
askaskedasked
believebelievedbelieved
callcalledcalled
regular verbs

Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs are called as they are because they do not follow a particular rule or pattern. Some may carry a change in their spelling while some do not change at all.

Example:

Base formPastPast Participle
bearboreborn
cut (other examples: set, hurt, quit; no spelling change)cutcut
gowentgone
singsangsung
taketooktaken

Tense and Aspects of Verbs

Simple Aspect

This suggests a fact or a situation that exists.

  • Jonah studied last night. (Past simple tense)
  • Jonah studies every night. (Present simple tense)
  • Jonah will study tomorrow. (Future simple tense)

Progressive Aspect

Also called continuous tenses, this aspect expresses an ongoing action.

  • Peter was cleaning when they arrived. (Past progressive tense)
  • Peter is cleaning now. (Present progressive tense)
  • Peter will be cleaning when they arrive. (Future progressive tense)

Perfect Aspect

This aspect expresses that one action is already perfected or completed before another action happens. It also indicates that an action started at an unspecified time in the past.

  • She had eaten dinner before he called. (Past perfect tense)
  • She has already eaten dinner. (Present perfect tense)
  • She will have eaten dinner before he calls. (Future perfect tense)

Perfect Progressive Aspect

This aspect emphasizes how long (duration) a continuous action is completed. We generally use “for” or “since”.

  • I had been walking for two hours before I arrived. (Past perfect progressive tense)
  • I have been walking since this afternoon. (Present perfect progressive tense)
  • I will have been walking for an hour by the time I get there. (Future perfect progressive tense)

Key Points

Now that you have learned the basics of verbs, let us go over the following key points:

  • A verb is a part of speech that expresses an action or state of being.
  • A finite verb is a type of verb that agrees with a subject and shows tense. In contrast, a non-finite verb does not follow a tense and does not agree with the subject. Gerunds, infinitives, and participles are non-finite verbs.
  • An action verb, which indicates the action of the subject, can be transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb needs an object to receive the action, while an intransitive verb does not need any object.
  • A linking verb links or connects the subject to another piece of information about it in the sentence. An auxiliary verb, on the other hand, helps the main verb.
  • A modal verb is an auxiliary verb that adds meaning to the main verb.
  • Regular verbs form their past tense and the past participle by adding -d or -ed at the end. Contrastingly, irregular verbs do not follow a particular rule or pattern.
  • A verb has three main tenses: past, present, and future. This is further broken down according to a verb’s aspects such as simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive.
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