What are verbs?|
Verbs are doing words. A verb can express a physical action, a mental action, or a state of being.
Verbs Express ActionsVerbs are doing words. A verb can express:
If you're a native English speaker who's new to studying grammar, you probably know this table without even knowing you know it.
Lots of Verbs Express Physical ActionsHere are some sentences with the verbs highlighted. (These verbs express physical actions.)
Verbs Express Mental Actions TooAs we covered at the start, verbs do not necessarily express physical actions like the ones above. They can express mental actions too:
Verbs Express a State of BeingA small, but extremely important group of verbs do not express any activity at all. The most important verb in this group – arguably of all – is the verb to be. As already mentioned, this is seen in forms like is, are, were, was, will be, etc.
Some real examples:
(Point of interest: I am is the shortest sentence in English.)
Click on the verbs:
Take the test on verb tenses
Verb TerminologyThere is a lot of grammatical terminology associated with verbs. Below are explanations of those used most frequently by grammarians. (There is a more comprehensive list in the Glossary of Terms.)
When a verb is preceded by the word to, it is said to be in its infinitive form (i.e., most basic form).
Verbs which express actions in the past are said to be in the past tense.
Verbs which express present actions are said to be in the present tense.
(lights up - present tense of the verb to light up)
Verbs which express actions in the future are said to be in the future tense. These are usually formed by preceding the verb with the word will.
SUBJECT OF A VERB
The person or thing performing the action of the verb is said to be the subject of the verb or the subject of the sentence.
DIRECT OBJECT OF A VERB
Many verbs perform an action on something. This is called the direct object of the verb.
Some verbs cannot have a direct object. These verbs are said to be intransitive verbs.
Verbs that can have a direct object (most of them) are called transitive verbs.
INDIRECT OBJECT OF A VERB
Some verbs have two objects, a direct object (see above) and an indirect object. The indirect object is the person or thing for whom the action was performed.
The subject of a sentence does not always do the action of the verb. Sometimes, the action is done to the subject. Such sentences are called passive sentences because the subjects are being passive, i.e., not doing anything.
(Note: Carl is the subject of the verb to be, i.e., was.)
Passive verbs always comprise two parts (was arrested in this example). The person doing the action of the verb in a passive sentence is usually shown with the word by.
Passive verbs are said to be in the passive voice. Passive sentences are quite useful:
Active sentences are the opposite to passive sentences (see above). In an active sentence, the subject of the verb performs the action.
We damaged the carpet.)
Jamie read a story.)
CONJUGATION OF VERBS
A verb will change its form a little depending on the subject. For example:
When verbs change in this way, it is known as conjugation. A verb conjugates according to the subject. The subject of a verb can be in one of six forms:
3. He / She / It
The first three are the singular forms (known as first person singular, second person singular, and third person singular). The second three are the plural forms (known as first person plural, second person plural and third person plural).
All subjects fit in one of these categories. Camel is like he (i.e., third person singular) and jackals is like they (i.e., third person plural).
This topic rarely causes problems for native English speakers, who conjugate verbs correctly without much thought.
Interestingly, this is the origin of the insurance term third party (insurance for them).
Participles are formed from verbs. There are two types: present participles and past participles. Present participles end ...ing. Past participles have various endings. Below is a table showing some participles:
Participles can be used as adjectives. For example:
(Note: When an adjective is placed after the word it is describing, it is called a predicate adjective.)
(Note: This is a passive sentence (see above). In this role, neglected is known as a past passive participle.)
START A NEW SENTENCE
The verb is the most important part of speech - you cannot form a sentence without one. That said, once you have formed a sentence (i.e., expressed a complete idea), you should put a full stop (or period ) and end the sentence. Do not insert a comma and continue writing. This is a very common mistake. It is known as a run on comma or run on sentence. This is covered in more detail in the lesson run-on errors.
(Occasionally, it may be appropriate to use a dash or a semicolon instead of a full stop. See the lesson Extend a Sentence.)
BEING OR BEEN
Some writers occasionally confuse the words being and been. As a rule, the word been is always used after have (in any form, e.g., has, had, will have); whereas, being is never used after have. For example:
(Although a past participle, been is not used as an adjective. Therefore, it must be used with have, which is its auxiliary verb. The auxiliary verb for being, on the other hand, is to be.)
See the lesson Being or Been?
BEWARE SPLIT INFINITIVES
Placing another word between to and its verb is called a split infinitive and is considered by some to be a mistake. For example:
This is covered more in the lesson Too and To.
WHO OR WHOM?
Who is always the subject of a verb; whereas whom is never the subject of a verb. That is the difference between the two. (Covered more in the lesson Who and Whom.)
PASSIVE OR ACTIVE?
Many businesses encourage their staff to use active sentences in their writing. This is because they consider the structure of passive sentences to be less flowing and the tone more flowery. For this reason, the Microsoft Word grammar checker often suggests an active version of a passive sentence. For example: