What Is a Verb Root (or "Root Form of a Verb")?

by Craig Shrives

Verb Root

A verb root (which is also known as the "root form of a verb" or the base form of a verb) is the version of the verb that is listed in the dictionary.

The verb root is the same as the infinitive form but without the "to." For example:

Infinitive FormVerb Root
to divedive
to jumpjump
to wonderwonder

In other words, the verb root is the form of the verb without any endings (e.g., "-s," "-ing," and "ed").

The Other Verb Forms

The verb root is used to create the other forms of the verb. There are five forms of a verb:

verb root or root form

The verb root is always used to create the other forms of regular verbs (i.e., verbs that comply with the normal rules for creating the various forms) but not necessarily for irregular verbs (i.e., verbs that do not comply with the normal rules).

Examples of Verb Root

Here are some examples of verb roots:
  • watch
  • (The verb root "watch" is used to make these three forms: watches, watched, watching. Note that watched is both the past form and the past-participle form. This is common.)
  • play
  • (This is used to make these forms: plays, played, playing.)
  • live
  • (This is used to make these forms: lives, lived, living.)
  • think
  • (This is used to make these forms: thinks, thought, thinking.)
  • drink
  • (This is used to make these forms: drinks, drank, drinking, drunk. Note that the past form of the verb "to drink" is not the same as the past-participle form.)

The Verb Root Appears in Most of the Present Tense

The verb root appears in all versions of the present tense except the third person singular (shaded red). For example:
ConjugationExample 1Example 2
1st person singularI playI concur
2nd person singularYou playYou concur
3rd person singularHe plays
She plays
It plays
He concurs
She concurs
It concurs
1st person pluralWe playWe concur
2nd person pluralYou playYou concur
3rd person pluralThey playThey concur

The Verb Root Appears in the Imperative Mood (i.e., Commands)

The verb root is used for commands (i.e., the imperative mood. For example:
  • Eat a live toad the first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
  • Next time I see you, remind me not to talk to you. (Comedian Groucho Marx)

The Verb Root Appears in the Subjunctive Mood

The verb root of a verb appears in the subjunctive mood. For example:
  • I propose he stay with us.
  • Saddam Hussein systematically violated every UN resolution that demanded he disarm and destroy his chemical and biological weapons. (US politician Henry Waxman)

The Five Verb Forms

The table below shows the five verb forms in English.
Verb Type 1
The Verb Root
(aka "Base Form" or "Uninflected Form")
2
The -S Form
(aka "Third Person Singular Present Tense Form")
3
Past Form
(aka "The Past Tense Form")
4
The -ING Form
(aka the Present Participle Form
5
The Past Participle Form
Regular play plays played playing played
Regular use uses used using used
Regular marry marries married marrying married
Irregular bring brings brought bringing brought
Irregular run runs ran running run
Irregular fall falls fell falling fallen
Irregular drink drinks drank drinking drunk

Why Should I Care about the Verb Roots?

Understanding the verb forms (including the root form) is essential when learning English because it allows teachers and pupils to talk about the components that form the various tenses.

For example, with some verbs, the root form, past form, and past participle form are the same (e.g., let, I let, I had let). However, with others, they are all different (e.g., take, I took, I had taken).

Knowing the various verb forms is a great starting point for learning these complex rules and exceptions.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are verbs? What is the infinitive form? What is the present tense? What is the third person? What is the imperative mood? What is the subjunctive mood? Glossary of grammatical terms