Verb "To Do" in English

by Craig Shrives

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How to Use "To Do" in English

The verb "to do" is a common verb in English. It has 5 different forms:
  • do, does, did, doing, done
"To do" is an unusual verb because it can function as a main verb or an auxiliary verb.
  • (1) "To Do" As a Main Verb:
    • I do ballet.
    • (As a main verb, it usually means "to perform.")
  • (2) "To Do" As an Auxiliary Verb:
    • Do you like olives?
    • (As an auxiliary verb, it can help to form a question.)
    • I do not like olives.
    • (As an auxiliary verb, it can join with "not" to make a verb negative.)
    • They do believe in fairies.
    • (As an auxiliary verb, it can add emphasis.)
the verb to do in English

"To Do" As a Main Verb

As a main verb, "to do" usually means "to perform" or "to carry out". For example:
  • We do exercise at lunchtime.
  • (We "carry out" exercise at lunchtime.)
  • She does a triple twist at the end of the vault.
  • (She "performs" a triple twist...)
  • Joanne did a good thing yesterday.
  • (Joanne carried out a good thing yesterday.)

"To Do" As an Auxiliary Verb

As an auxiliary verb (or helping verb), "to do" has three uses. It can be used to form a question, to create a negative verb, or to add emphasis. In each of these examples, the main verb is bold:

(1) To form a question:

  • Did you eat all the bananas?
  • (Here, "to do" is an auxiliary verb helping the verb "eat.")
  • Do you know the capital of France?
  • ("To do" is an auxiliary verb helping the verb "know.")
  • Does Alan want a drink?
  • ("To do" is an auxiliary verb helping the verb "want.")
Notice the word order when "to do" helps to form a question:
[form of "to do"]
+
[subject]
+
[verb]
+
[the rest]
For example:
Does
+
John
+
play
+
the guitar?

(2) To make a verb negative:

  • I do not drink coffee at home.
  • (Here, "to do" is an auxiliary verb. It combines with "not" to make the verb "drink" negative.)
  • Sarah does not fly back to Argentina tomorrow.
  • ("To do" is an auxiliary verb. It combines with "not" to make the verb "fly" negative.)
  • Jack did not hear the alarm.
  • ("To do" is an auxiliary verb. It combines with "not" to make the verb "hear" negative.)
Notice the word order when "to do" helps to form a negative verb:
[subject]
+
[form of "to do"]
+
"not"
+
[base form of verb]
+
[the rest]
For example:
Sarah
+
did
+
not
+
break
+
the plate.

(3) To add emphasis:

  • I do work hard!
  • (Here, "to do" adds positive emphasis. This sentence would be an appropriate response to an accusation of not working hard.)
  • Peter does have a sister.
  • ("To do" adds positive emphasis. This sentence would be an appropriate response to someone claiming that Peter had no sister.)
  • We did find the treasure eventually.
  • ("To do" adds positive emphasis. This sentence would be an appropriate ending to a story about consistently failing to find the treasure.)
Notice the word order when "to do" adds emphasis:
[subject]
+
[form of "to do"]
+
[base form of verb]
+
[the rest]
For example:
Sarah
+
did
+
break
+
the plate.

The 5 Forms of a Verb

As we've covered, there are 5 different versions of the verb "to do." They are "do," "does," "did," "doing," and "done." There are no other versions of the verb.

This table shows where these feature in the 5 grammatical forms of a verb:
FormTo DoAlternative Name
Base FormdoInfinitive Form
Present Tense Formsdoes, do[no alternative name]
Past FormsdidSimple Past Tense
The -ING FormdoingPresent Participle Form
The Past Participle Formdone[no alternative name]
  • "Do" and "does" are the present tense forms.
  • I do sport.We do sport.
    You do sport.You do sport.
    He/she/it does sport.They do sport.
  • "Did" is the past tense form.
  • I did the test.We did the test.
    You did the test.You did the test.
    He/she/it did the test.They did the test.
  • "Doing" is the present participle form.
    • We were doing our homework.
    • We are doing our homework.
    • We will be doing our homework.
    • (Notice there is one example from the past tense, one from the present tense, and one from the future tense. Present participles are used to form the continuous tenses (aka progressive tenses).)
  • "Done" is the past participle form.
    • We had done our homework.
    • We have done our homework.
    • We will have done our homework.
    • (Notice there is one example from the past tense, one from the present tense, and one from the future tense. Past participles are used to form the completed tenses (aka perfect tenses).)
In each of the examples above, "to do" is a main verb (i.e., the version that means "to perform" or "to carry out.")

Don't forget that "do," "does," and "did" can also be auxiliary verbs. In the examples below, they are being used to add emphasis, to make a verb negative, or to form a question. (The main verb is shown in bold.)
  • "Do" and "does" are the present tense forms.
  • I do like sport.
    (adds emphasis)
    We do not like sport.
    (makes the verb negative)
    Do you like sport?
    (helps form a question)
    You do like sport.
    (adds emphasis)
    He/she/it does not like sport.
    (makes the verb negative)
    Do they like sport?
    (helps form a question)
  • "Did" is the past tense form.
  • I did pass the test.
    (adds emphasis)
    We did not pass the test.
    (makes the verb negative)
    Did you pass the test?
    (helps form a question)
    You did pass the test.
    (adds emphasis)
    He/she/it did not pass the test.
    (makes the verb negative)
    Did they pass the test?
    (helps form a question)

Negative Forms of "To Do"

To create a negative verb, precede it with the negative form of "do," "does," or "did."
auxiliary verbnegative formcontraction
dodo notdon't
doesdoes notdoesn't
diddid notdidn't
Creating the negative form, emphasis, or a question with "to do" as a main verb is quirky because it requires using "to do" as an auxiliary verb in the same sentence.
  • I do not do yoga.
  • (The auxiliary verb "do" combines with "not" to make the main verb - "do" - negative.)
  • We do do yoga.
  • (The auxiliary verb "do" adds emphasis to the main verb "do.")
  • Do you do yoga. (helps form a question)
  • (The auxiliary verb "do" helps to form a question that has "do" as the main verb.)
In the three examples above, "to do" is used as an auxiliary verb and a main verb. If you understand this, you've nailed it!

More about "To Do"

The verb "do" is an irregular verb. (This means that "do" does not form its simple past tense or its past participle by adding "-ed" or "-d" to the base form.)

Conjugating "To Do" Fully

The tables below show how "to do" conjugates in all 12 of the past, present, and future tenses. Bear in mind that "to do" is used as both the auxiliary verb and the main verb in these conjugation tables.

Past Tenses

PersonSimple PastPast Progressive TensePast Perfect TensePast Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • did
  • did
  • did
  • did
  • did
  • did
The simple past tense is for a completed activity that happened in the past.
  • was doing
  • were doing
  • was doing
  • were doing
  • were doing
  • were doing
The past progressive tense is for an ongoing activity in the past. Often, it is used to set the scene for another action.
  • had done
  • had done
  • had done
  • had done
  • had done
  • had done
The past perfect tense is for emphasizing that an action was completed before another took place.
  • had been doing
  • had been doing
  • had been doing
  • had been doing
  • had been doing
  • had been doing
The past perfect progressive tense is for showing that an ongoing action in the past has ended.

Present Tenses

PersonSimple PresentPresent Progressive TensePresent Perfect TensePresent Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • do
  • do
  • does
  • do
  • do
  • do
The simple present tense is mostly for a fact or a habit.
  • am doing
  • are doing
  • is doing
  • are doing
  • are doing
  • are doing
The present progressive tense is for an ongoing action in the present.
  • have done
  • have done
  • has done
  • have done
  • have done
  • have done
The present perfect tense is for an action that began in the past. (Often, the action continues into the present.)
  • have been doing
  • have been doing
  • has been doing
  • have been doing
  • have been doing
  • have been doing
The present perfect progressive tense is for a continuous activity that began in the past and continues into the present (or finished very recently).

Future Tenses

PersonSimple FutureFuture Progressive TenseFuture Perfect TenseFuture Perfect Progressive Tense
  • I
  • you
  • he/she/it
  • we
  • you
  • they
  • will do
  • will do
  • will do
  • will do
  • will do
  • will do
The simple future tense is for an action that will occur in the future.
  • will be doing
  • will be doing
  • will be doing
  • will be doing
  • will be doing
  • will be doing
The future progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will occur in the future.
  • will have done
  • will have done
  • will have done
  • will have done
  • will have done
  • will have done
The future perfect tense is for an action that will have been completed at some point in the future.
  • will have been doing
  • will have been doing
  • will have been doing
  • will have been doing
  • will have been doing
  • will have been doing
The future perfect progressive tense is for an ongoing action that will be completed at some specified time in the future.

Most Common Irregular Verbs

The two most common irregular verbs in English are be and have.

Here are the next 10 most common irregular verbs in English:

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See Also

How to improve your spelling The most commonly misspelled words in English Top 10 spelling rules in English Parts of Speech Lists 200 Important Irregular Verbs Role-Play Scenarios for English Learners

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