Verbs Overview


Verbs are one of the most important types of words in the English language. Along with nouns, verbs can help you establish your first sentences. Often referred to as an action word or doing word, a verb also conveys

  • an action (bring, read, open, run, learn),
  • an occurrence (happen, become),
  • a feeling (seems, need, have, must),
  • or a state of being (be, exist, stand).

Verbs change depending on the time that the action takes place. It is called the verb tense. Although less common, they can also change depending on who is doing the action. The verbs can change depending on whether it is referring to the first person, the second person, or the third person. They can also change depending on whether the noun is singular, or plural, or non-countable. Verbs can be categorised as:

  • Regular
  • Irregular
  • Auxiliary Verbs
  • Modal Verbs
  • Phrasal Verbs
  • Transitive
  • Intransitive

Infinitive Form

The Infinitive Form is also known as the Root Form. It is when the verb is at it’s most basic form. It is the version of the verb which will appear in the dictionary. When a verb is preceded by the word to, it is said to be in its infinitive form (i.e., its most basic form). The infinitive form of a verb is usually preceded by to (e.g., to run, to dance, to think). However, the infinitive form is not always preceded by to.

  • I need to sleep every day.
  • I must sleep every day.
    • (After certain verbs, the to is dropped.)

Regular and Irregular Verbs

English has regular verbs and irregular verbs. The difference between the two becomes evident when the verb is used in past and perfect tense. Regular verbs are the most common and follow a pattern. They can be distinguished from their root (infinitive) form.

  • Follow – followed – followed
  • Distinguish  – distinguished – distinguished
  • Change – changed – changed

Irregular verbs do not follow a pattern and hence it is not always clear which word to use in the past or perfect form.

  • Build – built – built
  • See – saw – saw
  • Cut – cut – cut
  • Eat – ate – eaten

As you can see in the above examples, sometimes the verb changes and sometimes it doesn’t. There is no pattern, and hence not regular. There are about 250 common irregular verbs, another 250 that are not so common, and then more which are used for technical or medical terminology. (only used when working in that field). Of the regular verbs there are 1000’s so if you are unsure, try putting -ed on the end, and if the person is kind enough they will assist you to correct your mistake.

Auxiliary Verbs

The definition of “auxiliary” is to provide supplementary or additional help and support. An auxiliary verb, therefore, is a verb which provides support or help to the main verb. They are used together with a main verb to add extra meaning to a sentence or to add information that is not given by the main verb. They can give tense, mood or voice to the sentence.

Auxiliary verbs include the verbs;

  • Be (am, are, is, was, were, being, been),
  • Do (does, did),
  • Have (has, had, having),

These can all act as an auxiliary verb or as a main verb, and they are all irregular verbs.

Modal Verbs

Other auxiliary verbs include the modals. Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs and are often called modal auxiliaries. Unlike other auxiliary verbs, modals only exist in their helping form; they do not stand alone as a main verb.

The modal verbs are:-

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would
  • ought to (some say this is not a modal)

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Transitive and intransitive verbs both have two characteristics. First, they are verbs which relate to an action, rather than an occurrence, a feeling or a state of being; paint, write, lie, sit, eat, clean, etc.

Transitive verbs must be followed by a direct object, or something or someone who receives the action.

  • He painted the wall.
  • I wrote a book.
  • I will lie on the bed.
  • He ate cookies.
  • We cleaned the room

An intransitive verb will not have a direct object receiving the action.

  • He paints with passion.
  • I write for enjoyment.
  • I lie in the shade.
  • He always eats before dinner.
  • We clean every day after class.

Verb Tenses

Verbs may change depending on when the action takes place. This is known as the tense.

  Simple Continuous Perfect Perfect Continuous
Present He is He is being He has been He has been being
Present They study They are studying They have studied They have been studying
Past He was He was being He had been He had been being
Past They studied They were studying They had studied They had been studying
Future He will be He will be being He will have been He will have been being
Future They will study They will be studying They will have studied They will have been studying

Tenses can take place in the

  • Infinitive Form
  • Present
  • Past
  • and the Future

Tenses can be in the

  • Simple Form
  • Continuous Form
  • Perfect Form
  • Or Perfect Continuous Form
Simple Present S+V1+O
Simple Past S+V2+O
Simple Future S+will+V1+O
Simple Present Passive O+V3+S
Continuous Present S+to be+V1+ing+O
Continuous Past S+to be past+V1+ing+O
Continuous Future S+will+ be+V1+ing+O
Continuous Present Passive O+to be+ing+V3+S
Perfect Present S+to be+V1+ing+O
Perfect Past S+had+V2+O
Perfect Future S+will+have+V2+O
Perfect Present Passive O+has+been+V3+S
Perfect Continuous Present S+have+been+ V+ing +O
Perfect Continuous Past S+had+been+ V+ing +O
Perfect Continuous Future S+will+have+been+V+ing+O
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