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English Grammar


Parts of Speech: Verbs

Verb: a word that indicates action or a state of being. The predicates of sentences contain verbs. All verbs have five properties: person, number, mood, voice, and tense.

  1. Types of verbs

    • Regular verb: a verb whose past tense form is made by the addition of –d or –ed.

      walk/walked, jump/jumped, try/tried

    • Irregular verb: a verb whose past tense form cannot be made with –d or –ed.

      cling/clung, bring/brought, choose/chose/chosen, speak/spoke/spoken

    • Transitive verb: a verb that requires an object to complete its meaning.

      —The carpenter makes shelves.

      In this sentence, shelves is the object of the verb makes.

    • Intransitive verb: a verb that cannot take an object.

      —She stayed at the bar long after closing time.

    • Linking verb: a verb that connects a subject to a predicate noun or adjective.

      —The young man felt nervous about his credit card payments.

    • Auxiliary or helping verb: a word such as be, can, have, do, or will that combines with a verb to modify its meaning.

      —Randall can run to the store.

      In this sentence, can is the auxiliary verb; run is the main verb. The two together are a compound verb.

    • Compound verb: the combination of an auxiliary verb and another verb. Compound verbs are used to create verb tenses that cannot be made from single verbs.

      —I will come to the party if you are planning to invite me.

    • Modal auxiliary verb: an auxiliary verb that expresses necessity, obligation, potential, or possibility.

      —She would go if she were given the chance.

    • Infinitive: a compound verb made with to and the basic form of the verb.

      —Matt likes to spend a great deal of money.

  2. Person: verbs must match the person of the subject.

    • First person: expresses identity of the writer/speaker.

      —I am tired.

    • Second person: addresses reader/listener directly.

      —You are tired.

    • Third person: refers to a subject that is neither the writer nor the reader.

      —He is tired.

  3. Number: the form of a verb always matches the number of the subject. Verbs may be singular, usually ending in -s or -es, or plural, without a modified ending.

    Verbs take a singular form when:

    • A subject is singular.

      —The cow jumps over the moon.

    • Two singular subjects are joined by or, either/or, or neither/nor.

      —Either the cow or the rabbit jumps over the moon.

    • The verb is nearer the singular subject in a compound sentence that has both a singular and plural subject joined by or or nor.

      —Either the rabbits or the cow is jumping next.

    • The subject is preceded by every or each.

      —Every cow wishes it could jump over the moon.

    Verbs take a plural form when:

    • A subject is plural.

      —The wedding guests dance to the music.

    • Two singular subjects are joined by and.

      —The photographer and the priest dance vigorously.

    • Two plural subjects are joined by or, either/or, or neither/nor.

      —Either the bride’s cousins or the groom’s friends are the best dancers.

    • The verb is nearer the plural subject in a compound subject that has both a singular and plural subject joined by or or nor.

      —Either the bride’s sister or the groom’s friends are buying the bride a houseboat.

  4. Mood: verbs may be used in one of three moods, which indicate the attitude of the speaker toward the action of the verb.

    • Indicative mood: used in declarative sentences to express facts, ideas, opinions, and questions directly.

      —For an insurance executive, Wallace writes beautifully.

    • Imperative mood: used in imperative sentences to issue commands.

      Bring me my violin.

    • Subjunctive mood: used in dependent clauses to indicate unreal or counterfactual conditions. The subjunctive is typically formed by using the past tense plural form of the verb, even if the subject is singular.

      —If I were with you, I would be happy.

      The subjunctive mood also follows verbs of wishing or requesting:

      —I wish that I were with you.

      and follows independent clauses that use adjectives indicating urgency:

      —It seemed crucial that he go to the meeting on time.

  5. Voice: indicates the relationship between the subject and the action of a verb. Verbs may be in one of two voices, active or passive.

    • Active voice: the subject performs the action.

      —Gretchen sweeps the floor.

    • Passive voice: the subject receives the action.

      —The floor was swept by Gretchen.

  6. Verb tenses: indicate the time in which the action is performed. English has three tenses: past, present, and future. Each tense has four forms: simple, perfect, progressive, and perfect progressive.

    • Simple tenses: indicate past, present, or future action.

    • Perfect tenses: indicate a completed action at some point in time.

    • Progressive tenses: indicate action that continues for a period of time.

      Simple   Perfect   Progressive   Perfect Progressive
    Past   played   had played   were playing   had been playing
    Present   play   have played   are playing   have been playing
    Future   will play   will have played   will be playing   will have been playing