What Is a Verb?

What is a verb?

What is a verb tense?

What are different types of verbs?

To find answers to these questions, stay tuned and keep reading!


A verb can be defined as a doing or action word. It shows an action, event or state of being. Sentences in the English Language can have either a main verb, a helping verb or both. Another way to describe it is that a verb gives information about an action, something that exists, or an event that has just happened. Verbs convey actions, happenings, thoughts, feelings, speech and relationships. In every sentence, the verb is the main word. If a verb is not in a sentence, the sentence is considered incomplete.

The word ‘verb’ originates from the Latin word ‘verbum’ which means word. It is pronounced as ‘vuhb’. Every language in the world also has a group of words that fall in the class of verbs. In others however, they are not used in the same way. They could have different properties in different languages. For example, in the Chinese and Indonesian languages, verbs are unchanged for past and present tense unlike in English, where verbs are modified to describe the time of action.

In contemporary English, a verb in its basic form, having or not having the particle to is referred to as the infinitive. Verbs can then be changed from their basic form to encode tense, aspect, mood and voice. Verbs can also be modified to agree with the person, gender or number of some of its arguments whether it is a subject or object.

Verbs are usually preceded by nouns, or pronouns that are subjects in a sentence.

Functions of verbs

In speech and writing, verbs have different functions. Here are some of its main functions

  1. Verbs show actions. (apart from the verb to be)
  2. A verb gives us information about an act carried out by a subject in a sentence. E.g., Isaac hit the snake. Hit tells us what Isaac did.
  3. A verb always forms a tense. (past, present, or future)
  4. Verb forms show time, or action, or state of being.
  5. A verb form tells how long an action takes place (aspect)
  6. Verb forms give an idea of the speaker’s attitude (mood)
  7. Verbs always have subjects in a sentence.
  8. A verb is the most important part of a sentence. This is because a sentence is regarded as incomplete when there is no verb present.

Types of verbs

In the English language, verbs are categorized into two broad types which are mainly

  1. Main verbs
  2. Auxiliary verbs


Main verbs

Main verbs are verbs that tell what the subject in a sentence is doing. They depict the main action, or state of being of the subject. Every main verb conveys the meaning in the word itself. Main verbs can be present in a sentence without needing a helping verb. These verbs are very important in a sentence as they provide vital information in the sentence and give an idea of emotion and sense of purpose. Main verbs can also tell the time that an event takes place.

Here are some examples of main verbs: watch, clean, sit, speak, run, see, smell, walk, climb, divide, collect, copy, faint, fight, smile, laugh, jump, dance, sing, play, beat, grow, plant, eat, drink, sow, reap, relax, work, etc.

Main verbs are further subdivided into the following groups

(A) Transitive verbs and intransitive verbs

(B) Regular and irregular verbs

(C) Finite and non-finite verbs

(D) Linking verbs

(E) Phrasal verbs

(A) Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

i. Transitive Verbs

Transitive Verbs give information about the action done by the subject on the object. In other words, it tells what the actor(subject) has done to something else(object). A transitive verb shows that the action passed from the subject to the object.

Whenever an action is directed towards another thing, or person, then a transitive verb is used.

This simply means that the transitive verb carries an action from the subject to the object. Here are some examples

  • She reads a comic.
  • They eat.
  • The girl stopped the man.

ii. Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive connotes “not passing over”. Intransitive verbs are verbs that do not pass over from the subject to an object. In other words, these verbs would still make sense without an object.

For example:

  • We dance.
  • She runs.

 (B) Regular and Irregular verbs

I. Regular verbs

Regular verbs are main verbs that have their past and past participle forms when “-d”, or “-ed” is added to their base forms. Regular verbs can be seen in four different forms.

  • Present form
    The present form is the base form, which is also known as the infinitive form. E.g., dance
  • Past form
    The past form is the form produced after adding “-d”, or “-ed” to the base. It is used to describe events that happened in the near past. E.g., danced
  • Past Participle
    The past participle form is the -ed participle which uses an auxiliary verb when talking about the past. E.g., I have danced
  • -ing form
    The -ing form, or present participle is used to talk about something happening at the time of speech. It is formed when ‘-ing’ is added to the base form. E.g., dancing.

II. Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs are verbs that have their past and past-participle in four different ways.

  • All alike: g., bet-bet-bet, cut-cut-cut, let-let-let
  • Change in middle: come-came-come,
  • Change once: fight-fought-fought, breed, bred, bred
  • Change twice: break-broke, broken, bite-bit-bitten

(C) Finite and Non-finite verbs

I. Finite Verbs
The word finite means something limited. Finite verbs then refer to verbs that are limited in number and person by the subject. Finite verbs usually have a tense.
The dog runs. (present, finite)
Amanda plays the trumpet. (present, finite)
She spoke Italian. (past, finite)

II. Non-finite, or Infinite verbs
Non-finite verbs are those verbs that are not limited by number, or person with the subject. These verbs do not express tense, they simply name the action. Non-finite verbs are not affected by tense changes. These are verbs with the form of infinitive, -ing, and -ed.

Adults love to read. (infinitive, non-finite)
Eating too quickly is bad for your health. (-ing form, non-finite)
Leave as soon as you are asked. (-ed form, non-finite)

(D) Linking verbs

A linking verb is a verb that shows the relationship between the subject and the remaining part of the sentence. They connect the subject to its complement. A linking verb such as “be”, or “become” connect a subject with the adjective, or noun that describes it (the complement). In a sentence, a linking verb is usually followed by a word, or a group of words that describes the subject. The linking verb is also known as a copula and is only used to connect a subject to a complement, or adjective and not an object.

The most common linking verb is “to be” such as: is, are, was, or were.
Some other linking verbs include;
appear, feel, grow, seem, stay, continue, look, smell, remain, sound, become, look, smell, taste, etc


He became angry.
She looks amazing.
He feels sad.

(E) Phrasal verbs

A phrasal verb is a combination of words (a verb + a preposition ,or verb +adverb) that takes on a different meaning to that of the ,original verbs used when used together.

e.g., break down, check in, deal with, leave out.

The car broke down in the traffic. (Here, break down means that the car had a fault)


Animation example of helping verb

For the meaning of a verb in a sentence to be clearer, it often needs a helping verb. Helping verbs, or auxiliary verbs are used to help the main verb form its tense, voice, or mood. The verbs are always used before the main verb in the sentences.

Auxiliary verbs are of two major types;

(A) Primary Auxiliary Verbs
(B) Modal Auxiliary Verbs

(A) Primary Auxiliary Verbs

  1. The primary auxiliaries are be, have and do. They differ from each other and are the base form other auxiliaries. The verb be, have and do can be used as main verbs, or auxiliary verbs.

i. ‘be’

The verb “be” is an auxiliary verb to form continuous tenses.
He is hitting the ball. (is [auxiliary verb], playing [main verb])

The verb “be” is used as the main verb to state what someone, or something is like, or that something, or someone exists. E.g.,
He is a great artist.

ii. ‘have’

The verb “have” is an auxiliary verb used to form perfect tenses.
have completed my work. (have [auxiliary verb], completed [main verb])

The verb “have” is used as a main verb to show possession.
have a book.

iii. ‘do’

The verb “do” is used as an auxiliary verb for questions, negatives and emphasis.
Do you go to school? (do [auxiliary verb], go [main verb])

‘do’ can be used as a main verb to show activity. E.g.,
do my work.

(B) Modal Auxiliary Verbs

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs succeeded by main verbs in a sentence used to express doubt, probability, obligation, ability, necessity, intention, permission, or opinions.

Modal verbs are followed by the main verb without to. The exceptions are, “ought to” and “used to”.

We should help the poor. (Obligation)
It may be right. (Probability)
can play football. (Ability)
You must work hard to get the job. (necessity)

When we need to decide a modal auxiliary verb, context is extremely important. The difference between two following sentences is critical.

  • They may clean the garden.
  • They can clean the garden.

“May” tells cleaning the garden is a possibility;
“Can” gives the idea that they have the ability to clean the garden.

Characteristics of verbs

Verbs are generally known to have the following characteristics that determine how a verb will be modified and its use in any sentence.

1. Number and person

A verb changes according to person and number. Person indicates who is doing, or being the verb. Number indicates how many are doing, or being. The table below is often used to help conjugate verbs according to person and number (pronouns are added as sample subjects):

Point of view Singular Plural
1st person One person – me/I Multiple persons – we/us
2nd person One person – you Multiple persons – you
3rd person One person – he/she/it Multiple persons – they

Verbs can then be modified according to both person and number. Example (to run)

Point of view Singular Plural
1st person I run We run
2nd person You run You run
3rd person He/She/It runs They run

2. Voice

The voice of a verb refers to whether the subject carries out an action, or the subject is acted upon. There are two types of voice, called the active and passive voice.

Active voice

Active voice shows that the subject is the one carrying out the action.

Example: Dr George gave us some money. The subject of this sentence “Dr George” carries out the action “gave.”

Passive voice

Passive voice shows that the subject was not performing the action. In passive voice, the object of the action has become the subject of the sentence. Passive voice is formed by adding a “to be” verb to the past participle.

Example: We were given some money.

The subject of this sentence ‘we’ did not perform the verb – it did not do the giving. It was the object of the verb.

The passive voice has to be used carefully. It makes writing weaker because it hides the actor in the sentence. It is best used to emphasize the object of the action.

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3. Mood

Mood refers to the attitude of a speaker. It indicates the state of mind of the speaker as at the time of speech. There are three moods which include

i. Indicative

ii. Imperative

iii. Subjunctive

Indicative mood

Verbs are often used in the indicative mood – the mood that indicates the verb is acting, or being:


We played video games all day.

John is a bartender in that club.

I took the boys to the mall.

Imperative mood

Verbs in the imperative mood are used when commands are given.

Example: Call the police!

Please pass the salt

Get your hands off me!

Subjunctive mood

Verbs are used in the subjunctive mood to express something that is hoped to happen.

A subjunctive verb can indicate a hypothetical situation, a desire, a reality that is not fact, or a demand.

Hypothetical: If Charlie were to pass his exams, we would go for a vacation

Desire: I wish I were an astronaut.

A reality that is not fact: If I were the governor, I would have education free for all.

Suggestion: You should stay on the right side of the road.

Demand: Mary insisted that John should take her home.

4. Tense

What is a verb tense?
What is a verb tense?

This is used to refer to how verbs change form to convey their meanings. The tense shows the time that an event happens.

The three main kinds of tenses are the Present tense, the past tense and the future tense.

The tense of a verb indicates when in time the action, or being of the verb occurred.

Regular verbs in English change their form into six tenses:

  1. Present
  2. Past
  3. Future
  4. Present perfect
  5. Past perfect
  6. Future perfect.

Each of the tenses is made up of one of, or a combination of the four forms (past, present, past participle, present participle). The first three tenses (past, present, and future) can also take progressive forms.


Present indicates that something occurs, or is now, at the current time.

Present verbs take the present verb form.


I sing in the choir.

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

Present progressive indicates that something is in the act of occurring now.

Present progressive takes the present tense “to be” + present perfect form.

I am singing in the choir.

The sun is rising in the east and setting in the west.


Past is used to tell that something occurred at a fixed time before the present.

Past verbs take the past form.


The dog ate meat yesterday

I slept on the couch last night.

Past progressive indicates that something occurred over time in the past.

Past progressive verbs take the past tense “to be” + present participle form.


The dog was eating meat.

I was sleeping on the couch.


Future is used to show that an event will take place, or happen at a time after the present.

Future verbs take “will” + present form, or present tense “to be” + “going to” + present form.


The players will train tomorrow morning.

I am going to the mall later in the afternoon.

Future progressive indicates that something will be happening over time in the future.

Future progressive takes “will be” + present participle, or present tense “to be” + “going to be” + present participle. I am going to be cleaning the garage sometime soon.

Note: Note that, in formal English, “will” is sometimes replaced by “shall” (Example: The players shall play the match tonight).

There are some irregular verbs that do not behave this way. The most significant of these is “to be” A good English dictionary will indicate the remainder of the irregular verbs. “Progressive” verb forms are also often called “continuous”.


Past perfect indicates that something in the past occurred before something else in the past.

Past perfect is formed by past tense “to have” + the past participle.


I had gone to the store to get some apples when the shooting started.

The earrings had been red before they were stolen.

Past perfect progressive indicates that something had been happening in the past before something else. Past perfect continuous is formed by “had been” + present participle

Example: I had been getting tomatoes at the mall before it closed.

Ticket sales had been increasing until the pandemic.


Present perfect is used to show that something happened in the past and continues up to the present.

Present perfect is formed by present tense “to have” + past participle form


I have worked tirelessly to this minute.

Bono has spent thousands of dollars on this house.


Future perfect tense shows that something in the future happens before something else in the future.

Future perfect tense is formed by EITHER using “will have” + past participle form, or using present tense “to be” + “going to have” + the past participle.


Marcus will have done the dishes once I get home.

She is going to have eaten when we reach her in the office.

Future perfect progressive is used to show that something will be happening up to a particular point in time in the future.

Future perfect continuous is formed EITHER by using “will have been” + the present participle, or by using present tense “to be” + “going to have been” + the present participle.


I will have been cooking before they arrive.

I am going to have been playing games before my sisters return.

This table gives a summary of all the forms of tenses.

PAST TENSE Simple past Past progressive Past perfect Past perfect progressive

I stayed at home.

Past tense ‘to be’ + present participle

I was staying at home.

‘had’ + past participle

I had stayed at home.

‘had been’ + present participle

I had been staying at home.

PRESENT TENSE Simple present Present progressive Present Perfect Present perfect progressive

I stay at home.

 Present tense ‘to

be’ + present participle

I am staying at home.

Present ‘to

have’ + past participle

I have stayed at home.

‘have been’ +

present participle

I have been staying at home.

FUTURE TENSE Simple future Future progressive Future perfect  Future perfect progressive

“Will” + present, or present tense “to be” + “going to” + verb

 I will stay at home.

I am going to stay at home.

“will be” + present participle, or present tense “to be” + “going to be” + present participle

I will be staying at home.

I am going to be staying at home.

“will have” + past participle, or present tense “to be” + “going to have” + past participle

I will have stayed at home.

I am going to have stayed at home.

“will have been” + present participle, or present “to be” + “going to have been” + present participle

I will have been staying at home.

I am going to have been staying at home.

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By David Adewusi

David is a blog writer who likes writing about literature, English grammar, and editing methods. He has also worked as a copy editor and proofreader. He has written excellent blog posts for Scientific Editing.

5 thoughts on “What Is a Verb?”

  1. I wonder haw many verbs can one write back to back. Like, He sat and yawned and laughed and left. Is there any limit for this in the English language?

    • Language is like an open source program that anyone can create his/her own version. No one is going to set rules for your program. However, some programs work better than others and therefore are widely accepted by the public. Using the same words that Shakespeare wrote his pieces, anyone can write a piece. But would that sound as elegant as Shakespeare’s pieces? One can use as many as verbs in tandem. There is no rule for that and it may not be grammatically wrong. But it may not sound right to ears. In general, very long sentences do not make a clear point.

  2. I found it fascinating that in English many words can be used as verbs. This way new verbs are created all the time. You can say
    I googled it.
    I am going to SMS my dad.
    I ubered it.
    You cannot do that in many languages.


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