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What is a verb?

Verbs are the action words in a sentence that describe what the subject is doing. Along with nouns, verbs are the main part of a sentence or phrase, telling a story about what is taking place. In fact, without a verb, full thoughts can’t be properly conveyed, and even the simplest sentences, such as Maria sings, have one. Actually, a verb can be a sentence by itself, with the subject, in most case you, implied, such as, Sing! and Drive!

When learning the rules of grammar, schoolchildren are often taught that verbs are ‘doing’ words, meaning they signify the part of the sentence which explains the action taking place: He ran away, she eats chocolate cake on Sundays, the horses gallop across the fields. Ran, eats and gallop are the ‘action’ parts of those sentences, thus they are the verbs. However, it can be confusing because not all verbs are easily identifiable as action: I know your name, Jack thought about it, we considered several applications. These are non-action verbs, i.e. those that describe a state of being, emotion, possession, sense or opinion. Other non-action verbs include include love, agree, feel, am, and have.



How to Recognize a Verb

As you can see from the examples above, one clue to help you recognize a verb is its location compared to the subject. Verbs almost always come after a noun or pronoun. These nouns and pronouns are referred to as the subject.  The verb thought comes after the noun Jack, so the action Jack (subject) was taking was thinking (verb).

  1. Mark eats his dinner quickly.
  2. We went to the market.
  3. You write neatly in your notebook.
  4. They thought about all the prizes in the competition.

Here are some other ways to recognize verbs in a sentence:

  1. If you’re not sure if a word is a verb, ask yourself, “Can I do ______?”

Can I think, wonder, walk, yawn? Yes, so these are verbs.

  1. You can also ask, ”What is happening?”

In the sentence Mark eats his dinner quickly, what is happening? Eating is happening, so eating is the verb.

In the sentence They thought about all the prizes what is happening? Thought (thinking) is happening, so thought is the verb


Types of Verbs


There are many types of verbs. In addition to the main categories of physical verbs, mental verbs, and state of being verbs, there are several other types of verbs. In fact, there are more than ten different types of verbs that are grouped together by function.


List of all Verb Types


Action Verbs


Action verbs express specific actions and are used any time you want to show action or discuss someone doing something.  It’s important to remember that the action does not have to be physical.

Action verb examples

  1. Run
  2. Dance
  3. Slide
  4. Jump
  5. Think
  6. Do
  7. Go
  8. Stand
  9. Smile
  10. Listen.

The action verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.

I run faster than David.

He does it well.

She thinks about poetry all day long


Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs are action verbs that always express doable activities that relate or affect someone or something else. These other things are generally direct objects, nouns or pronouns that are affected by the verb, though some verbs can also take an indirect object, such as show, take, and make. In a sentence with a transitive verb, someone or something receives the action of the verb.

Transitive verb examples

  1. Love
  2. Respect
  3. Tolerate
  4. Believe
  5. Maintain.

The transitive verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.

Gary ate the cookies.

The transitive verb is ate, Gary is the subject, because it is Gary who is doing the eating, and the cookies are the direct object, because it is the cookies that are being eaten. Other examples:

He kicked John.

John punches him.

They sold the tickets.

Examples of verbs used with both direct and indirect objects:

They sell him the tickets.

In this sentence, the tickets are the direct object while him is the indirect object.

Mary baked her mother a pie.

In this sentence, a pie is the direct object while her mother is the indirect object.


Intransitive Verbs


Intransitive verbs are action verbs that always express doable activities. They are different from transitive verbs because there is no direct object following an intransitive verb.


Intransitive verb examples


  1. Walk
  2. Laugh
  3. Cough
  4. Play
  5. Run


The intransitive verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.


We travelled to London.

The intransitive verb is travelled, the subject is we, because we are doing the travelling, but London is not a direct object because London is not receiving the action of the verb. Other examples:

I sneeze in the morning.

He arrived with moments to spare.

Kathryn sat away from the others.

John eats before leaving for school.

The last example shows that the verb eats can be both transitive and intransitive depending on whether there is a direct object or not. If the sentence read: John eats the cookies before leaving for school, eats would be transitive as there is a direct object – the cookies.

By the way, some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. These verbs include: start, leave, change, live, stop.


Auxiliary Verbs


Auxiliary verbs are also known as helping verbs and are used together with a main verb to show the verb’s tense or to form a question or negative. Common examples of auxiliary verbs include have, might, will. These auxiliary verbs give some context to the main verb, for example, letting the reader know when the action took place.


Auxiliary verb examples


  1. Would
  2. Should
  3. Do
  4. Can
  5. Did
  6. Could
  7. May


The auxiliary verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.

I will go home after football practice.

The auxiliary verb will is telling us that the action of the main verb go is going to take place in the future – after football practice has ended. If the auxiliary verb will was removed, we get the sentence:

I go home after football practice.

In this case, there is no definite time frame for the action. The sentence suggests that going home after football practice is just something the subject I generally does. Other examples:

I may dance with you later.

We did consider Bryan’s feelings.

Jenny has spoken her final words.

In addition, we can sometimes use the auxiliary very before the pronoun to make a question:

Might you dance with me later?

Did we consider Bryan’s feelings?

Has Jenny spoken her final words?

Also, auxiliary verbs are used to help form negative statements, with the use of words like not and never. These will usually split the auxiliary and main verbs:

I may never dance with you again.

We did not consider Bryan’s feelings.

Jenny has not spoken her final words.


Stative Verbs


Stative verbs can be recognized because they express a state rather than an action. They typically relate to thoughts, emotions, relationships, senses, states of being, and measurements. The best way to think about stative verbs is that they are verbs that describe things that are not actions. The stative verbs are all expressing a state: A state of doubting, a state of believing, a state of wanting. These states of being are often temporary.

The stative verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.

The doctor disagrees with your analysis.

Disagree is a stative verb here, as it describes the doctor’s state of being – disagreement.

John doubts the doctor’s opinion.

I believe the doctor is right.

She wanted another opinion.


Modal Verbs


Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that are used to express abilities, possibilities, permissions, and obligations.


Modal verb examples


  1. Can
  2. Must
  3. May
  4. Should
  5. Would


The modal verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.

He can shoot a three-point shot easily.

The auxiliary verb can is expressing an ability, suggesting that shooting a three-point shot is a skill the subject possesses.

Please note that in the case of should and must in the examples below, the modal verbs are expressing obligations, whereas would and may are expressing possibilities.


I should go home.

You must not delay.

Sally would not recommend the sushi.

David may be late.


Phrasal Verbs


Phrasal verbs aren’t single words; instead, they are combinations of words that are used together to take on a different meaning to that of the original verb. There are many examples of phrasal verbs, some of which have colloquial meanings, such as make up, hand in, bring up, point out, look forward to. Each time the verb takes the extra word(s) it takes on a new meaning. For example, make without the up expresses that something is being created, whereas with make up, the suggestion is that there are some lies or a fantastical element to the story and make out can mean either to grasp or see something difficult, or to kiss passionately.


Phrasal verb examples


  1. Run out
  2. Go all out
  3. Make out
  4. Hand out
  5. Bring out
  6. Face up
  7. Think through


The phrasal verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.

Mary looked forward to her high school reunion.

The verb looked has taken on forward to to become a phrasal verb meaning to be excited about or eagerly await something.

He brought up the same points again and again.

Leroy handed in the wallet to the police.

I make up stories all the time.

She pointed out Donald’s mistake


Irregular Verbs


Irregular verbs are those that don’t take on the regular spelling patterns of past simple and past participle verbs. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of irregular verbs in the English language. But don’t worry, while many are used often, the majority are not in common usage – or if they are, you will use them so often you will learn them quickly. Some of the most common irregular verbs include: say, make, go, take, come, know and see.


Irregular verb examples


  1. Eat
  2. Think 
  3. Bring
  4. Hold
  5. Bear
  6. Buy
  7. Lay
  8. Catch
  9. Drive
  10. Paid
  11. Feel
  12. Redo


The irregular verb examples in the following sentences are in bold for easy identification.

I take my time when I go to the shops (present tense)