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TEFL / ESL – What is a Verb?

Updated on December 9, 2013

What are Verbs?

Verbs are words that are used to convey actions, states of being or relationships in the English language. They are one of the Parts of Speech and usually tell us what is going on in a sentence.

This article outlines the different types of verbs, shows how to recognise them and explains their functions. As there are many ways to categorise verbs I will firstly outline Main Verbs, Auxiliary Verbs and Modal Verbs and then move unto other areas of distinction.

Main Verbs, Auxiliary Verbs and Modal Verbs


Main Verbs – These verbs can stand alone and the meaning is easily understood.

Examples: I see her, He filmed the Cuban dawn, It comes with a warranty.

Auxiliary Verbs – These are helping verbs and should not try to be understood on their own. The verb To Be, To Do and To Have allows us to change the tense of the verb, to make negatives and to ask questions. We don’t use them in the affirmative of the Present Simple or the Past Simple.

Examples: They are going to Belgium, I didn’t see him yesterday, Have you eaten here before?

Modal Verbs – These belong to the auxiliary verb category. They are used to express permission, obligation, possibility, logical deduction, requests, advice, suggestions, invitation and offers.

They are not used on their own and precede the main verb without using To – I must visit Granpa. However, there are a number of differences; you do not modify the 3rd person with s/ies/es, e.g. They can hear you. There is no past tense except for the modal verb Can.

Examples: Can, Should, May, Might, Could, Would, Will, Shall

There are other modal verbs called ‘semi-modals’ which do not follow the rules outlined above. They are as follows: Need To, Have To, Ought To, To Be Able


This list gives an even greater distinction of the types of verbs -

  • Regular verbs
  • Irregular verbs
  • Base form of a verb
  • Infinitive form of a verb
  • Present participle
  • Past participle
  • Action verbs
  • Stative verbs
  • Transitive verbs
  • Intransitive verbs
  • Linking verbs
  • Phrasal verbs

Regular verbs – In the past simple these verbs are formed by adding d or ed.

Examples: Arrived, Joined, Organised and Bathed.

Irregular verbs – Have different past simple and past participle forms.

Examples: Put, Ate, Had and Come.

Base form verbs – Are the verbs you will find the dictionaries and do not have to preceding them.

Examples: Take, Smell, Arrange and Pick.

Infinitive – Form of the verb with to.

Examples: To See, To Hear, To Run and To Fly.

Present participle – The form of the verb with ing attached to the end.

Examples: Sleeping, Crying, Feeling and Screaming.

Past participle – Used to form tenses such as the present perfect or the passive and are used after verbs have and be. Regular verbs end in ed.

Examples: Been, Gone, Walked and Played.


Action – These verbs can be used with the continuous and the simple tenses and describe actions and events. Also known as Dynamic Verbs.

Examples: Shout, Jump, Fall and Speak.

Stative – Expresses a state or condition. They are not normally used with continuous tenses and they are associated with feelings, emotions, thinking, opinions and verbs that describe senses (Note that some verbs can be both action and stative verbs e.g. She’s having a shower, I have a red car).

Examples: Prefer, Like, Understand and Know.

Transitive – Need to be followed by an object – a noun, pronoun or a noun phrase.

Examples: They named her Cindy, She broke a window, He gave her a flower, I’m watching this movie.

Intransitive – Does not need to be followed by an object.

Examples: She screamed like crazy, They sang, Yesterday we ate well, You slept.

Linking – Needs to be followed by an adjective or a phrase with an adjective in it. These verbs do not express action. To differentiate between action verbs and linking verbs try substituting the linking verb with the verb To Be or an equals sign, e.g. I am hungry/I was hungry/I = hungry

Examples: Be, Seem, Become. Verbs that are sometimes used as linking verbs depending on their function: Grow, Appear, Smell.

Multiword – Combines a main verb and a particle. These can be phrasal verbs or prepositional verbs.

Examples: She put off the wedding date, They drove away at high speed.

© 2013 Muttface


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