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Different kinds of verbs

Updated on July 9, 2013

For anyone who struggles with the English language, one solution is knowing and understanding about different kinds of verbs and their functions.

What is a verb: Just to review, a verb is one of the parts of speech, a word that performs a certain role in a sentence. Examples of other parts of speech are nouns, adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, pronouns and interjections.

What exactly does a verb do? A verb describes what the subject of a sentence is doing, or being at a certain point in time.

Main verbs, event verbs, state verbs, Linking verbs

In the English language, verbs perform several tasks. They describe an event or an action that one took to create this event. Or, they describe more passive states of being or existing.

Main verbs - These stand on their own and don't need to be accompanied by other verbs. We use them in simple tenses (present and past especially) and the main verb usually follows the subject of the sentence (I'm assuming you have some English Grammar knowledge).

Here are examples of a plain main verbs:

  • I broke the nozzle.
  • I know the song.

Event verbs are action verbs. Example: break, describe, write, jump, walk

State Verbs: If you are using a state verb, the subject of the sentence isn't really doing anything action-oriented. Here are some examples:

  • be - I am quiet for now.
  • exist - He is a carpenter.
  • belong - The dog belongs to us.
  • own - We own a car.

State verb also express a mental state, for example: I enjoy his company. I despise winter.

Linking verbs, Auxiliary verbs asnd Modal verb

Some verbs describe both events and states ( they are somewhat active, or they are passive)

  • Feel
  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Have
  • Appear

Linking verbs

The above verbs are also linking verbs. These link to information that further describes the subject of the sentence (usually an adjective or an adjective clause, also known as the complement of the sentence).

  • It feels great.
  • The milk tastes sour.
  • The cheese smells bad.
  • I have doubt.
  • He appears sad.

Auxiliary verbs

Typical helping verbs are "be" "do" and "have". While these verbs are irregular and also used alone as main verbs, they also work alongside main verbs to do the following:

Create Passive voice - For example: The store has been closed by the health board.

Continuous tense (with have and be) - Tom has been sleeping for a few hours.

Perfect tense (with helping verb have)- Tom had already eaten when we arrived.

Formulate questions with the verb "to do" - Does he know where he is going?

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are also auxiliary verbs. Examples are words such as can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, and would. A modal verb works with other main verbs to denote different moods such as possibility, ability and obligation. Unlike the auxiliary verbs above, these verbs never function as main verbs in a sentence.

Transitive and Instransitive

If a verb is transitive, it means that the verb helps subject in the sentence to act upon something or someone.

For example: I gave her a present. The verb give is transitive, and acts on the pronoun "her".

An intransitive verb does not take an object or act on anyone or anything. I jump, I walk, I weep, I fall--none of these verbs have an object. Nothing is being done to anyone. Nothing is being acted upon.

Phrasal verbs

Phrasal verbs are two word phrases that function as verbs do. Typically, they consist of verb and adverb units or a verb and a preposition unit. There are a lot of phrasal verbs in the English language. They are somewhat idiomatic, and it takes a while to get familiar with their different meanings. Here are some examples:

  • Back up
  • Ask around
  • Break down
  • Call on
  • Call up
  • check out
  • Cut down

To sum up

This is just a brief snapshot of different kinds of verbs in the English language. To improve your English or even the quality of your writing, be sure that you understand verbs and how they work. Verb errors are among the most common errors I see in my students.


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  • Rhonda_M profile image

    Rhonda Malomet 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    Thanks. Verbs are tricky for everyone.

  • profile image

    Atyq 5 years ago

    I am a non-native speaker and your article gave me the unique oportunity to understand the verbs in English,

    Thanks, ATYQ

  • FullOfLoveSites profile image

    FullOfLoveSites 5 years ago from United States

    This is the first time I've heard of a phrasal verb. Now I've absorbed a new knowledge for me, thank you. :)

  • Victoria Lynn profile image

    Victoria Lynn 5 years ago from Arkansas, USA

    Well done! I think you covered it all! I teach English and love articles on grammar. Thanks!

  • prairieprincess profile image

    Sharilee Swaity 5 years ago from Canada

    Rhonda, excellent thorough hub! I am bookmarking this one for future reference, in my own teaching, because you have explained it so simply and clearly. Great job. Voted up and more!

  • Rhonda_M profile image

    Rhonda Malomet 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    Indeed English is complex. Native speakers take many things for granted, and make many mistakes too. There are some things people can memorize, and somethings just come with practice and usage. I also notice that is a student has a good command of the grammar and syntax of their first language, they become fairly proficient in the second language (although there are other contributing factors).

  • profile image

    puella 5 years ago

    Even not being in ESL, verbs can be, perhaps, the hardest part to learn, for the variations in conjugations and the existence of those idioms (suffixes attached to a particular verb, like 'get', 'carry', 'go', etc can be a challenge, together with the already challenging conjugation of the main verb itself. In my experience, no matter what language we are learning, only a good memorization will help out. Memorization of what? of vocabulary (should be an ongoing and increasing on a daily basis), rules of grammar, etc.

    And speaking of ESL, I find that in one knows really our mother tongue ans use it grammatically in a sufficient way, learning a second language should be more straightforward. And, also, we need to remember that reading in the language we are learning will get the learner a long way, and speaking it too. And one thing that's usually stops us from speaking, is the ambiguity or the feeling of not being sure really of meanings in general. But we need to remember that if in a given context, what is meant gets its way if one is paying attention on what is the reaction of those listening, and we should not be ashamed or feel bad for a redo. Thanks for this good hub

  • Rhonda_M profile image

    Rhonda Malomet 5 years ago from Toronto, Canada

    @DZy...indeed, students (ESL) do have some problems with verbs (there are 12 tenses in English and lots of irregular verbs), so often in written English they get the actual form of the verb or the tense wrong, even students who have been working on learning English for a while.

  • RTalloni profile image

    RTalloni 5 years ago from the short journey

    A good look at helpful info on verbs for writers. I hadn't thought about verb errors being so common. Thanks for food for thought!

  • DzyMsLizzy profile image

    Liz Elias 5 years ago from Oakley, CA

    Very clearly written and easy to understand. Many people, particularly those with English as a second language struggle greatly with our sentence structure protocols.

    Voted up, interesting, useful and shared.