English - Verbs

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A verb shows what the subject of a sentence does.

Verbs can perform many functions. You can group verbs into three general categories:

Verbs are words that either:

  • describe what action the actor is doing
  • or provide a link to the condition/state of being of the subject.

Regular or irregular

The best place to start with understanding the differences between regular and irregular verbs is by looking at the past and past participial forms of verbs and how those forms are made.

The best way to learn the various principle parts of any verb is slowly through memorization.

A number of websites exist that offer extensive lists of irregular verbs, including the following:


For regular verbs, the past and past participle forms are made by adding –ed to the present tense form. This rule applies to all regular verbs:

Present Past  Past Participle Present Participle
work  worked  worked working
borrow borrowed borrowed borrowing
grin  grinned grinned grinning
plant  planted planted planting 
rush  rushed rushed rushing 


For irregular verbs, the past and past participle forms do not follow the rules for regular verbs. The past participial forms of irregular verbs may end in –ed, -en, -e, -n, -t, -k, -g, and -d.

Present Past  Past Participle Present Participle
dive dove dived diving
 break broke broken breaking
come came come coming
see saw  seen seeing
put put put  putting
stick stuck stuck sticking
dig dug dug digging
lead led led leading 



Action verbs, which make up the majority of verbs, show/demonstrate an action.

  • The phone rang loudly.
  • They dance well together.
  • The little girl laughed joyfully.
  • The team plays aggressively.

Action verbs are used to create detail and character in sentences. Without action verbs, sentences can lack energy.

Action verbs, like nouns, are considered an open category because new ones emerge and old ones change all the time.

The seals got out of the water, performed, and made sounds at the spectators.

Adding more action verbs, add energy and vitality

The seals leaped, flipped twice, and barked at the spectators.

leaped, flipped and barked are action verbs

See also: English - Active and Passive Voice (Who is performing the action)


Linking verbs are few in number and are considered a closed category, like the pronouns.

Linking or state of being verbs do not show an action.

Each verb links the subject to information that comes after the verb.

These verbs link:

This girl is my daughter.

The man is he.

The man is joyful.
  • or a phrase (an prepositional phrase)
The man is in the living room.

to the subject

These verbs explain the condition someone or something is in.

  • The teacher is ill.
  • I am tall and beautiful.
  • The sister became class president.
  • The cat seems agitated by the attention.

If you can replace the verb in a sentence with the words am, is, or are, and the sentence still makes sense, then the verb is a linking verb.

Linking Verbs
May be
Linking Verbs
(but can show action)
be (and all its forms) feel
become grow
seem look

Writers make good use of linking verbs, especially those verbs that are connected to human senses—smell, taste, feel, and look. Anytime you can include human sense details in your sentences do so because the addition enables you to connect with the reader more directly.


Helping or auxiliary verbs help describe the main verb. There are nine helping verbs that are always helping verbs; they are never the main verb. These helping verbs are:

  • May
  • Might
  • Must
  • Could
  • Would
  • Should
  • Can
  • Will
  • Shall

In the following sentences, the helping verb is in bold and the main verb is in italic.

  • You should not cook with metal pans in a microwave oven.
  • The cell phone could easily fit in the oversized purse.
  • We will need help harvesting from the neighbors.
  • The student must visit the library to check out the book.

With helping verbs, you can create a more precise verb because you are able to further clarify and control the verb’s meaning.

Helping verbs are used to write the:

  • perfect,
  • progressive,
  • and perfect progressive verb tenses.

You also use helping verbs to express subtle shifts of meaning in a sentence. Helping verbs add degrees of difference to the main verb, allowing you to make subtle distinctions. For example,

  • The bowl should hold all the ingredients.
  • The bowl might hold all the ingredients.
  • The bowl must hold all the ingredients.
  • The bowl will hold all the ingredients.
  • The bowl can hold all the ingredients.


Together, the helping verb and the main verb are called the complete verb.

Be, do, have

There are three verbs, be, do, and have, that can be either main verbs or helping verbs depending upon their usage. The forms of these three verbs that can be either main or helping verbs are:

Be Do Have

Main verb:

  • She was a fearsome giant.
  • He does the dishes immediately after dinner.
  • They have a llama for a pet.

Helping verb

  • The child was fed by his sister.
  • She does call whenever necessary.
  • They have danced for fourteen hours straight.


See helping


Verbs designate tense, the time when an action or state of being/condition takes place. All verbs have the characteristic of tense or the time when an action or state of being occurs.

Tense is one of the functions of a verb. Everything that happens (actions or conditions or states), happens in present time, in past time, or in future time. A verb indicates the time of an action, a condition, or a state by changing its form. So, when you write and want to show when something occurs, the place to start is with the verb form you use.


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