Verbs in English Grammar

What is a verb?

Verbs are doing or action words because they describe what the subject (noun or pronoun) of a sentence is doing. As well as describing a physical action, verbs can also describe a concept, mental state or state of being. Some typical action verbs include run, dance, jump, sing, write, read etc. Some typical stative verbs include be, believe, hate, have, know, love, think etc.

Example:
We ran to the train station. (action verb)
I am happy. (stative verb)

Verbs take different forms depending on how or where they appear in a sentence. Lets take a closer look at the different types and forms of verbs in English grammar.

The Infinitive

The infinitive is the basic form of a verb. It can be written with or without the preposition to. The infinitive without to is sometimes called a bare infinitive.

Example:
to be/be
to run/run

Verb Conjugation

Depending on the tense we are using, a verb must be conjugated into different forms. In the simple present an -s is added to the third person singular of regular verbs.

Example:
to eat → He eats.

In the simple past and past participle verb forms, -ed is added to regular verbs, but irregular verbs must be learnt by heart.

Example:
to wag → The dog wagged his tail happily.
to eat → I have never eaten an insect.

In the progressive tenses, -ing is added to a verb to form the present participle.

Example:
to speak → They are speaking on the telephone.

For more about verb conjugation check out Lingolia’s verb conjugator or the section about verb tenses in English grammar.

Finite and non-finite verb forms

Finite verbs give us information about tense, person and number and describe the action or state taking place in a sentence.

Example:
I am going to the supermarket to buy some milk.
I fell asleep at 9 pm.

Non-finite verbs do not provide information about tense, person and number. Non-finitive verbs include infinitives, gerunds (-ing form) and participles.

Example:
I went to the supermarket to buy some milk. (infinitive)
Shopping is fun way to spend a Saturday. (gerund)
Exhausted from a long day of shopping, I fell asleep at 9 pm. (past participle)

For more information about non-finite verb forms in English grammar and how to use them see infinitive/gerund and participles.

Main verbs and auxiliary verbs

Some English tenses are conjugated with more than one verb, for example the present progressive or present perfect. These tenses are known as compound tenses because they are conjugated using an auxiliary verb and a main verb.

The auxiliary verb helps us to conjugate the tense. It gives us information about person, number as well as the time or state of an action i.e. a negated action, a completed past action or action in progress. Auxiliary verbs are do, be, have and will. To learn more about auxiliary verbs and when and how to use them see auxiliary verbs.

Example:
My dog doesn’t bark.
negated action in simple present, third person singular
I have read the newspaper.
completed action in present perfect
Yesterday at 3 pm, they were speaking on the telephone.
action in progress in past progressive

The main verb tells us what the action in the sentence is. The main verb can be a present form, a bare infinitive, a past simple form, a past participle or a present participle. Sometimes the auxiliary verb and the main verb are the same.

Example:
She eats cereal for breakfast.
main verb in present form
My dog doesn’t bark.
main verb in bare infinitive
Yesterday at 3 pm, they were speaking on the telephone.
main verb in present participle
I haven’t had my breakfast yet.
main verb in past participle/auxiliary verb and main verb are the same

More Information: types of verbs and verb forms

For more information about a particular type of verb or verb form in English grammar including a detailed explanation, examples, word lists and exercises to practise, simply click on one of the topics below.

Introduction

Verbs are action words. They can describe an action (swim), an event (snow), a situation (be) or a change (become). The infinitive is the basic form of a verb and is often, but not always, preceded by to. There are 4 other forms of English verbs: simple present, simple past, past participle and present participle or -ing form. We also have to pay attention to the different types of verbs in English grammar, as they function differently. Auxiliary verbs, modal verbs, infinitives and gerunds, phrasal verbs, the passive voice and the imperative and subjunctive mood are all explained in the following pages.

Click on one of the links below for a detailed lesson about verbs in English grammar. At the end of each page, there are exercises so you can test your progress and check your understanding of English verbs.