Verbs are used to indicate the actions, processes, conditions, or states of beings of people or things.
Verbs play an integral role to the structure of a sentence. They constitute the root of the predicate, which, along with the subject (the “doer” of the verb’s action), forms a full clause or sentence—we cannot have a sentence without a verb.
When we discuss verbs’ role in the predicate, we usually divide them into two fundamental categories: finite and non-finite verbs.

Finite and Non-Finite Verbs

The predicate requires at least one finite verb to be considered complete. A finite verb has a direct relationship to the subject of a sentence or clause, and does not require another verb in the sentence in order to be grammatically correct. For example:
  • “I swim every day.”
  • “She reads many books.”
  • “He talked for several hours.”
Each of the above is a finite verb, expressing an action that is directly related to the subject of the sentence. Non-finite verbs, on the other hand, do not express that relationship directly.
The only verbs that can be considered finite are those in their base form (the infinitive form without the particle to), their past tense form, or their third-person singular form. Verb forms that are never considered finite are gerunds, infinitives, and participles (both past and present).
Let’s look at an example containing both a finite and non-finite verb:
  • “We are learning about the American Revolution in school.”
This sentence uses the present continuous verb are learning. This functions as a single unit, with learning expressing most of the meaning.
However, learning is a present participle, which is considered a non-finite verb; the finite verb of the sentence is actually just the auxiliary verb are. It is an inflection of the verb be used for a first person plural subject (we).
We can see the difference if we use each verb in isolation with the subject:
  • We are
  • We learning
We can see that the first verb is finite because it expresses a direct relationship with the subject, and it can go on to form any number of complete sentences. For example:
The second verb, the present participle learning, cannot make such sentences, and so is not finite. The following examples all require a finite verb to be correct:
To learn more about the differences between these two classes of verbs, go to the section Finite and Non-finite Verbs in this chapter.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Every verb is classed as being either transitive or intransitive.
Transitive verbs describe an action that is happening to someone or something. This person or thing is known as the direct object of the verb. For example:
  • “He’s reading a book.” (The action of reading is happening to the book.)
  • “The people watched the game from the bleachers.” (The action of watched is happening to the game.)
  • “I was eating a delicious steak for dinner last night.” (The action of eating is happening to a delicious steak.)
  • Transitive verbs can also take indirect objects, which are the people or things receiving the direct object. For instance:
  • “I sent my brother a letter.” (My brother receives the letter through the action of sent.)
Conversely, intransitive verbs do not have objects—their action is not happening to anyone or anything. For example:
  • “I can’t believe our dog ran away.” (There is no object receiving the action of ran away.)
  • “There was a lot of dust in the air, which made me sneeze.” (There is no object receiving the action of sneeze.)
  • “Don’t be too loud while the baby sleeps.” (There is no object receiving the action of sleeps.)

Regular and Irregular Verbs

Just as every verb is either transitive or intransitive, each one is considered to be either regular or irregular
Most verbs are regular verbs, which means that “-d” or “-ed” can be added to their base form (the infinitive of the verb without to) to conjugate both the past simple tense and past participle forms. For example:
Base Form
Past Simple Tense
Past Participle
“I play violin.”
“I bake cakes.”
“I listen to my teacher.”
“I gather firewood.”
“I climb trees.”
“I played violin.”
“I baked cakes.”
“I listened to my teacher.”
“I gathered firewood.”
“I climbed trees.”
“I had played violin.”
“I had baked cakes.”
“I had listened to my teacher.”
“I had gathered firewood.”
“I had climbed trees.”
Irregular verbs, on the other hand, have past tense and past participle forms that do not (or do not seem to) adhere to a distinct or predictable pattern, and they are usually completely different from one another.
Unfortunately, this means that there is generally no way of determining how to conjugate irregular verbs—we just have to learn each one individually. There are many irregular verbs, but here are a few common ones:
Base Form
Past Simple Tense
Past Participle
“I see the horizon.”
“I grow bigger every day.”
“I give to charity.”
“I sing on Tuesday.”
“I swim often.”
“I drive to work.”
“I saw the horizon.”
“I grew bigger every day.”
“I gave to charity.”
“I sang on Tuesday.”
“I swam often.”
“I drove to work.”
“I had seen the horizon.”
“I had grown bigger every day.”
“I had given to charity.”
“I had sung on Tuesday.”
“I had swum often.”
“I had driven to work.”
Uniquely, the verb be is considered highly irregular, having three different present tense forms (is, am, are) and two past tense forms (was, were), in addition to its base form and its past and present participles (been and being).

Forms and categories

All verbs are either finite or non-finite and transitive or intransitive in a given sentence, depending on their form and function. There are many different forms and categories of verbs that we’ll be looking at in this chapter, and we’ll give a brief summary of the different kinds of verbs below. You can continue on to their individual sections to learn more.

Verb forms

Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary or “helpingverbs are verbs that are used to complete the meaning of other primary or “main” verbs in a sentence. In one of the examples we looked at above, “We are learning about the American Revolution in school,” are is an auxiliary to the main verb, learning.
The three primary auxiliary verbsbe, have, and do—are used to create different tenses, to form negatives, or to ask questions. For example:
  • “I am working on my project.” (present continuous tense)
  • “She does not work here anymore.” (negative sentence)
  • Have you seen my keys?” (question)
There are also modal auxiliary verbs (often just called modal verbs), which are used to express modality—that is, possibility, likelihood, ability, permission, obligation, or future intention. These are can, could, will, would, shall, should, must, may, and might. They are distinguished by the fact that they are unable to conjugate into different forms, and they are only followed by a verb in its base form. For example:
  • “I will be there tonight.” (future intention)
  • “She can write very well.” (ability)
  • May I be excused from the table?” (permission)
  • “We must finish this today.” (obligation)


Infinitives are the most basic construction of a verb. When we talk of a verb as a general concept, we usually use the infinitive form, which is the uninflected base form of the verb plus the particle to. For instance:
  • to run
  • to walk
  • to read
  • to be
  • to learn
  • to act
Infinitives can be used as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs in a sentence, but they do not actually function as verbs—they are used to express an action as a concept, rather than what is being done or performed by the subject of a clause. For example:
  • “I love to run.” (functions as a noun)
  • “I wish I had something to do.” (functions as an adjective)
  • “I run a lot to stay healthy.” (functions as an adverb)


Participles are forms of verbs that either function with auxiliary verbs to create the continuous and perfect verb tenses, or as adjectives to modify nouns. Every verb (except the modal auxiliary verbs) has two participle forms: a present participle and a past participle.
The present participle is always the base form of the verb + “-ing.” Although the spelling of some verbs changes very slightly to accommodate this suffix, every verb takes “-ing” for the present participle.
We use present participles with the auxiliary be to form continuous tenses, as in:
The past participle is usually the same as a verb’s simple past tense form, which is made by adding “-d” or “-ed” to the end of the verb. However, many verbs are irregular, meaning they do not follow this spelling pattern, and they have different past tense and past participle forms. (We’ll look at regular and irregular verbs later on.)
The past participle is used with the auxiliary have to form the perfect tenses:
We can also use participles as adjectives to add description to nouns. Though they still relate to action, they are not functioning as verbs when used this way. For example:
  • “The mother looked down at her smiling child.”
  • “I could tell by the exhausted look on his face that he needed sleep.”

Categories of verbs

There are many different categories of verbs that describe different kinds of actions or states of being.

Action (Dynamic) Verbs

Action verbs (also known as dynamic verbs) describe an active process that results in an effect. For example:
  • “I ran to school.”
  • “She read a book.”
  • “They talked during lunch.”
  • “We swam for over an hour.”

Stative Verbs

In contrast to action verbs, stative verbs describe states of being of a subject. These include linking verbs, such as be and verbs of the senses, which are used to describe or rename a subject using a predicative adjective or noun. For example:
  • “I am hungry.”
  • “You sound tired.”
  • “He seems like a bully.”
Other stative verbs are those that express emotions, possession, cognition, and states or qualities. For example:
  • “She likes old movies.”
  • “They own three cars.”
  • “I understand the issue.”
  • “Your happiness depends on doing something you enjoy.”

Light Verbs

Light verbs do not carry unique meaning on their own, but instead rely on another word or words that follow them to become meaningful. Common examples include do, have, and take, as in:
  • Do your homework!”
  • “Why don’t we have something to eat?”
  • “I took a shower before breakfast.”
In many cases, the same light verb will have different meanings, depending on the word or words it is paired with. For instance:
  • “Please don’t make a mess.”
  • “Please make your bed.”

Phrasal Verbs

Phrasal verbs are verbs that pair with prepositions or particles to create unique, specific meanings. These are largely idiomatic, which means that they don’t make literal sense according to their individual parts. For example:
  • “I can’t believe that you’re giving up!”
  • “The plane took off an hour late.”
  • “He has been looking after his mother.”
  • “Stop picking on your brother!”

Conditional Verbs

The term conditional verbs refers to verb constructions that are used in conditional sentences, which describe a hypothetical outcome that is reliant upon another conditional situation being true. These sentences most often use the conjunction if with one of the verbs to express the conditional situation, and often use modal auxiliary verbs to describe the hypothetical outcome. For example:
  • “The leaves will fall if the wind blows.”
  • If you had done your chores, you could have had an ice cream cone.”
  • “You would get better grades if you studied harder.”

Causative Verbs

Causative verbs are used to indicate that a person or thing is causing another action or an event to happen. They are generally followed by a noun or pronouns and an infinitive verb that is not causative, which describes the action that was caused to happen. For example:
  • “He let his dog run through the field.”
  • “The bigger house enabled the family to have more room for their belongings.”
  • “The new dress code forced the students to wear different shoes.”
  • “The law requires a person to obtain a permit before hunting on public land.”

Factitive Verbs

Factitive verbs are used to indicate a condition or state of a person, place, or thing that results from the action of the verb. For example:
  • “She was appointed commissioner by the mayor.”
  • “The committee elected Mr. Fuller chairman of the board.”
  • “The jury judged the defendant not guilty.”

Reflexive Verbs

Reflexive verbs have subjects that are also their direct objects—that is, the action of the verb is both committed and received by the same person or thing. The objects of transitive reflexive verbs are usually reflexive pronouns. For example:
  • “I accidentally burned myself with the hairdryer.”
  • “The problem seems to have worked itself out in the end.”
  • This car doesn’t drive properly anymore.” (intransitive—no direct object)


When we discuss verbs, we must touch upon conjugation. This is the inflection (changing of form) of verbs to create new meaning in specific contexts. We generally refer to tense (which we looked at briefly above) when we talk about conjugation, but verbs experience a large amount of inflection depending on how they are being used in a sentence. For more information, go to the chapter on Conjugation in the part of this guide called Inflection (Accidence).

1. What is the function of verbs in a sentence?

2. The predicate of a sentence always contains what kind of verbs?

3. Unlike regular verbs, irregular verbs usually have different:

4. Unlike transitive verbs, intransitive verbs are not able to take which of the following?

5. Identify the form of the verb in bold in the following sentence:
“We were looking for a place to eat.”

6. What is the term for changing a verb’s form to reflect things like tense?

Chapter Sub-sections

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