What is a verb?

Written by tutor Nancy W.

A verb is a word that expresses “action, state, or a relation between two things, and that may be inflected for tense, aspect, voice, mood, and to show agreement with their subject or object” according to dictionary.com

So, what does that actually mean?

A verb helps us tell us what (a type of action or state of being) and when something happened (past, present, future). There are three types of verbs: action, linking and helping.

An action verb tells you the action that is happening in a sentence.

Example: I walk to school. “Walk” is the action.

A linking verb helps describe the subject of a sentence. Here the verb is not an action, but links the two parts of the sentence to describe the subject. Common linking verbs are: am, appear, appear, be, become, been, being, feel, grow, is, look, remain, smell, sound, taste, was, were.

Example: The girl is pretty. “Is” links the word “pretty” to the subject girl.

A helping verb is related to time. These verbs are used along with other verbs to help place the action in time. A main verb may have as many as three helping verbs in front of it in a sentence. In the example below, walk is the main verb, the helping verbs change the concept of time.
Example: I walk to school. (tells what you do now)

I am walking to school. (tells what you do and continue to do)

I will walk to school. (tells what you will do in the future)

I have walked to school on Thursday. (tells what you did in the past.)

Verbs are regular or irregular. Regular verbs follow a pattern and easily change from present to past tense by adding –ed. To change the present tense “work” to past tense “worked” you just add the –ed. Irregular verbs must be memorized because they do not follow this rule. Common irregular verbs present and past tense include is/was, do/did, get/got, know/knew, and make/made.

Tips for using verbs:

1. Subject and verbs must agree in time and number.

My job takes me a long time. (Single subject-job, single verb-takes)

My jobs take me a long time. (Plural subject-jobs, plural verb take)

2. Be sure to find the real subject so you can make the subject and verb agree.

Example 1: The group of students was ready to go.

In Example 1, the subject is the single “group” so the verb is the single “was”.

Example 2: The students were ready to go.

In Example 2, the subject is plural “students”, so the verb is plural “were”.

3. Use consistent verb tense in paragraphs. If you start using the present tense,
you should use it the whole paragraph.

If you are interested in further study of English grammar, here are some books I recommend:

English the Easy Way by Harriet Diamond and Phyllis Dutwin

English Grammar Demystified by Phyllis Dutwin

Grammar Success in 20 Minutes a Day published by Learning Express

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