What is a Verb?

Much of the reason why humans utilize the skill of communicating is to express the desired action. We speak to our friends, family and colleagues about things we are doing and are yet to do. That is why you will find that verbs are common to most functional sentences. Since verbs are so widely used, we need to grasps what they are and how they can help form a sentence. This article will assist you in reaching that understanding as well as exploring the various types of verbs common in the English language. What is a verb?

A verb is a ‘doing’ or an ‘action’ word. They express an action or a state of being. Almost every sentence requires a verb. Most of them hold key information about the subject of the sentence.

Whether a verb is literally performing the action in the sentence or merely linking the subject to the rest of the information, they’re always “doing” something  Verbs can be expressed in 3 different tenses, depending on when the action is being performed.


The tense tells us when the action takes place. This can be either PRESENT, PAST or FUTURE

An example of painting a picture, with paint being your verb or ‘doing’ word at different times is given below. Notice how the changing tense (time), changes your verb:

Present, Past and Future

Present (today)verbI paint a picture
Past (yesterday)verb + edI painted a picture
Future (tomorrow)Will/shall + verbI will paint a picture

Simple, Continuous and Perfect Tenses

 (generally)(at the moment/ongoing)(already completed)
PresentI driveI am drivingI have driven
PastI droveI was drivingI had driven
FutureI shall driveI shall be drivingI shall have driven

The meaning of each tense is subtly different:

  • I shall drive to the coast tomorrow.          (Future simple tense)
  • I shall be driving to the coast tomorrow.                (Future continuous tense)
  • I shall have driven to the coast by this time tomorrow.    (Future perfect tense)


A finite verb can stand on its own and does not need an auxiliary (helping) verb. A finite verb must have a subject, number (singular or plural) and tense.

Together with the subject, it makes a complete sentence:

  • She plays.
  • They argue.

It indicates number:

  • The girl (one) plays netball.
  • The girls (many) play netball.

It has tense:

  • Today I play.
  • Yesterday I played.
  • Tomorrow I shall play.


When a verb is preceded by a ‘to’, it is known as the infinite:

  • to play  
  • to argue 
  • to study  
  • to discuss

The infinite cannot stand alone. It must be preceded by a finite verb:

  • She wants to play 
  • He came to argue
  • She tried to study
  • They began to discuss

The infinite should not be split:

  • I am going to definitely complete my work tomorrow (incorrect)
  • I am definitely going to complete my work tomorrow (correct)


An auxiliary verb is a helping verb.

  • It always preceded a verb. She has done all her homework.
  • It regulates the tense of its sentence. We could see the sun rising in the east (past tense)

Common auxiliary verbs:

  • am,
  • are,
  • be,
  • can,
  • could,
  • had,
  • has,
  • have,
  • is,
  • may,
  • might,
  • must,
  • shall,
  • should,
  • was were,
  • will,
  • would

Depending on the sentence, the verb may be classified as finite or as an auxiliary verb:

  • He is the president of his company. (finite verb)
  • He is hoping to become president of his company. (auxiliary verb + present participle)


  • The verb ‘to be’ (is, am, are) is also referred to as the linking verb.
  • A linking verb connect a noun with another noun, or a noun with an adjective.

The man is a soldier. (noun)

The man is brave. (adjective)

The word that follows the linking verb is not the object; it is known as the compliment.

1st person (s)I am coldI was coldI shall be coldI will be cold!
1st person (p)We are coldWe were coldWe shall be coldWe will be cold!
2nd person (s & p)You are coldYou were coldYou could be cold 
3rd person (s)He/she/ it is coldHe/she/it was coldHe/she/it will be cold 
3rd person (p)They are coldThey were coldThey will be cold 


A verb can be transitive or intransitive depending on whether or not it is followed by a direct object

A transitive verb takes a direct object

I wrote a letter to the editor of the newspaper

  • (direct object) – the letter
  • (indirect object) – the editor of the news paper

Intransitive verbs are not followed by direct objects

  • I wrote to the editor of the newspaper (indirect object)
  •  I wrote out of concern (adverbial phrase of the reason)



The mood of the verb indicates the speaker’s intention or attitude. There are three main moods:

Indicative  – the indicative is used to express a fact or provide information.

  • I always buy a lottery ticket

Imperative the imperative verb expresses instructions or commands.

  • My uncle says, ‘Don’t waste your money!’

Subjunctivethe subjunctive mood is used when something is unlikely or to express a wish, doubt or uncertainty.

The linking verb was, changes to were for all persons:

  • If I were to win the lottery, he would be surprised (correct)
  • If I was to win the lottery, he would be surprised (incorrect)


Participles are formed when we combine an auxiliary verb and a finite verb + ing or ed.

Clouds had formed before the storm.

The participle cannot stand alone:

  • The tap leaking. (incorrect
  • The tap is leaking. (correct)
I play
He eats
You swim
They draw
I played
He ate
You swam
They drew
I am playing
He is eating
You are swimming
They are drawing
I have played
He has eaten
You have swum
They have drawn


They state the continuous nature of the action and usually end in – ing.

He reads =

  • He is reading =
  • He was reading =
  • He will be reading.

I participate =

  • I am participating =
  • I was participating =
  • I shall be participating.


They help to make the past tense of a verb and usually end in ed, d, en, or n.

They follow verbs such as had has, have, was and were to form new tense:

  • The gift was given to the child.
  • The fingerprints were matched to the suspect.
  • He had received a warning but ignored it.

There are some exceptions e.g. I buy – I have bought.      (This is an irregular verb)

A useful way to form a Past Participle is to imagine I have… before the verb:

  • I offer my services = I have offered my services


A verb is a ‘doing’ or an ‘action’ word. They express an action or a state of being. Most sentences require them to give us more information about the subject of our sentences.

After spending some time delving into the depths of all that a verb consists of, you should have a solid foundation to be able to successfully identify them in a sentence and use them for yourself. Why not try and come up with some of your own progressions of sentences from present tense to past tense and into future tense? Be sure to take a look at our article on Irregular verbs to familiarize yourself with the words that do not follow the same patterns we have discussed above.

This website is designed for those who are excelling at English as well as the student that may struggle to grasp some basic concepts. Forgot some Collective nouns? Poetry Turning out to be a problem to interpret? Looking for tough concepts to be easily explained? Look no further!

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