active verb (action verb)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

active verbs
"A good action verb," says Stephen Wilbers, "can be the engine that drives your sentence" (Mastering the Craft of Writing, 2014). (Martyn Goddard/Getty Images)


Active verb is a term in traditional English grammar for a verb used primarily to indicate an action, process, or sensation as opposed to a state of being. Also called dynamic verb, action verb, activity verb, or event verb. Contrast with stative verb and linking verb.

In addition, the term active verb may refer to any verb used in a sentence in the active voice. Contrast with passive verb.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "Graham laughed giddily and skipped off down a hallway."
    (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. Dutton, 2012)
  • "I often sing, hum and whistle but I would not do any of those things in the company of other people."
    (Lyn Overall, Supporting Children's Learning. SAGE, 2007)
  • "Fighters using kung fu twirled, kicked, jumped, and punched with grace and skill through every life-threatening challenge, including dragons, sorcerers, assassins, and armies."
    (Gark Zukav, Soul to Soul: Communications From the Heart. Free Press, 2007)
  • Birth of the Action Verb
    "When our forbears were grunting all those nouns that named people, animals, and things, they also noticed that people did things . . .. They noticed activity. They perceived action. So they grunted some words to describe all the activity around them: The baby crawled, the cow mooed, the wheel rolled, the fire blazed, the spear snagged the fish, and, of course, John hit the ball.
    "The action verb was born."
    (C. Edward Good, A Grammar Book for You and I--Oops, Me!: All the Grammar You Need to Succeed in Life. Capital Books, 2002)
  • Active Verbs in Chapter Summaries
    "Chapter summaries may be written in complete sentences or in fragments that begin with an active verb. For instance, some active verbs I used in my chapter summaries include: explains, suggests, defines, shows, ends with, discusses, introduces, lists, offers, details, features, draws, gives, presents, and advises."
    (Elizabeth Lyon, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, rev. ed. Perigee, 2000)
  • Action Verbs in Résumés
    "Action verbs are the verbs that precede the detailed description in your résumé and help explain what you have done. Action verbs should be written in the correct tense--past or present. Alternatives to action verbs include such phrases as 'duties included' and 'was responsible for,' but these are long, take up valuable space on the résumé, and do little to add to the descriptions of your activities.
    (Francine Fabricant, Jennifer Miller, and Debra Stark, Creating Career Success: A Flexible Plan for the World of Work. Wadsworth, 2014)
  • Temporal Meaning: Stative Verbs and Active Verbs
    "[C]onsider sentences such as those in (17):
    (17a) Mary know -s the answer.
    (17b) Mary sing -s.
    When the simple present affix -s is attached to a stative verb as in (17a), the speaker is asserting that the proposition that the sentence expresses is true 'at the moment of speech'--Mary knows the answer 'right now.' However, when this -s is attached to an active verb, this isn't so--Mary isn't necessarily singing right now. Instead, it means something like 'Mary is in the habit of singing' or 'Mary sings frequently' ('present' time and 'frequentative' aspect). To express the idea that the action is happening 'now,' active verbs require instead the present progressive verb form be V -ing, as in (18b), a form that stative verbs disallow or allow only rarely, as seen in (18a).
    (18a) *Mary is (=be -s) know -ing the answer.
    (18b) Mary is (=be -s) singing. . . .
    [T]he verb form in (18b) also indicates that the action is 'continuing' ('present' time and progressive/continuative' aspect)."
    (Nicholas Sobin, Syntactic Analysis: The Basics. Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)
  • Active Verbs in Scientific Articles
    "When we use an active verb, the grammatical subject of the verb (the answer to who or what in front of the verb) actually does the action indicated by the verb. For example: The dog [subject] + bit [active verb] + the man [object]. With a passive verb, the grammatical subject does not do the action of the verb (the biting, in this case). For example: The man [subject] + was bitten [passive verb] + by the dog [object]. The agent is often omitted in passive sentences, which is why this form is popular when the action is more important than the actor, as in many experimental procedures. . . .
    "If authors of research articles are comfortable with using active voice sentences with 'we' as the subject, . . . then it is relatively easy to avoid the passive voice, even in Methods sections. However, many authors are not comfortable with this usage, or do not like the repetitive sound of many 'we' sentences together, and many passive verbs can still be found in science writing."
    (Margaret Cargill and Patrick O'Connor, Writing Scientific Research Articles: Strategy and Steps, 2nd ed. Wiley & Blackwell, 2013)
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Nordquist, Richard. "active verb (action verb)." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). active verb (action verb). Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "active verb (action verb)." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).