Base Verbs in English Grammer

Definition and Examples

Senior couple outdoors together
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In English grammar, the base form of a verb is its simplest form. These exist without a special ending or suffix on their own but can be changed and added onto to fit different uses and tenses. A verb's base form is what appears in dictionary entries.

The base form is also known as the plain form, simple form, or stem. Read about how base verbs are used and modified here.

Base Verbs

Base verbs function in the present tense for first- and second-person singular perspectives (I walk and You walk) as well as all plural perspectives (We walk, You walk, and They Walk). In other words, the base form serves as the present tense form for all persons and numbers except the third-person singular, which requires the -s ending (He walks, She walks, and It walks). Additional verbs can be created by adding prefixes to a base verb, as in overthrow and undo.

The base form is certainly not restricted to the present tense. It also functions as the infinitive (with or without to-) and the present subjunctive for all persons including the third-person singular. Finally, the base form is used for the imperative mood

Base Verb Examples

Study these examples of base verbs in different contexts to understand their simplest applications. In the following tenses and forms, base forms require no additions or modifications.

Present Tense

The present tense is used for an action happening right now. It is one of the most straightforward tenses in English.

  • When I ring the bell, you leave the room.
  • "Men live in a fantasy world. I know this because I am one, and I actually receive my mail there." -Scott Adams

Present Subjunctive

The subjunctive tense, a form used mostly in formal speech and writing, indicates an indefinite outcome.

  • The music teacher insists that John sing.
  • The tour guide recommends that we travel in pairs.

In the first example, though the teacher insists, John might refuse to sing. In the second, tourists may choose to disregard the recommendation.

Imperative

The imperative form is used for commands from a second-person perspective. Its implied subject is the listener or reader receiving the message. Base verbs do not need to be modified to become imperative.

  • Take my car and drive yourself home.
  • "Go to the edge of the cliff and jump off. Build your wings on the way down." -Ray Bradbury

Base Verbs as Building Blocks

As mentioned, base verbs can be combined with suffixes and/or supplemented with additional words to form more complex verbs and phrases. "Building-block" base verbs can accommodate different tenses and scenarios than base verbs alone. Here are just a few ways that base verbs are used as building blocks.

Infinitive

A base verb preceded by "to" forms an infinitive verb phrase. The addition of "to" is the only change required in this form and the verb itself does not need to be changed.

  • I want to see the stars tonight.
  • Chefs love to cook even more than their patrons love to eat.

Simple Past Tense

The simple past tense is used to describe an action that has already been completed and is entirely in the past.

  • I walked to the store for some bread.
  • She ran further than ever before.
    • Base verb: run

Past Perfect

The past perfect tense denotes an action that occurred before the most recent past action and is only slightly in the past. Most often, "had" precedes base verbs in the past perfect tense.

  • I had eaten there last year on vacation, but on this year's trip, we chose another place nearby.
  • I had walked home after practice yesterday.

Present, Future, and Past Continuous

Present continuous action is still happening and incomplete. Base verbs in this form take on an -ing to become participles. 

  • I am walking home from school after practice.

The same building block base verbs (participles) used in the present continuous tense can translate to the future continuous tense, a tense that describes a continuous action that has yet to occur. Note that a modal verb phrase sometimes precedes the verb phrase in this tense.

  • I will be walking home from school today.
  • She is going later.

The past continuous tense describes something that continued happening in the past. Notice how this is different from a completed action. Base verbs in this tense sometimes require a linking verb.

  • We were walking home when Stan drove by in his truck. 

Gerunds

The -ing form or the present participle of a base verb used as a noun is called a gerund. Some words such as "painting" began as gerunds and developed into nouns. These words maintain their ability to function as verbs/gerunds as well.

  • Walking is the best type of exercise.
  • She couldn't choose between swimming and painting.