10 Types of Verbs (and Counting)

Verb Forms and Functions

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Nordquist, Richard. "10 Types of Verbs (and Counting)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 7, 2017, thoughtco.com/types-of-verbs-and-counting-1691288. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, August 7). 10 Types of Verbs (and Counting). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-verbs-and-counting-1691288 Nordquist, Richard. "10 Types of Verbs (and Counting)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/types-of-verbs-and-counting-1691288 (accessed September 24, 2017).
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Verbs move our sentences along in many different ways. sx70/Getty Images
A book by the linguist Beth Levin classifies three thousand English verbs into about eighty-five classes based on the constructions they appear in; its subtitle is A Preliminary Investigation.*

A verb is customarily defined as a part of speech (or word class) that describes an action or occurrence or indicates a state of being. But just when is a word a verb?

Generally, it makes more sense to define a verb by what it does than by what it is.

Just as the "same" word (rain or snow, for example) can serve as either a noun or a verb, the same verb can play various roles depending on how it's used.

Put simply, verbs move our sentences along in many different ways.

Here, by identifying 10 types of verbs, we'll briefly consider some of their more common functions. 

Auxiliary Verbs and Lexical Verbs

An auxiliary verb (also known as a helping verb) determines the mood or tense of another verb in a phrase. In the sentence "It will rain tonight," for example, the verb will "helps" the verb rain by pointing to the future. The primary auxiliaries are the various forms of be, have, and do. The modal auxiliaries include can, could, may, must, should, will, and would.

A lexical verb (also known as a full or main verb) is any verb in English that isn't an auxiliary verb: it conveys a real meaning and doesn't depend on another verb: "It rained all night."

Dynamic Verbs and Stative Verbs

A dynamic verb indicates an action, process, or sensation: "I bought a new guitar."

A stative verb (such as be, have, know, like, own, and seem) describes a state, situation, or condition: "Now I own a Gibson Explorer."

Finite Verbs and Nonfinite Verbs

A finite verb expresses tense and can occur on its own in a main clause: "She walked to school."

A nonfinite verb (an infinitive or participle) doesn't show a distinction in tense and can occur on its own only in a dependent phrase or clause: "While walking to school, she spotted a bluejay."

Regular Verbs and Irregular Verbs

A regular verb (also known as a weak verb) forms its past tense and past participle by adding -d or -ed (or in some cases -t) to the base form: "We finished the project." 

An irregular verb (also known as a strong verb) doesn't form the past tense by adding -d or -ed: "Gus ate the wrapper on his candy bar." 

Transitive Verbs and Intransitive Verbs

A transitive verb is followed by a direct object: "She sells seashells."

An intransitive verb doesn't take a direct object: "She sat there quietly." (This distinction is especially tricky because many verbs have both transitive and intransitive functions.)

Does that cover everything verbs can do? Far from it. Causative verbs, for example, show that some person or thing helps to make something happen. Catenative verbs join with other verbs to form a chain or series. Copular verbs link the subject of a sentence to its complement.

Then there are performative verbs, mental-state verbsprepositional verbs, iteratives, and reporting verbs.

And we haven't even touched on the passive or the subjunctive.

But you get the idea. Though they can get tense and moody, verbs are hard-working parts of speech, and we can count on them to make things happen in many different ways.

* Stephen Pinker, The Stuff of Thought. Viking, 2007​