Learn What a Verb Is and See Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Verbs
Odd One Out. One of these nine words is never used as a verb (though it can be an adverb, an adjective, a conjunction, or a noun). See if you can identify that word. MightyIsland / Getty Images

Definition

A verb is the part of speech (or word class) that describes an action or occurrence or indicates a state of being.

There are two main classes of verbs: (1) the large open class of lexical verbs (also known as main verbs or full verbs--that is, verbs that aren't dependent on other verbs); and (2) the small closed class of auxiliary verbs (also called helping verbs). The two subtypes of auxiliaries are the primary auxiliaries (be, have, and do), which can also act as lexical verbs, and the modal auxiliaries (can, could, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, and would).

Verbs and verb phrases usually function as predicates. They can display differences in tense, mood, aspect, number, person, and voice.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see: Notes on Verbs and Verb Phrase.

Types and Forms of Verbs

Etymology
From the Latin, "word"

Examples

  • Run to the store and get me a box of gingersnaps."
    (William Faulkner, "Spotted Horses," 1931)

     
  • "He draws and draws and draws, and talks and talks and talks, and his maps are all wrong."
    (Rudyard Kipling, "At Twenty-Two," 1890)

     
  • "Across the street a few people in their best clothes walk on the pavement past the row of worn brick homes."
    (John Updike, Rabbit, Run, 1960)

     
  • "Bailey walked behind the candy counter and leaned on the cash register."
    (Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, 1969)

     
  • "From our earliest Christmas times, Santa Claus brought us toys that instruct boys and girls (separately) how to build things."
    (Eudora Welty, One Writer's Beginnings, 1984)
     
     
  • "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are."
    (Theodore Roosevelt)
     
  • "In the whole vast configuration of things, I'd say you were nothing but a scurvy little spider."
    (Jimmy Stewart, It's a Wonderful Life, 1946)
     
  • "Automobiles, skirting a village green, are like flies that have gained the inner ear--they buzz, cease, pause, start, shift, stop, halt, brake, and the whole effect is a nervous polytone curiously disturbing."
    (E.B. White, "Walden")
     
  • "Behind the phony tinsel of Hollywood lies the real tinsel."
    (Oscar Levant)
     
  • "He slipped through the door and oozed out, and I was alone."
    (P.G. Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, 1934)
     
  • "Some people say that I must be a terrible person, but it is not true. I have the heart of a young boy in a jar on my desk."
    (Stephen King)
     
  • "I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of the hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human."
    (Richard Wright, Black Boy, 1946)
     
  • "There are so many ways for speakers to see the world. We can glimpse, glance, visualize, view, look, spy, or ogle. Stare, gawk, or gape. Peek, watch, or scrutinize. Each word suggests some subtly different quality . . .."
    (Joshua Foer, "Utopian for Beginners." The New Yorker, December 24 & 31, 2012)

     

Observations:

  • "I am a serious little nerd. You see, I use verbs. Verbs are our friends. They help move along our sentences."
    (Steve Urkel in Family Matters)
     
  • "Verbs add drama to a random grouping of other words, producing an event, a happening, an exciting moment. They also kick-start sentences: without them, words would simply cluster together in suspended animation, waiting for something to click."
    (Constance Hale, Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. Three Rivers Press, 2001)
     
  • "A better way to recognize the verb . . . is by its form, its -s and -ing ending; verbs also have an -ed and an -en form, although in the case of some irregular verbs these forms are not readily apparent. And every verb, without exception, can be marked by auxiliaries."
    (Martha Kolln, Understanding English Grammar, 1998)
     
  • Among the formal characteristics of English verbs are that they typically:
    a. may be made past in meaning by suffixing -(e)d as in walked, opened, said;
    b. may be made into agents by suffixing -er as in doer, walker, knower.
    c. may be made negative by prefixing dis- as in disagree, disappear, dislike.
    (Grover Hudson, Essential Introductory Linguistics. Blackwell, 2000)
     
  • "Some verbs are recognizable by form because they have been created from other parts of speech with derivational verb-making morphemes (falsify, enrage). Verbs are also recognizable because of their ability to change form through inflection, by taking endings that indicate third-person singular (eats), past tense (ate), past participle (eaten), and present participle (eating). But in isolation, without a context, it is impossible to tell whether words like dog/dogs and head/heads are nouns or verbs."
    (Thomas P. Klammer, et al., Analyzing English Grammar. Pearson, 2007)
     
  • Stylistic Advice: Dynamic Verbs
    "Dynamic verbs are the classic action words. They turn the subject of a sentence into a doer in some sort of drama. But there are dynamic verbs--and then there are dynamos. Verbs like has, does, goes, gets and puts are all dynamic, but they don’t let us envision the action. The dynamos, by contrast, give us an instant picture of a specific movement. Why have a character go when he could gambol, shamble, lumber, lurch, sway, swagger or sashay? . . .

    "Verbs can make or break your writing, so consider them carefully in every sentence you write. Do you want to sit your subject down and hold a mirror to it? Go ahead, use is. Do you want to plunge your subject into a little drama? Go dynamic. Whichever you select, give your readers language that makes them eager for the next sentence."
    (Constance Hale, "Make-or-Break Verbs." The New York Times, April 16, 2012)
     
  • The Lighter Side of Verbs
    "Don't you dare use 'party' as a verb in my shop."
    (Dylan Moran, "Party." Black Books, 2004)


    Kelly Taylor: Okay, then. How would you like to spend your time before bed? Would you like to journal?
    Erin Silver: No, I would not like to journal. Nor would I like to use the word journal as a verb.
    (Jennie Garth and Jessica Stroup, "Okaeri, Donna!" 90210, 2009)

 

Pronunciation: vurb

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Nordquist, Richard. "Learn What a Verb Is and See Examples." ThoughtCo, Jun. 30, 2017, thoughtco.com/verb-definition-1692592. Nordquist, Richard. (2017, June 30). Learn What a Verb Is and See Examples. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/verb-definition-1692592 Nordquist, Richard. "Learn What a Verb Is and See Examples." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/verb-definition-1692592 (accessed November 19, 2017).