10 Quick Questions and Answers About Verbs and Verbals in English

What's the Difference?

verbs and runners
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In these 10 sets of questions and answers, you'll find simplified definitions and brief examples of verb-related terms in English. For additional examples and more detailed discussions of these key grammatical concepts, click on the links in bold.

  1. What's the difference between a regular verb and an irregular verb?
    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: walked, talked. An irregular verb (or strong verb) doesn't have a conventional -ed form: rang, chose.
  2. What's the difference between an auxiliary verb and a main verb?
    An auxiliary verb (also known as a helping verb) is a verb (such as have, do, or will) that may come before the main verb in a sentence. Together the auxiliary verb and the main verb form a verb phrase. A main verb (also known as a lexical verb or full verb) is any verb that isn't an auxiliary verb. The main verb conveys the meaning in a verb phrase.
  3. What's the difference between a transitive verb and an intransitive verb?
    A transitive verb takes an object; an intransitive verb does not. Many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive function, depending on how they're used. The verb burn, for instance, sometimes takes a direct object ("Jack burned the hot dogs") and sometimes doesn't ("The fire burned brightly").
  1. What's the difference between active voice and passive voice?
    Voice refers to the quality of a verb that shows whether its subject acts (active voice: I made mistakes) or is acted upon (passive voice: Mistakes were made).
  2. What's the difference between a dynamic verb and a stative verb?
    A dynamic verb (such as run, ride, grow, throw) is primarily used to indicate an action, process, or sensation. In contrast, a stative verb (such as be, have, seem, know) is primarily used to describe a state or situation. (Because the boundary between dynamic and stative verbs can be fuzzy, it's generally more useful to talk of dynamic and stative meaning and usage.)
  3. What's the difference between a phrasal verb and a prepositional verb?
    A phrasal verb (such as tear off or pull through) is made up of a main verb (usually one of action or movement) and a prepositional adverb--also known as an adverbial particle (of direction or location). A prepositional verb (such as send for or rely on) is an idiomatic expression that combines a main verb and a preposition to make a new verb with a distinct meaning.
  1. What's the difference between aspect and tense?
    Aspect is the verb form that indicates the time at which an event or state of affairs is perceived as taking place. The two aspects in English are perfect and progressive. Tense is the time of a verb's action or state of being, such as present or past.
  2. What's the difference between a finite verb and a nonfinite verb?
    A finite verb shows agreement with a subject and is marked for tense. (If there's just one verb in a sentence, it's finite.) A nonfinite verb (also called a verbal) doesn't show a distinction in tense and can't stand alone as the main verb in a sentence.
  3. What's the difference between a gerund and a present participle?
    Both of these -ing forms are verbals. A gerund functions as a noun. (Laughing is good for you.) A present participle functions as an adjective. (The old laughing lady dropped by to call.)
  4. What's the difference between an infinitive and a zero infinitive?
    Both are verbals that can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. A conventional infinitive (sometimes called the "to"-infinitive) is preceded by the particle to. The zero infinitive (also known as the bare infinitive) is not preceded by to.