What is a Verb?

Types of Verbs
Verb Types. Kenneth Beare

What is a Verb?

Verbs are used to express a state or an action. For example: They show what people or things do, think or feel. Verbs are one of the eight parts of speech.

Verbs are used to express an action:

Tim is driving his car.

or a state (how someone feels, thinks, etc.)

Jack is feeling better today.

They show what people or things do, think or feel. 

Action Verbs

Action verbs are verbs that show an action that a person or an object performs.

Action verbs express something that is done by someone or something. Here are some examples of action verbs:

play - They are playing football.
study - Anna is studying for her test tomorrow.
cook - Mark cooked dinner for us last night.

Stative Verbs

Stative verbs refer to how things are, rather than what they do. There are not nearly so many stative verbs as there are action verbs. Here are some of the most common with example sentences:

be - He is a teacher
think - I think that's a good idea.
cost - It costs twenty dollars.
belong - James belongs to that club.

More information on active vs stative verbs.

Active Voice vs Passive Voice

Verbs are used in the active or passive voice. The active voice describes what the subject does:

Tom throws the ball. Andy has lived in Queens for twenty years. Helga would like to go camping next week.

The passive voice describes what is done to something. It is not used as often as the active voice.

The passive voice always conjugates the verb 'to be' and is combined with the past participle (third form of the verb i.e. do - did - done). Here are a few examples of verbs in the passive voice:

Mary was raised in Kansas. My car was made in Germany. That document will be completed by Robert.

More information on the passive vs the active voice.

What are Verb Forms?

There are a variety of verb forms. The main verb forms in include the infinitive, the gerund or present participle (or 'ing' form), the past participle, the base form, and, most importantly the conjugated form of the verb. Here is each form with a few examples:

Infinitive (to + verb) - to do, to think, to eat, to live, etc.
Present participle (gerund, 'ing' form) - going, understanding, allowing, etc.
Past form (used with the past simple) - went, ate, played, taught, etc.
Past participle (used with perfect tenses) - gone, eaten, played, become, etc.
Conjugated form (only used in present simple) - plays, play, speak, speaks, etc.
NOTE: Most tenses use verb take the conjugation in the auxiliary verb form.

What are Phrasal Verbs?

Phrasal verbs are verbs that are made up of short phrases, usually two or three words. The phrasal verb consists of the principal verb and one or two particles (usually prepositions). Phrasal verbs are very common in spoken English, but are used in written English as well. Here are some phrasal verbs you may know:

pick up - I picked him up at the airport.
get away - The thief got away with the robbery.
look after - I looked after my sister's cat for the weekend.

More on information on phrasal verbs.

Different Verb Functions

Verbs take on different functions. Generally, we think of verbs as 'main verbs'. These are verbs such as 'play, eat, drive, etc.'. However, verbs can also serve as helping (auxiliary) verbs or modal verbs. 

Helping verbs include: do/does, did, am/is/are, was/were, have/has, had.

How often does she go to New York?
I didn't understand the question yesterday.
They have lived in Chicago for five years.
I had already eaten when he arrived. 

Modal Verbs include: should, can, must, might

I can't believe your story!
She must have gone to class.
What should I do?
He might be late to work today.

Verb Conjugation

Verbs are used in tenses. Tenses are conjugated. Here are the principal tenses in English with an example sentence for each:

Present Simple - I work at a bank.
Present Continuous (progressive) - Mary is watching TV now.
Present Perfect - She has lived in New York since 2002.
Present Perfect Continuous - We've been playing tennis since three o'clock.
Future with Will - I will make you a sandwich.
Future with Going to - Mary is going to fly to Chicago next week.
Future Continuous - They will be studying later today.
Future Perfect - She will have finished the report by six o'clock.
Past Simple - I bought a new car last month.
Past Perfect - They had finished lunch by the time he came.
Past Perfect Continuous - They had been working for two hours when he came in the door.