All About Verbs In English Grammar

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In an earlier article we already provided you with an overview of the different parts of speech or word classes that exist in the English language. Today’s article will explore one of them in bigger detail. It is part of a series that will shed some more light on word classes in English and how you can easily distinguish them from one another.


Thus, today, we will look at one of the most productive and important word classes: verbs. Lets have a look at different kinds of verbs and how you can distinguish them from other word classes easily. Of course we will also check out the difference between so-called main and helping or auxiliary verbs, regular and irregular verbs, and some other types of verbs you can find in the English language.


Verbs In The English Language


What Are Verbs?

Verbs are sometimes referred to as “action words”, which already gives away their function in a sentence. They are vital for a sentence since, without a verb, neither a correct sentence nor a question can be formed. The following examples show different verbs to express actions and activities, occurrences or even different states of being:

Physical action: to walk, to shout, to exercise, to do, to sit, to give
Mental states: to know, to understand, to believe, to plan, to feel
States of being: to be, to have
Phrasal verbs: to look down, to catch up, to cut off, to hand in


Just like nouns, verbs belong to the group of so-called open parts of speech. Contrary to the closed parts of speech, new words can be made up and added to the world’s vocabulary in this word class.


Different Verb Types

Verbs can be further divided into different types or groups. Each type has specific functions and restrictions, as well as rules and contexts in which they can be used. Following, we will list three main distinctions in this word class.


Intransitive, Transitive & Ditransitive Verbs

This distinction takes the relationship of a verb with other words into account. This means that they are distinguished by the number or “arguments” the verb can have. The following examples will make this easier to understand.


Intransitive verbs do not need a direct object or argument for their complete meaning to be expressed.

to rise:
The sun rose. (followed by nothing) ?
The sun rose high above the horizon. (followed by a preposition of place, not a direct object) ?


Transitive verbs require a direct object. Otherwise, the meaning or the whole sentence is incorrect.

to bring:
I will bring. (direct object is missing) ?
I will bring the books tomorrow. (followed by the direct object “the books”) ?


Ditransitive verbs do not only require one direct object, but also an indirect object.

to give:
Paul gives. (direct and indirect object are missing) ?
Paul gives Sally. (followed by direct object “Sally”, but indirect object is missing) ?
Paul gives Sally a bouquet of flowers. (followed by direct “Sally” and indirect object “a bouquet of flowers”) ?


Some transitive verbs can have an indirect object as well, but it is not required to complete the meaning of the verb.


Main Verbs & Auxiliary Verbs

Main and auxiliary verbs, the latter are also known as helping verbs, differ in their function in the sentence as well as in the meaning they bear. The following example will make this clearer:


Main verbs carry the semantic content of the sentence. The auxiliary verb, however, adds grammatical meaning. It is used to express tense, aspect, emphasis, voice or modality.

In the following example, would is the auxiliary verb that accompanies the main verb like. The auxiliary is used to form a polite question.

Would you like some sausages?


Regular & Irregular Verbs

The last distinction we want to address is the one between regular and irregular verbs. This distinction is based upon the way how verbs adapt to the formation pf the simple past and past participle. See the examples below for more.


Regular verbs form the simple past or past participle following the regular pattern of suffixation with –d, –ed or –ied.

to talk:
He talked to the manager afterwards.


Irregular verbs form their simple past and past participle forms different from this regular pattern.

to go:
She went to the store yesterday.

Some of the most well known irregular cases are:

to go, to say, to think, to make, to know, to come



In English, verbs follow the so-called subject-verb-agreement. This grammatical conjugation occurs in language where the verb is subject of inflection – which is the case in English. Simply said, it means that the verb has a special relationship with its subject and that it has to change its form according to the subject.

to walk:
I walk to the store every afternoon. ?
He walk alone most of the times. ?
He walks alone most of the times. ?


Typically, this agreement is expressed using the suffixes -s or –es. The exception of this rule is the verb to be which inflects differently.

to be:
I am disappointed. ?
She am enjoying the rain. ?
She is enjoying the rain. ?