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What is a Verb? The Workhorse of the English Language
Julia McCoyTuesday, 21st Nov 2023
Julia McCoy5 min read · Jan 11 2022
Ever found yourself in a conversation, wondering, “What is a verb again?”
We’ve all sat in an English class as kids, confidently raising our hands when the teacher asks: “Who can tell me what a verb is?” It seems simple enough back then.
“It’s an action word!” we’d say with confidence and perhaps even smugness. But as time passes, we realize that understanding verbs isn’t quite so straightforward.
Talk? Sit? Read? Write? Sure, those are verbs representing actions. But wait…Love? Hate?. They don’t represent any physical action! Yet they’re also verbs!
Whether you’re a grammar geek, a student struggling with sentence structure, or just someone passionate about words, understanding verbs is crucial.
In this guide, we will unravel the mysteries of verbs, exploring what are verbs, how they work, and why they’re so essential in our everyday communication.
So, buckle up, language lovers, and let’s embark on this exciting linguistic journey together!
Table Of Contents:
- What is a Verb?
- Verb Forms and Tenses
- Rules for Proper Verb Usage
- What Are Power Verbs?
- Tips for Enhancing Your Writing with Strong Verbs
What is a Verb?
A verb, in simple terms, is the main action or state of being in a sentence. It is one of the eight parts of speech.
A verb’s role cannot be understated — almost every sentence requires one to make sense.
The basic form of a verb is known as its infinitive. It denotes an action (run, read, buy), state (belong, want), or occurrence (happen, develop).
In the English language, it gets more interesting because we have specific verb examples for just about everything.
Types of Verbs
Differentiating between various types of verbs can help us understand their usage better.
Action verbs are the movers and shakers of the English language. They describe physical or mental actions, showing what someone or something is doing. These verbs add energy and vitality to your sentences.
Sarah runs every morning.
Naomi accepted the job offer.
We baked a carrot cake.
She ironed her dress.
Karen drinks vanilla lattes.
Stative verbs, also known as state verbs, are verbs that describe a state or a condition rather than an action. These verbs describe a situation that is static, not changing over a period of time.
She loves music but hates spiders.
The coffee smells delicious.
I believe you.
She knows the answer.
John has a car.
Linking verbs don’t show action but instead link the subject of the sentence to a noun, pronoun, or adjective, providing more information about the subject.
Common linking verbs include is, am, are, was, were, seem, and become.
She is a talented musician.
The sky appears cloudy today.
The teacher feels proud of her students.
We became best friends in high school.
You seem kind and thoughtful.
Helping Verbs (Auxiliary Verbs)
Auxiliary verbs help the main verb in a sentence to provide a clearer meaning or complete a thought.
He has finished his homework.
I have been there before.
Paul doesn’t know his way home.
He didn’t run for president.
The dogs are playing in the yard.
Modal verbs express possibility or necessity. They are used with the base form of the main verb and can convey various shades of meaning in a sentence.
She can speak French fluently.
You must finish your assignment today.
We will find the perfect pumpkin.
Lisa might want another helping of pie.
The whole team should be there.
Phrasal verbs consist of a main verb combined with one or more particles, such as prepositions or adverbs. The meaning of a phrasal verb can be quite different from the individual words it comprises.
George and Brenda broke up last month.
I ran out of milk.
The guests turned up late for the party.
The new CEO took over the company.
Don’t give up on your dreams.
Mastering phrasal verbs can be a game-changer in your language skills as they are prevalent in casual conversations, movies, and literature. Learning the various meanings of these combinations will enhance your understanding of English and help you communicate more naturally.
Transitive and Intransitive Verbs
Action verbs that require a direct object to complete their meaning in a sentence are called transitive verbs. They need someone or something to receive the action they describe.
The direct object answers the question “what” or “whom” after the verb. Transitive verbs transfer the action from the subject to the object.
The cat chased the mouse.
Van Gogh painted a beautiful landscape.
Our teacher assigned a new homework assignment.
She baked a delicious cake.
The carpenter built a sturdy table.
In each of these sentences, the transitive verb transfers its action to a direct object, which receives the action of the verb. The direct object is usually a noun or pronoun.
Meanwhile, action verbs that can stand on their own are called intransitive verbs. They complete the meaning of the sentence without needing an additional receiver of the action.
She laughed loudly.
The baby cried.
The wind blew through the leaves.
The sun shone brightly.
The river flowed downstream.
In these examples, the intransitive verb does not transfer its action to a direct object. Instead, it describes an action that is complete within itself.
Compound verbs are formed by combining two words to create a new verb phrase. They can be one or two words long or hyphenated.
She overstayed her welcome.
Messi sidestepped the defender and scored a goal.
Are you free to babysit tonight?
Be sure to waterproof your roof.
The scientist double-checked the results of the experiment.
Each type of verb on this list plays a unique role in shaping the language we use every day. Knowing how to use them correctly can help you construct clear, meaningful sentences that your reader will understand.
Screenshot from Your Dictionary
Verb Forms and Tenses
Verb forms and tenses are fundamental concepts in English grammar that help convey the timing of an action, its completeness, and its relationship to the present, past, or future.
Let’s break down these concepts.
Verb forms refer to the different variations a verb can take to indicate tense, mood, aspect, person, and number.
There are five primary forms of verbs in English:
- Root Form: The root form of a verb is its most basic structure without any modifications. This form also represents the simple present tense and the infinitive (“to” + verb). Examples: run, eat, sleep, play.
- Third-Person Singular Present Form: Used with subjects like he, she, or it, the third-person singular verb form is typically created by adding an “s” to the end of the root. Examples: he sees, she runs, he plays, it shrinks.
- Present Participle Form: This form is used to form progressive tenses and gerunds. Examples: running, coming, drawing, washing.
- Past Form: The past form of a verb indicates an action that has already happened. Regular verbs form their past tense by adding “ed” at the end of the root form (talked, walked, cooked), while irregular verbs have unique past forms (went, ate, spoke).
- Past Participle Form: This form is used to create perfect tenses and passive voice verbs. Examples: sung, seen, fallen, given, gone.
Verb tenses indicate the time of an action in relation to the present, past, or future.
There are several verb tenses in English, each serving a specific purpose.
Present Simple: Describes actions that are habitual, general truths, or routines. The general rule here is adding an “s” at the end of a root word.
Example: She reads books every night.
A different rule applies to verbs that end in -ch, -sh, -x, -z or -s. You need to add “es” instead of just “s” at the end of the verb.
Examples: teaches, pushes, mixes, kisses
Past Simple: Describes actions that have occurred in the past. Typically formed by adding “ed” at the end of a root word.
Example: He visited London last summer.
Present Continuous (Progressive): Describes ongoing actions happening at the moment or around the present time.
Example: They are studying for their exams.
Past Continuous (Progressive): Describes actions that were ongoing in the past.
Example: She was reading when the phone rang.
Present Perfect: Indicates actions that started in the past and have relevance to the present.
Example: I have visited Paris several times.
Past Perfect: Describes actions that were completed before another past action.
Example: He had finished his homework before he went out.
Future Simple: Indicates actions that will happen in the future.
She will travel to Europe next month.
If all these verb tenses sound confusing, fret not! Here’s a quick cheatsheet from Thesaurus.com
With constant practice, you can master the different verb types and enhance your ability to communicate effectively.
Rules for Proper Verb Usage
The correct use of verbs is vital in the English language. It helps ensure your sentences are not just grammatically accurate but also clear and meaningful.
A key aspect of verb usage involves subject-verb agreement, a rule stating that subjects and verbs must agree in number. This means that if the subject is singular, the verb must be singular, and if the subject is plural, the verb must be plural.
My dog plays in the yard. (singular subject, singular verb)
My dogs play in the yard. (plural subject, plural verb)
Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
Beyond ensuring proper agreement between your subject and verb, there’s another dimension to consider: verb voice.
The verb voice indicates who is performing the action. In the active voice, the subject of the sentence is performing the action, while in the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is receiving the action.
John eats an apple. (active voice)
An apple is eaten by John. (passive voice)
Although both active and passive verbs can be used effectively depending on the context, many writers prefer active voice over passive voice as it often makes for more direct and engaging prose.
Lastly, verb mood indicates the speaker’s attitude towards the action.
In English, there are three primary verb moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive.
Verbs in the indicative mood make straightforward statements or ask questions about reality or facts. They express statements, questions, and opinions that are considered real or true.
She is reading a book. (statement)
Are you coming to the party? (question)
The imperative mood is used to give commands, make requests, or offer invitations. Verbs in the imperative mood are often used without a subject, and they imply a sense of urgency or a direct order.
Please close the door. (command)
Have a great day! (wish)
The subjunctive mood is used to express hypothetical or contrary-to-fact situations, suggestions, and recommendations. It is often used in formal or literary contexts and is less common in everyday conversation.
If I were you, I would apologize. (hypothetical situation)
I suggest that she be present at the meeting. (suggestion)
The subjunctive mood in English is often subtle and can sometimes be replaced by modal verbs or other expressions.
Verbs play such crucial roles because they do so much. Whether you’re crafting an essay, drafting a business proposal, or writing the next great novel, knowing how to use verbs effectively can make all the difference.
So remember: agree with your subject and choose your voice wisely.
What Are Power Verbs?
Power verbs are dynamic and compelling words that vividly describe an action, a state, or an occurrence. These verbs are impactful, evoking strong imagery and emotions, and they can enhance your writing by making it more engaging and persuasive.
Using stronger verbs can bring your sentences to life and grab your readers’ attention.
Here are some examples of power verbs in different writing contexts.
Business and Professional Writing
Our boss implemented new strategies to improve efficiency.
He negotiated a favorable deal for the company.
The team delivered a compelling presentation to the clients.
Creative Writing and Storytelling
The storm raged outside, shaking the windows.
She whispered the secret in his ear, her eyes gleaming with mischief.
His laughter echoed through the empty hallways, filling the house with warmth.
Academic and Research Writing
The study revealed significant correlations between the variables.
The researcher discovered a groundbreaking solution to the problem.
The experiment validated the hypothesis, confirming the researchers’ predictions.
Resume and Cover Letter Writing
I managed a team of professionals, ensuring project deadlines were met.
I designed and executed marketing campaigns, resulting in a 30% increase in sales.
We collaborated with cross-functional teams to achieve organizational goals.
Power verbs can make your writing more vibrant and persuasive. They can elevate your language and leave a lasting impression on your readers. Consider the context and the impact you want to create when choosing power verbs.
Tips for Enhancing Your Writing with Strong Verbs
The right verb can turn a bland sentence into a spicy meatball of literary delight. But what are these “strong verbs” we speak of?
A strong verb is one that’s specific, vivid, and expressive. Rather than simply stating what is happening, strong verbs provide a vivid illustration of the action.
Here are some tips to help you harness the power of verbs in your writing.
Choose Strong and Specific Verbs
Instead of vague, generic verbs, use specific, vivid, and descriptive verbs that paint a clear picture.
For example, replace walked with strolled, rushed, or sauntered to convey a different mood and pace.
Use Active Voice
Active voice makes your writing more direct and energetic. In active voice, the subject performs the action expressed by the verb, which creates a sense of immediacy and engagement.
Passive Voice: The book was written by the author.
Active Voice: The author wrote the book.
Be Mindful of Verb Tenses
Use appropriate verb tenses to convey the timing and sequence of events accurately.
Consistent use of verb tenses maintains clarity and coherence in your writing.
Examples of verb conjugations:
I run every morning. (present tense, first-person singular)
The teacher assigned homework to the students. (past tense, third-person singular)
I have run five kilometers today. (present perfect tense, first-person singular)
She has eaten breakfast already. (present perfect tense, third-person singular)
The students had studied for the test for weeks. (past perfect tense, third-person plural)
I am running to the store now. (present progressive tense, first-person singular)
Show, Don’t Tell
Verbs can help you show emotions and actions rather than simply telling the reader what’s happening.
Instead of saying, “She was angry,” you could say, “She slammed the door shut, her face flushed with anger.”
Use Verbs to Create Imagery
Verbs can help you create vivid imagery and sensory experiences.
Engage the readers’ senses by choosing verbs that evoke sounds, tastes, smells, textures, and feelings.
For example: The coffee sizzled and its aroma danced in the air.
Be Concise and Precise
Choose verbs that convey your intended meaning accurately and succinctly.
Avoid unnecessary adverbs or adjectives when a strong verb can do the job effectively on its own.
Pay attention to the connotations of verbs. Some verbs can carry positive, negative, or neutral connotations.
Select verbs that match the tone and mood you want to convey in your writing.
Use Verbs to Create Rhythm
Verbs can contribute to the rhythm of your writing. Vary sentence lengths and structures by strategically placing action verbs.
Short, punchy sentences can create tension, while longer, flowing sentences can add a sense of calm and contemplation.
Use Verbs that Convey a Sense of Action or Movement
Verbs that imply action or movement can add energy and excitement to your writing. They create a sense of progress and keep the readers engaged.
The flames licked the sky, devouring everything in their path.
His words pierced the silence, capturing everyone’s attention.
Use Verbs That Are Appropriate for Your Audience
Consider your audience and the tone you want to convey. Tailor your verb choices to match the formality, familiarity, and emotion you wish to express.
- Formal Tone: The CEO announced the company’s new policies during the conference.
- Informal Tone: She chatted with her friends for hours, sharing stories and laughter.
- Emotional Tone: His voice trembled as he recounted the heartbreaking tale.
Edit and Revise
During the editing process, pay special attention to your verbs. Look for opportunities to replace weak verbs with stronger alternatives. Don’t be afraid to experiment and rewrite sentences to find the most impactful verb choices.
Using verbs that align with the intended action, emotion, and tone enhances the overall impact of your writing. By being mindful of your word choices, you can create a more engaging and relatable experience for your readers.
English verbs are little powerhouses that spice up your writing. You’ve learned the definition of what is a verb and how it adds flavor, depth, and action to your sentences — turning bland narratives into lively tales.
By understanding the power of verbs, you unlock the door to a world where your writing transcends the ordinary, painting vivid scenes, evoking genuine emotions, and captivating readers from the first word to the last.
In every sentence, every paragraph, and every story you craft, let your verbs be the brushstrokes that create a masterpiece, leaving a great impression on your readers long after they’ve turned the final page.
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