Verbs : English Glossary

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Verbs : English Glossary

Verbs carry the idea of being or action in the sentence.

  • I am a student.
  • The students passed all their courses.

As we will see on this page, verbs are classified in many ways. First, some verbs require an object to complete their meaning: "She gave _____ ?" Gave what? She gave money to the church. These verbs are called transitive. Verbs that are intransitive do not require objects: "The building collapsed." In English, you cannot tell the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb by its form; you have to see how the verb is functioning within the sentence. In fact, a verb can be both transitive and intransitive: "The monster collapsed the building by sitting on it."

Although you will seldom hear the term, a ditransitive verb — such as cause or give — is one that can take a direct object and an indirect object at the same time: "That horrid music gave me a headache." Ditransitive verbs are slightly different, then, from factitive verbs, in that the latter take two objects.

Verbs are also classified as either finite or non-finite. A finite verb makes an assertion or expresses a state of being and can stand by itself as the main verb of a sentence.

  • The truck demolished the restaurant.
  • The leaves were yellow and sickly.

Non-finite verbs (think "unfinished") cannot, by themselves, be main verbs:

  • The broken window . . .
  • The wheezing gentleman . . .

Another, more useful term for non-finite verb is verbal. In this section, we discuss various verbal forms: infinitives, gerunds, and participles.

Four Verb Forms

The inflections (endings) of English verb forms are not difficult to remember. There are only four basic forms. Instead of forming complex tense forms with endings, English uses auxiliary verb forms. English does not even have a proper ending for future forms; instead, we use auxiliaries such as "I am going to read this afternoon." or "I will read." or even "I am reading this book tomorrow." It would be useful, however, to learn these four basic forms of verb construction.

Name of verb Base form Past form Present participle Past participle
to workI can work.
I work.
I worked. I am working. I have worked.
to writeI can write.
I write.
I wrote. I am writing.I have written.

Linking Verbs

A linking verb connects a subject and its complement. Sometimes called copulas, linking verbs are often forms of the verb to be, but are sometimes verbs related to the five senses (look, sound, smell, feel, taste) and sometimes verbs that somehow reflect a state of being (appear, seem, become, grow, turn, prove, remain). What follows the linking verb will be either a noun complement or an adjective complement:

  • Those people are all professors.
  • Those professors are brilliant.
  • This room smells bad.
  • I feel great.
  • A victory today seems unlikely.

A handful of verbs that reflect a change in state of being are sometimes called resulting copulas. They, too, link a subject to a predicate adjective:

  • His face turned purple.
  • She became older.
  • The dogs ran wild.
  • The milk has gone sour.
  • The crowd grew ugly.

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