Lawless English

Introduction to verbs

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Verbs are the words in a sentence that indicate an action, a state of being, or possession. Some examples.

action   state of being   possession
I walk to school. I feel tired. This belongs to me
She runs fast. You look great! He has good ideas.
It rains in Paris. We believe you. She and Tom own a car.
They drink tea. You and he are tall. They had two dogs.

In English, verbs have three general forms: the infinitive form, the base form, and the conjugated form. The infinitive form of a verb is always preceded by the word to. The base form is the same as the infinitive but without to. The base form of the verb is what you look for in the dictionary. The infinitive and base forms are neutral: There is no tense or person inflected in the verb.

to eat eat
to drink drink
to sleep sleep

A conjugated form of a verb indicates when an action takes place (present, past, or future). Sometimes the verb indicates who or what is doing the action though usually English requires a subject in order to determine who or what is doing the action. Here are some examples of conjugated verbs:

She is tired.   third person singular of BE – simple present
They went home third person plural of GO – simple past
Tom will call you. modal verb WILL and the verb CALL – future construction

Except for the verb BE and modal verbs, all English verbs have only two conjugations in the simple present and only one in the simple past. The verb BE has three conjugations in the simple present and two in the simple past. Modal verbs are not conjugated. Click on the links above to learn.

Like many languages, English has regular verbs and irregular verbs. An English regular verb is a verb in which the simple past is formed by the addition of the morpheme –ed to the base form of the verb. (There are a few small irregularities concerning this morpheme. To learn more, click on simple past.) A regular verb also means that the past participle form is the same as the simple past form. Here are examples of regular verbs in the base form, the simple past, and the past participle form.

regular verbs
base  form   simple past   past participle
call called called
belong belonged belonged
anticipate anticipated anticipated

For irregular verbs, the simple past is formed by a change in spelling. The past participle sometimes maintains the same form as the simple past, but not always. Other times, the simple past and the past participle are the same as the base form.

irregular verbs
base  form   simple past   past participle
see saw seen
think thought thought
cut cut cut

Some verbs are called transitive verbs. These verbs are followed by nouns or pronouns that serve as direct objects in the sentence. In general, English sentence structure follows this pattern: subject + verb + direct object.

subject verb object
I own a car.
She loves Tom.
They plant trees.
The tree has leaves.

These verbs require a direct object. Without a direct object, the sentences are incomplete.

correct   incorrect
subject verb object  
I own a car. I own.
She loves Tom. She loves.
They plant trees. They plant.
The tree has leaves. The tree has.

Verbs that do not require a direct object are called intransitive verbs. Here are some examples:

subject verb
Birds fly.
Fish swim.
Tom snores.
They agree.

Some verbs in English can be both transitive and intransitive, Here are examples:

intransitive   transitive
subject verb object subject verb
They cook dinner. They cook.
Alicia teaches English. Alicia teaches.
I won a toy. I won.

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