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The Verb

Verbs are words that express action. They can express tense (the time at which the action occurred) and voice. The voice can be active (where the subject performs the action) or passive (where the subject is placed in a passive position in the sentence).

The most common verb tenses are the presentpast, and future. Each of these tenses has a progressivehabitual, and perfect form.

A linking verb connects a subject and a subject complement, a word that describes or clarifies the subject. The most commonly used linking verb is the verb be. Consider the following examples.

  • Table tennis is fun.
  • Their grandfather was a war hero.

Other words commonly used as linking verbs are appear, seem, look, feel, sound, taste, and smell.

  • You seem a little unhappy today.
  • That woman looks rather sick.
  • This sweater feels warm.
  • Her meatloaf smells great!

Linking verbs are intransitive. They do not have direct objects. Notice that the verb in each of the following examples is a transitive verb with the direct object flower.

  • The little girl smelled the flower.
  • No one wanted to buy a flower from her.
  • I only sold one flower today.

To identify the direct object in a sentence, ask what or whom of the verb: What did the little girl smell? What did no one want to buy? What did I sell today? The answer to each question is flower, the direct object. Linking verbs never have a direct object.

Most verbs have five forms:

  • Base form. This is the verb in its original form, the form you find in the dictionary. Run, study, eat, think, write, fall, open, and ask are verbs in their base form.
  • Third-person singular form: base form + -s (or -es). This form is used with he, she, or it in the present tense. Runs, studies, eats, thinks, writes, falls, opens, and asks are verbs in the third-person singular form.
  • Past tense form. This form can be regular or irregular. The regular past tense is the base form + -ed. Studied, opened, and asked are verbs in the regular past tense form. There are fewer irregular verbs in the English language than regular verbs. These verbs are called irregular, because they do not end with -ed in the past tense. Ran, ate, thought, wrote, and fell are past tense forms of irregular verbs.
  • Present participle, or progressive, form: base form + -ing. Running, studying, eating, thinking, writing, falling, opening, and asking are verbs in the present participle, or progressive, form.
  • Past participle form. This form can be regular or irregular. The regular past participle form is the base form + -ed. Studied, opened, and asked are verbs in this form. Irregular past participles are formed differently, for example, run, eaten, thought, written, and fallen.

Verbs are categorized as irregular when they do not end in -ed in the past tense form. Although there are fewer irregular verbs than regular verbs, they are also among the most commonly used verbs.

The following chart illustrates the various forms of some common irregular verbs. This list is not comprehensive; a complete list can be found in most dictionaries.


The verb be is an exception. Like other verbs, it has a base form (be), a progressive form (being), and a past participle (been). Yet the present tense of be has three distinct forms: (I) am, (he/she/it) is, and (we/you/they) are. Moreover, the past tense of be has two distinct forms: (I/he/she/it) was and (we/you/they) were.

Most verbs can be conjugated in the present, past, and future tenses. The present participle, or progressive form, of a verb is used together with the auxiliary be to show a continuing or incomplete action in the various tenses. Consider the verb speak in its progressive form.

PRESENTShe is speaking with John.
PASTShe was speaking with John.
PRESENT PERFECTShe has been speaking with John.
PAST PERFECTShe had been speaking with John.
FUTUREShe will be speaking with John.
FUTURE PERFECTShe will have been speaking with John.

Compare these sentences with the following sentences, which illustrate a completed or habitual action.

PRESENTShe speaks with John.
PASTShe spoke with John.
PRESENT PERFECTShe has spoken with John.
PAST PERFECTShe had spoken with John.
FUTUREShe will speak with John.
FUTURE PERFECTShe will have spoken with John.

The progressive form of be (being) is used only in the present and past tenses.

PRESENTHe is sick.He is being good.
PASTHe was sick.He was being good.
PRESENT PERFECTHe has been sick.
PAST PERFECTHe had been sick.
FUTUREHe will be sick.
FUTURE PERFECTHe will have been sick.

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