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Verbs

Verbs are the words in a sentence that describe the action of a sentence or that introduce the condition or state of someone or something in the sentence.

  • Action: Anna throws the ball.
  • Introduction of a condition: Trent is very sick.

There are many action verbs. Those that can have a direct object are often called transitive verbs. Here is a list of some commonly used transitive verbs. Note that they can be used with a direct object.

Transitive VerbsUsed in a Sentence
buyHe buys a newspaper.
carryTam carrying the child.
findCan you find the book?
helpShe helps us.
likeI don’t like cabbage.
loseDon’t lose your money.
readShe is reading a book.
pullThe dentist pulled the tooth.
pushThe boy pushes the cart.
sellTam selling my car.
speakFather speaks Spanish.
writeWe are writing some postcards.
understandDo you understand me?

Intransitive verbs are not followed by a direct object. They often show a movement to a place and are sometimes followed by a prepositional phrase. Following is a list of some commonly used intransitive verbs:

Intransitive VerbsUsed in a Sentence
comeCan you come to the party?
crawlThe baby crawls on the floor.
driveWe are driving fast.
flyI flew here from Paris.
goAre you going home?
hurryWe hurry to the window.
jumpPeter jumps from the roof.
rideI am riding in his car.
runThe girls run past the school.
sailWe are sailing to Europe.
travelDo you want to travel with us?
walkI walk out of the theater.

Still other verbs introduce the condition or state of someone or something. They do not take a direct object and are most often followed by an adjective. These verbs are usually called linking verbs. Here are some commonly used linking verbs:

Linking VerbsUsed in a Sentence
appearThe boy appears quite well.
beI am hungry.
becomeThe weather becomes bad.
feelIt feels hot.
growThe dog is growing weak.
lookShe looks unhappy.
seemThe coat seems too small for you.
smellThe pizza smells good.
soundThe music sounds awful.
tasteThe popcorn tastes salty.

Careful! Some of the linking verbs have a second usage. They can be used as transitive verbs. Look at these examples:

  • Linking Verb: His skin feels hot. (hot = adjective)
  • Transitive Verb: He feels a sharp pain. (a sharp pain = direct object)
  • Linking Verb: The sky grows cloudy. (adjective)
  • Transitive Verb: We grow vegetables. (direct object)
  • Linking Verb: That smells beautiful. (adjective)
  • Transitive Verb: She smells the flowers. (direct object)
  • Linking Verb: My coffee tastes bitter. (adjective)
  • Transitive Verb: Risa tasted the ice cream. (direct object)

You can identify linking verbs by substituting amis, or are for the verb. If the sentence makes sense with the substitution, it is a linking verb. If it does not make sense, it is a transitive verb. Some examples:

  • It feels cold. (It is cold.) This makes sense. = Linking Verb
  • He feels her pulse. (He is her pulse.) This makes no sense. = Transitive Verb
  • They smell nice. (They are nice.) This makes sense. = Linking Verb
  • We smell coffee. (We are coffee.) This makes no sense. = Transitive Verb

The Present Tense

In some languages, present tense conjugations are very complicated. Each pronoun requires a different ending on the verb. English is much simpler. Only the third-person singular (he, she, it) requires an ending. That ending is an -s (or -es). And with some verbs there is no ending change at all. Look at these examples of the present tense:

to goto seeto wantcanmust
Igoseewantcanmust
yougoseewantcanmust
he, she, itgoesseeswantscanmust
wegoseewantcanmust
theygoseewantcanmust

When the verb ends in the vowel -o, add -es for the third-person singular pronouns:

  • do ➞ does

Can and must are special auxiliary verbs. They never have an ending change in the present tense. There are other auxiliaries that do the same thing. They will be taken up later.

There are two special verbs that have more complicated ending changes in the present tense: to have and to be.

to haveto be
Ihaveam
youhaveare
he, she, ithasis
wehaveare
theyhaveare

Asking Questions

A sentence that has the verb to be in it is easily formed as a question. Just invert the position of the verb and the subject. Look at these examples:

StatementQuestion
I am late.Am I late?
She is his sister.Is she his sister?
They are from Puerto Rico.Are they from Puerto Rico?

All other verbs, including to have, form a question by using the verb to do (dodoes). The verb to do is conjugated for the subject of the sentence. The original verb in the sentence becomes an infinitive. English infinitives begin with the word toto runto jumpto sing, and so on. Sometimes the word to is omitted: run, jump, sing, and so on. The word to is omitted in questions.

StatementQuestion
Jacques has a new job.Does Jacques have a new job?
You see the ocean.Do you see the ocean?
She likes my brother.Does she like my brother?
Tanya usually finds the books.Does Tanya usually find the books?

Negation

Add not after the verb to be to make it negative:

  • I am ➞ I am not
  • you are ➞ you are not
  • she is ➞ she is not
  • we are ➞ we are not
  • they are ➞ they are not

With all other verbs, use do/does and not to make a verb negative. Do is conjugated for the subject of the sentence, and the original verb becomes an infinitive. The structure is do + not + infinitive. Look at these examples:

Original SentenceNegative Sentence
I like hot milk.I do not like hot milk.
She has my books.She does not have my books.
Danielle goes to the window.Danielle does not go to the window.
We find the money.We do not find the money.
It grows cold.It does not grow cold.

When a negative sentence becomes a question, the question begins with do/does as described earlier:

  • you do not know ➞ do you not know?
  • Mary does not have ➞ does Mary not have?

Even when negated, the verb to be does not form a question with do/does:

  • I am not ➞ am I not?
  • she is not ➞ is she not?
  • they are not ➞ are they not?

Some example sentences:

Negative SentenceNegative Question
She does not like him.Does she not like him?
We do not want it.Do we not want it?
You are not at home.Are you not at home?
He is not our friend.Is he not our friend?

Three Forms of the Present Tense

English has three ways of expressing the present tense. You already know one way: Conjugate the verb by adding appropriate endings: I singwe gohe hasshe isthey wantToni finds. This formation of the present tense has a special meaning. It says that someone does something as a habit or frequently.

The second present tense is formed from the verb to be combined with a verb ending in -ingI am runningyou are speakingshe is learningwe are singing, and so on. This present tense formation means that an action is in progress and that the action of the verb is incomplete.

The third present tense is the emphatic and opposite response to someone’s statement. If the statement is negative, you respond in the positive. If it is positive, you respond in the negative. It requires using do/does with the infinitive of the original verb. Kendra says, “You do not have the book.” You respond, “I do have the book.” Scott says, “He does not go by bus.” You respond, “He does go by bus.” Sophie says, “My sister likes the movie.” You respond, “Your sister does not like the movie.”

Let’s compare the three forms:

Habitual Statement (something done frequently)In Progress (incomplete)Emphatic Response
I speak English.I am speaking English.“You do not speak English.” ➞ “I do speak English.”
We go to school.We are going to school.“We go to school.” ➞ “We do not go to school.”
They play soccer.They are playing soccer.“They do not play soccer.” ➞ “They do play soccer.”

When you use an adverb that shows that an action is done frequently (oftensometimesalwaysusuallyevery day, etc.), you should use the habitual form of the present tense: I often listen to jazz. We sometimes talk on the phone. Travis usually works until five.

The Past Tense

The past tense is used to show something that has happened in the past. Just as there are three present tense formations, there are also three past tense formations: (1) a habitual or frequent action, (2) an action in progress or incomplete, and (3) an emphatic response in the past tense.

The past tense conjugation of a habitual or frequent action is quite simple. Just add -ed to the end of a regular verb. If the verb ends in a consonant followed by a -y, drop the -y and add -ied. If a one-syllable verb ends in a single consonant, double that consonant and add -ed. Look at these examples:

Just Add -edConsonant -ySingle Consonant
borrow, borrowedbury, buriedbed, bedded
call, calledcarry, carriedpin, pinned
help, helpedhurry, hurriedrot, rotted
work, workedrally, ralliedsin, sinned

The verbs listed above are regular verbs. They form their past tense by the addition of -ed. There are also irregular verbs. They form their past tense by making a change within the stem of the verb. It is usually a vowel change, but there can also be a consonant change as well. Following are the irregular past tense forms of some commonly used verbs:

InfinitivePast TenseInfinitivePast Tense
to bewas/wereto makemade
to breakbroketo putput
to bringbroughtto readread
to buildbuiltto riderode
to buyboughtto runran
to catchcaughtto seesaw
to cutcutto sellsold
to dodidto sitsat
to findfoundto speakspoke
to flyflewto standstood
to gowentto taketook
to havehadto teachtaught
to hithitto throwthrew
to loselostto writewrote

You will find a complete list of irregular tense formations in the appendix.

Use the past tense of to be (was/were) plus an -ing ending on the verb to form the past tense of an action in progress or incomplete. There is no difference for regular or irregular verbs:

  • to sing ➞ was singing
  • to go ➞ was going
  • to carry ➞ was carrying, and so on

Use the past tense of to do (did) to form the past tense of an emphatic response.

Let’s compare the three past tense formations:

Habitual Statement (something done frequently)In Progress (incomplete)Emphatic Response
I spoke English.I was speaking English.“You did not speak English.” ➞ “I did speak English.”
We went to school.We were going to school.“We went to school.” ➞ “We did not go to school.”
They played soccer.They were playing soccer.“They did not play soccer.” ➞ “They did play soccer.”

Questions and negations with not are formed with the past tense of to do (did) in the same way they are formed in the present tense:

Present TensePast Tense
Does he like the article?Did he like the article?
You do not understand.You did not understand.

The Present Perfect Tense

To express something that began in the past and continues until the present use the present perfect tense. This tense has two formations: (1) the habitual or frequent action and (2) the action in progress or incomplete. The habitual present perfect tense is formed by conjugating to have (have/has) in the present tense and combining it with a past participle:

  • to work ➞ has worked
  • to carry ➞ has carried
  • to speak ➞ has spoken

The participle of a regular verb looks just like the past tense. It ends in -ed. But the participle of an irregular verb often makes a change. Look at this list of irregular participles of commonly used verbs:

InfinitiveParticipleInfinitiveParticiple
to bebeento makemade
to breakbrokento putput
to bringbroughtto readread
to buildbuiltto rideridden
to buyboughtto runrun
to catchcaughtto seeseen
to cutcutto sellsold
to dodoneto sitsat
to findfoundto speakspoken
to flyflownto standstood
to gogoneto taketaken
to havehadto teachtaught
to hithitto throwthrown
to loselostto writewritten

The present perfect of an action in progress or incomplete is formed by conjugating to have (have/has) with the participle of to be (been) and the verb with an -ing ending. The structure is to have + been + verb-ing:

  • to work ➞ has been working
  • to carry ➞ has been carrying
  • to speak ➞ has been speaking

In this formation there is no need to worry about irregular participles.

Notice how the present perfect tense forms from the present tense:

He learns English.He has learned English.
He is learning English.He has been learning English.
We see strangers.We have seen strangers.
We are seeing strangers.We have been seeing strangers.
I ride a long time.I have ridden a long time.
I am riding a long time.I have been riding a long time.

The Past Perfect Tense

To express an action that began in the past and ended in the past use the past perfect tense. It has two formations similar to the present perfect tense. But in the past perfect tense, the verb to have is conjugated in the past tense (had):

  • to work ➞ had worked/had been working
  • to carry ➞ had carried/had been carrying
  • to speak ➞ had spoken/had been speaking

You can form a question in the present perfect or past perfect tenses by inverting the verb and the subject:

  • You have spoken. ➞ Have you spoken?
  • He had learned. ➞ Had he learned?

You can form the negative by placing not after have or had:

  • You have spoken. ➞ You have not spoken.
  • He had learned. ➞ He had not learned.

The Future Tense

The future tense can be expressed in a few ways. One of the most common is to use the present tense but to imply a future tense meaning. This is done by using the present tense verb formation for an action in progress or incomplete. Look at the following examples:

  • Ray is going to school today. (present tense)
  • Ray is going to school tomorrow. (future tense)
  • They are traveling to Mexico today. (present tense)
  • They are traveling to Mexico tomorrow. (future tense)

Another way to form the future tense is to combine the verb shall or will with an infinitive. If the action is one in progress or incomplete, use the structure shall/will + be + verb-ing:

  • to go ➞ I shall go/I shall be going
  • to speak ➞ he will speak/he will be speaking

Let’s look at the complete conjugation:

PronounHabitual ActionIncomplete Action
Ishall speakshall be speaking
youwill trywill be trying
he, she, itwill makewill be making
weshall readshall be reading
theywill workwill be working

Traditionally, shall has been used for the first-person singular and plural (I and we). However, many modern speakers of English use only will.

Form a question in the future by inverting the verb and the subject:

  • You will sing. ➞ Will you sing?

Form the negative by placing not after will:

  • You will sing. ➞ You will not sing.

The Future Perfect Tense

The future perfect tense describes an action that begins and ends in the future tense. Just like other perfect tenses, it has two formations: one for a habitual or frequent action and one for an action in progress or incomplete. The structure for a habitual action is will + have + past participle:

  • to work ➞ will have worked
  • to see ➞ will have seen

The structure for an action in progress or incomplete is will + have + been + verb-ing:

  • to work ➞ will have been working
  • to see ➞ will have been seeing

Let’s look at the complete conjugation:

PronounHabitual ActionIncomplete Action
Iwill have spokenwill have been speaking
youwill have triedwill have been trying
he, she, itwill have madewill have been making
wewill have readwill have been reading
theywill have workedwill have been working

Comparison of Regular and Irregular Verbs

The regular verbs are the easiest to work with. Since there are no unusual changes to make in the conjugations, they follow very neat patterns. With irregular verbs, you must remember that the past tense and the participle are formed with vowel changes. Let’s look at three verbs and how they appear in all the tenses:

Tenseto playto goto sing
Presenthe playshe goeshe sings
he is playinghe is goinghe is singing
he does playhe does gohe does sing
Pasthe playedhe wenthe sang
he was playinghe was goinghe was singing
he did playhe did gohe did sing
Present Perfecthe has playedhe has gonehe has sung
he has been playinghe has been goinghe has been singing
Past Perfecthe had playedhe had gonehe had sung
he had been playinghe had been goinghe had been singing
Futurehe will playhe will gohe will sing
he will be playinghe will be goinghe will be singing
Future Perfecthe will have playedhe will have gonehe will have sung
he will have been playinghe will have been goinghe will have been singing

Going to and used to are two important phrases that cause a tense change. Use going to as a substitute for shall or will in the future tense. Use used to as a substitute for the simple past tense. Combine going to or used to with an infinitive:

  • He will learn English. ➞ He is going to learn English.
  • He spoke English. ➞ He used to speak English.

When you use to be going to to express the future tense, you imply that the action is something you intend to do. When you use used to to express the past tense, you imply that the action is something that had been a habit.

You can also use going to in the past tense (was/were going to) to express something that you had intended doing:

  • I was going to buy a new car but changed my mind.
  • Were you going to visit your aunt?

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