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Verbs

© 2014 Katherine Williams. All rights reserved.

Chicago, Illinois 60615 (773) 405-5916

Verbs Show Action


Verbs are words of action or being. They tell what the subjects (nouns, pronouns, or clauses) of sentences are doing or what is being done to them. Thus, they generally follow the subject, but there are exceptions as in the following examples:


Jane and Tim were waiting patiently on the doorstep.

Waiting patiently on the doorstep were Jane and Tim.


Regular and Irregular Verbs


There are two types of verbs: regular and irregular. Regular verbs – the most common type – follow a regular pattern in their tenses, but irregular verbs do not. Examples of regular and irregular verbs include the following:


Regular verbs


Carry, carrying, carried

Kick, kicking, kicked

Manage, managing, managed

Walk, walking, walked


Irregular verbs


Break, breaking, broke, broken

Feel, feeling, felt

Sing, singing, sang, sung

Write, writing, wrote, written


Finite and Nonfinite Verbs


Verbs are also either finite or nonfinite. Finite verbs are necessary to make complete sentences. They have subjects, specific tenses, and numbers as well as persons (when appropriate). Consider the following sentences:


Sentence 1: Jeremy runs five miles every day.

Sentence 2: Jeremy and Ida run five miles every day.


In sentence 1, "Jeremy" is the subject. "Runs" is the verb that denotes the present tense and a singular subject.


In sentence 2, "Jeremy" and "Ida" are the subjects. "Run" is the verb that denotes the present tense and a plural subject.


Unlike finite verbs, nonfinite verbs cannot – on their own – make complete sentences nor can they express singular, plural, or tense (e.g., leading the race, launching the rocket). These verbs need auxiliary (helping) verbs – such as is, can, had, might, should, and was – to completely express the action. For example:


James is leading the race.

They were launching the rocket when the earthquake hit.  


"Leading" is the main verb that expresses the action and "is" is the auxiliary verb that denotes the present tense and a singular subject (James).


"Launching" expresses the action and "were" denotes the past tense and a plural subject (They).


Transitive and Intransitive Verbs


Transitive verbs express action and have a direct object – someone or something – that receives the action like in the following examples:


Sentence 1: Lucinda writes a poem everyday.


"Lucinda" is the subject that performed the action.

"Writes" was the action.

"Poem" is the object that received the action (i.e., it was written).


Sentence 2: Larry hit Jeremy.


"Larry" performed the action.

"Hit" was the action.

"Jeremy" received the action.


When the subject performs the action and the object receives it, the voice1 is active. Transitive verbs, however, may also create a passive voice in which the subject receives (or is affected by) the action. For example:


Sentence 1: Jenny cleans Sherrie's apartment every weekend.

Sentence 2: Sherrie's apartment is cleaned by Jenny every weekend.


In sentence 1, "Jenny" (the subject) performs an action (cleans) on Sherrie's apartment. But, in sentence 2, "apartment" (the subject) received the action from "Jenny" who became the object of the passive verb "is cleaned."


Intransitive verbs express action but have no object (i.e., receiver of the action). Consider these examples:

Lucinda writes to express her deepest feelings.

Larry fought to protect himself.


More About Verbs


There is so much more to know about verbs than this fact sheet can cover, so additional information will be discussed in other fact sheets. Also, the following sources, which were used in writing this inforamtion, provide more detailed information about verbs.



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1  "In grammar, the voice (also called diathesis) of a verb describes the relationship between the action (or state) that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments (subject, object, etc.)." Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voice_(grammar)