What are verbs? How can they be defined or categorized? This page attempts to answer these essential questions as clearly and concisely as possible.
Verbs are among the essential building blocks of communication in any language. They are one of the two essential elements of a sentence or clause. The other is the subject.
Verbs in the sentenceEvery sentence is made up of a subject and a predicate. The predicate must contain a verb, but can contain many other elements too (a complement, an object or more, adverbs, circumstantial expressions, etc.). Examples:
The president sneezed
You have taken the wrong bag
The man and the woman both forgot.
He forgot to get off the train at York.
Transitive or intransitive?Verbs can either be transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb requires an object, an intransitive verb cannot have an object. Some verbs can be transitive or intransitive, depending on context.
► Transitive: to build, to employ, to like, to drop
Intransitive : to sleep, to die, to fall
Verbs that can be either : to give, to burn, to smell
Stative or dynamic?Verbs can be either stative or dynamic. Stative verbs describe a situation or state, dynamic verbs describe a process or change of state. The two categories are incompatible with each other.
► Stative - describing a state : to know, to lie, to be, to like,Examples
Dynamic - expressing a change of state: to discover, to lie down, to become, to learn
1) I know a lot of people in London.forms created with the help of auxiliaries and modals. As well as being a rather artificial construct, this can be very confusing for students.
2) My father likes beer but not whisky.
3) The scientists discovered a new planet on the edge of the solar system.
4) I sat down and went to sleep.
Thus, for the purpose of clarity, it is more useful to use the historic classification of tenses in English, as defined by - among others - Samuel Johnson. Johnson listed six English tenses, each of them with a simple and a progressive or continuous aspect.
Here is a table of the main tenses in English, in simple and progressive aspect, and active and passive voices: sample verb - to make
Other "tenses" may exist in English for some verbs, in specific contexts; for example we could envisage "It will be being repaired " or "He's been being looked after", but forms like this are very rare. Here, nonetheless, is a plausible example of a future progressive passive, which is hard to avoid in this particular case:
While you're on holiday in Majorca, I'll be being interviewed for that job in Glasgow.
Other verb forms in English: modality
Other forms or tenses, and notably conditionals, are formed with the help of modal verbs: can, could, may, might, would, plus must , should and ought to. These forms are structured in the same way as the future or future perfect. These are the only structures possible using modal auxiliaries !Here is a table of modal verb forms, using the modal auxiliary must .
MoodsVerbs can be used in three different moods
indicative is the normal mood, and is illustrated in all the examples above
The subjunctive is very rare in English, and is normally found only in a few expressions, the most common of which is If I were you. See below.
The imperative is used to give orders, instructions, invitations, etc. See Imperatives
If I were you as in If I were you, I'd drive more carefully.
Note that the expression is "If I were you" (a subjunctive), and not "If I was you" (an indicative), though the second form is also heard.
Verbs with multiple functions: be and have. See
Other verb pages : ▲The infinitive ▲ Split infinitives ▲ Present perfect or Compound past?
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