What are verbs?

Verbs are doing words. They describe actions or states. Verbs tell us about what things do or what they are like. Some examples of verbs are: run, walk, work, eat, think. 


Along with nouns, verbs are the building blocks of English. If we have a noun and a verb we can make a simple sentence, for example: Lisa runs.
Most verbs describe actions but some describe states. These are called state verbs or stative verbs. Some examples are: like, know, feel, belong, cost and be.

What are the most common verbs in English?

Very common verbs, verbs that we use a lot, are sometimes called hot verbs, because they never get a chance to cool down. Some hot verbs are: be, do, have, go, see, give, take, make, put, say and get. These verbs are used as main verbs in sentences as well as to form phrasal verbs and to act as auxiliary verbs. Phrasal verbs, sometimes called multi-word verbs, are verbs made up of two or three words which often have many different meanings. We will look at phrasal verbs in another blog post.

What are auxiliary verbs?

Auxiliary verbs are simply verbs that help a main verb in a sentence. We can call them “helping verbs”. We use them to make questions and negative sentences as well as to form some tenses. If we want to make “Lisa runs.” negative, we can change it to “Lisa doesn’t run.” by using a form of the helping verb “do”. We also use a form of “do” to make a question such as “Does Lisa run?” The helping verb “have” and “be” are used to form some of the different tenses in English.

What are regular verbs?

Most verbs in English are regular. This means that they all follow the same pattern in the way that they change into the three main forms which are used to construct the various tenses. However, most of the most commonly used verbs, the hottest verbs are irregular. You have probably learned about irregular verbs before. They are the ones where we have to learn three forms and repeat them. Some examples are eat, ate, eaten and give, gave, given. There is not really any other way to learn how they behave other than repeating the words like a parrot. Regular verbs simply add “ed” for the second and third forms of the verb (walk, walked, walked).

What are irregular verbs?

When you learn the three forms of an irregular verb, for example, take, took, taken, you are learning the infinitive form, the past simple form and the past participle. These names seem a bit difficult at the beginning but it is helpful to know what they are called because it will help you in learning the more advanced tenses and grammatical structures. 
The most irregular verb in English is “be”. This is the case in many languages. “Be” is the only verb which has an infinitive form different from the first person singular form of the present simple tense. When we talk about a form of “be”, we mean “am”, “are” and “is” and in the past tense, “was” and “were”.  

Verb tenses

When we use verbs in English, we change the form of the verb depending on the tense. The tense is a combination of time (past, present, future) and aspect (simple, continuous, perfect). There are twelve basic tenses in English as listed below with the regular verb “to walk”:

Present simple: I walk.
Present continuous: I am walking.
Present perfect: I have walked.
Present perfect continuous: I have been walking
Past simple: I walked.
Past continuous: I was walking.
Past perfect: I had walked.
Past perfect continuous: I had been walking
Future simple: I will walk.
Future continuous: I will be walking.
Future perfect: I will have walked.
Future perfect continuous: I will have been walking

You can see how the auxiliary verbs “be”, “have” and “will” are used to help form continuous, perfect and future tenses. It might look very complicated. However, the way the different tenses are formed is actually quite logical and regular and it will become clear as you study each one how and when we use them. 

Learning English verbs is easier than you thought!

Believe it or not, English verbs are actually much simpler than many other languages because we don’t change the ending of the verb in every case, according to the number and person of the subject, as many languages do. This is one of the reasons that English has become an international language. Please remember that English lessons tend to focus on the more difficult aspects of the language. Most elements of English are straightforward and easy to pick up so don’t need to be taught.

Peter Ward