English Verbs (Part 1) - Basic Terms

This article reviews some basic terms relating to English verbs. Being familiar with these terms will help you understand language points as they appear in the course of your English studies.

1. A verb is a word that expresses an action ( to run), occurrence ( to happen), or state of being ( to appear). It is one of the nine
parts of speech in English grammar. Non-action verbs are also referred to as linking or stative verbs, such as to be, to seem, to sound. Verbs comprise the third largest group of words in English (about 10%) and appear in any sentence as a major mandatory element tying the subject and predicate together. Verbs indicate time (past, present, future) and are used in English in relatively many verb tenses. The verb can be thought of as the center, heart, or anchor of an English sentence.
Verbs of... Examples
action Maria dances at the studio and performs every Sunday.
occurrence occurrence Maria became a professional dancer.
state of being Maria's studio has stood there ever since she was a child.

2. Tests for verbs: A good way to identify a verb when a word is in doubt is to ask, Can I do it? I can succeed (do it) is correct but I can success is incorrect. This means succeed is a verb and the related part of speech success is not a verb; in this case, success is a noun.

Another test for verbs is to use the word in question in a different
verb tense. If the sentence still makes sense, the word is a verb.
Original: That’s the updated version of the software.
Test: That’s the will update version of the software.
[the word updated here is not a verb because using it in the future simple tense in the second sentence does not result in a logical sentence; It is an adjective describing the noun version]
3. Verbs can also be recognized by some common verb suffixes and prefixes.

Suffix or Prefix Meaning Examples
-ate to cause, make to activate, to differentiate
-fy or -ify to transform into to signify, to clarify
-ize (British -ise) to make like to realize, to criticize
-en to make/turn into to redden, to soften
be- forms transitive verbs that mean "cause" to befriend, to beseech
en- to bring into the condition of to encode, to engender

4. Verbs in English indicate the following grammatical categories:
Categories Type Examples
person 1st person
2nd person
3rd person
I go
You go
She goes
Number singular
He has written
They have written
Tense present
I eat
I ate
I will eat
Aspect simple,
I study every day.
I am studying today.
I have studied for years.
I have been studying for hours.
Mood indicative
I am always on time.
Be there on time !
If I were on time, I would…
Voice active
Germans consume a lot of beer.
A lot of beer is consumed in Germany.
As there are relatively many English verb tenses, verbs in English come in many forms that provide different shades of meaning. However, English verbs comprise a much easier verb system than that of other languages that have distinct inflectional verb endings for different persons and number, or even change the verb stem with various tenses and aspects. In English only one verb ending remained, for verbs in the third person singular in the Present Simple tense.
Dan cooks dinner for us 3 times a week.
[3rd person, singular, present, simple, indicative, active,
meaning: habit in the present]

Yesterday we were cooking for hours on end.
[1st person, plural, past, progressive, indicative, active,
meaning: action in the past that continued over an extended period of time]

She would have cooked if you had asked her to.
(but in reality you didn’t ask so she didn’t cook)
[ would have cooked: 3rd person, singular, past, conditional, active,
meaning: hypothetic outcome in the past, contrary to fact]
[ had asked: 2nd person, singular, past, perfect, subjunctive, active,
meaning: hypothetic assumption in the past, contrary to fact]

I suggest that dinner be cooked no later than 20:00.
[3rd person, singular, present, subjunctive, passive,
meaning: strong recommendation which will not necessarily be fulfilled]
 5. English verbs have 5 principal parts with which other forms are derived using verb auxiliaries: base/stem, simple past/preterit, past participle, present participle and the infinitive (the “name” of the verb). Some also include the third person singular in the present tense as a principle part, as it is the only verb form that kept its inflectional ending in Modern English.

Grammatical term Symbol Regular Verb Irregular Verb
Infinitive to + V1 to watch to see
Base Form /
V1 watch see
Present Simple third person singular V1+s watches sees
Past Simple /
V2 watched saw
Past Participle V3 watched seen
Present Participle

Grammar Guide Index

Ving watching seeing