Effective English language communication usually requires that each sentence contain a subject and a verb. The subject is sometimes defined as a person, a place, or a thing. The verb conveys an understanding of the action expressed, or it conveys the state of the subject.
action and state
Tom hit the ball.
The verb is hit. Tom acted; he hit something. The verb describes the action. Effective communication also requires identification of the thing Tom hit. The object that Tom hit was a ball. The object of the verb hit is the ball.
The sky is blue.
The verb, is, conveys the state of the subject. The verb does not convey a sense of action. The sky has a blue state. Blue is the color that describes the sky. The word blue is an adjective in the sentence, “The sky is blue.”
One set of terms used to describe verbs is transitive and intransitive. Transitive verbs convey a sense of action and the sentence identifies whom or what the subject addresses.
Transitive verbs convey a sense of action and the sentence identifies whom or what the subject addresses.
Tom kicked the ball. The verb is kicked. The verb conveys a sense of action, and the sentence reveals what Tom kicked.
The principal punished him. The verb is punished. The verb conveys a sense of action, and the sentence indicates whom the principal punished.
An action verb can be transitive or it can be intransitive. Consider the following examples.
I parked the car. The verb conveys a sense of action, and the sentence indicates what I parked. The verb is transitive.
I parked bravely. The verb conveys a sense of action, but the sentence indicates how I parked. The verb is intransitive.
I parked yesterday. The verb conveys a sense of action, but the sentence indicates when I parked. The verb is intransitive.
I parked there. The verb conveys a sense of action, but the sentence indicates where I parked. The verb is intransitive.
Some sentences convey a complete thought utilizing only a subject and a verb. Consider the following example.
Birds fly. The sentence constitutes a complete thought, one that must have teased the imaginations of dreamers for centuries. “Birds fly. Why, oh why, can’t I?” The verb conveys a sense of action, but does not require an object. The verb is intransitive because it is not necessary to relate the subject’s action to an object. Transitive verbs have objects; intransitive verbs do not have objects.
The verb be is intransitive because the verb does not convey a sense of action. The words is, am, are, was, were, and been are forms of the verb be. The following sentences are composed with intransitive verbs that convey a sense of state, do not convey a sense of action, and do not require an object.
Thomas is slovenly.
I am hungry.
Americans are generous.
Summer was short.
The students were rowdy.
We have been there.
Archaically, some people used the verb be to express present tense. Example: I be going to the circus. We now use the verb am. Example: I am going to the circus.
The following sentence causes some controversy. The sentence is correct. Why is the sentence correct?
It is I.
The prounoun I is nominative case. The prounoun me is objective case. The verb is, a form of the verb be, does not take an object, and therefore, the pronoun cannot be in the objective case. Casual conversation produces, It’s me, but that is not grammatically correct.
Verbs can also convey a sense of time.
Verbs convey a sense of action or they convey the state of an entity. Verbs may also convey a sense of time. They may convey a sense that an event occurred in the past or that the event is presently occurring or that the event will occur in the future. The spelling of the verb may change for some of the expressions of time or auxiliary words may be required with the verb. The organization of verbs according to sense of time is called conjugation. The word tense means time.
We shall first explore the ways to express time utilizing the verb take for the demonstration. The example sentences have been written in first person (singular). First person is something I do. Second person is something you do. Third person is something she does (or he). Below are examples of the present verb tense, the past verb tense, and the future verb tense.
I take medicine for an allergy. (present tense)
I took medicine for an allergy. (past tense)
I will take medicine for an allergy. (future tense)
Notice the spelling change for past tense and the inclusion of an auxiliary word for future tense.
An expanded set of verb tenses is presented below. Some new grammar terms are also presented. The new terms are potentially confusing. The terms will be explained. However, the way we write the sentences is more important than the verb tense terminology.
I take medicine for an allergy. (present tense)
I do take medicine for an allergy. (present emphatic tense)
I am taking medicine for an allergy. (present progressive tense)
I have taken allergy medicine. (present perfect tense)
I have been taking allergy medicine for several years. (present perfect progressive tense)
I took medicine for an allergy. (past tense)
I did take medicine for an allergy. (past emphatic)
I was taking medicine for an allergy. (past progressive)
I had taken medication for sometime before the allergy season. (past perfect)
I had been taking allergy medication, regularly, until I moved here. (past perfect progressive)
I shall take allergy medicine. (future tense)
I will take allergy medicine. (future emphatic)
I shall be taking medicine for an allergy. (future progressive)
I shall have taken three allergy pills by noon today. (future perfect)
I shall have been taking this allergy medicine for a year by the time the improved product becomes available. (future perfect progressive)
The emphatic form of the verb infers the speaker’s degree of determination. The construction of the verb changes when the emphatic form is used. However, the sense of time does not change when the emphatic verb form is used in place of the less emphatic form.
Emphatic tense is used in a popular ceremony.
Question: Do you take this (person) to be your lawful wedded (spouse)?
Answer: I do. (Emphatically, I do!)
Historically, there has been a distinction between shall and will.
I shall return.I will return. (emphatic)
The verb applications are reversed when employed in second person.
You will return.You shall return. (emphatic)
The conventional application of shall and will is not rigorously observed in American English at the beginning of the Twenty-first Century. There is no jail time if you substitute the word will for the word shall.
NOTE: If a person is angry it is easier to pronounce will than it is to pronounce shall. It is probable that an irritated parent would say: You will clean your room before you go to the beach!
verb tense definitions
Grammarians have noticed some subtle differences in meaning when the expanded tense expressions are used. Those differences are identifed below.
present perfect tense
have done something
Present perfect sentences convey a sense that an action started in the past and may have terminated in the past or may be continuing in the present.
Example: I have trained for this job.
present progressive tense
am doing something
Present progressive sentences convey a sense that a present action is continuing.
Example: The butterflies are arriving at the rate of a thousand an hour.
present perfect progressive tense
have been doing something
Present perfect progressive sentences convey a sense that an action started in the past and continues in the present.
Example: I have been learning English grammar since I arrived two years ago.
past perfect tense
had done something
Past perfect sentences convey a sense that an action occurred in the past and was completed before a subsequent past action occurred.
Example: Several attempts to build the Panama Canal had failed before the Americans completed the project.
past progressive tense
was/were doing something
Past progressive sentences convey a sense that a past action occurred over a span of time.
Example: The guards were sleeping while the attack occurred.
past perfect progressive tense
had been doing something
Past perfect progressive sentences convey a sense that a past action started at an indefinite past time and continued until a definite past time.
Example: The peas had been growing on their own until Mendel found them.
future perfect tense
will have done something
Future perfect sentences convey a sense that an action will be completed at or by a future time.
Example: By noon the doctor will have administered the vaccinations.
future progressive tense
will be doing something
Future progressive sentences convey a sense of future continuing action.
Example: I will be coaching the soccer team next season.
future perfect progressive tense
will have been doing something
Future perfect progressive sentences convey a sense that a continuing future action will be completed before another future event occurs.
Example: I will have been teaching three years as of June 7th.
NOTE. Do not dwell on these esoteric definitions. Concentrate on using the verbs correctly.
People once suffered from undulant fever, a debilitating disease caused by bacteria in cow’s milk. A French citizen, Louis Pasteur, developed a process to destroy the bacteria without altering the milk. We can now write the following sentence.
The dairy company pasteurizes the milk.
A man’s name became a verb in the English language.
English verbs are derived from several languages. Consequently, the spelling changes required for the various tense applications are not uniform. Some examples of verb conjugation are given below. Two terms are introduced. Present participle is a verb form that requires the (-ing) suffix. Present participle verb forms express continuing or incomplete action. Past participle verb forms express completed action, but may also infer continuing action. A participle is a verb that can also be used as an adjective.
verb conjugation examples
present tense present participle past tense past participle
begin beginning began begun
bite biting bit bitten
break breaking broke broken
dig digging dug dug
draw drawing drew drawn
fall falling fell fallen
fly flying flew flown
forbid forbidding forbade* forbidden*
hit hitting hit hit
lay laying laid laid
lie (recline) lying lay lain
lie (untrue) lying lied lied
ride riding rode ridden
run running ran run
set setting set set
sit sitting sat sat
sing singing sang sung
speak speaking spoke spoken
swear swearing swore sworn
swim swimming swam swum
wear wearing wore worn
*Note: Dictionaries list alternative (secondary) spelling of forbade and forbidden.
Example sentences that utilize some of these verbs are presented below. Notice that the present participle form of a verb requires use of the auxiliary word be or a derivation of be. The past participle form of a verb requires use of the auxiliary word have or a derivation of have.
Continued at page 2 (verb).
Verb Application Examples
I begin each day with joy. (present)
I am beginning to understand English grammar. (present participle)
I began music lessons yesterday. (past)
I have begun to appreciate music. (past participle)
We can also write the following sentence.I have begun to appreciate music. (present perfect tense)
We have applied two names to the same verb form. Present perfect tense identifies a time function. Past participle is a name for a category of verb that can also be used as an adjective.We fly C 17s. (present)
We are flying to Rheinmein. (present participle verb form)
We flew over the coast at sunrise. (past)
We have flown through hostile fire. (past participle verb form)You dig here. (present)
You are digging in the wrong place. (present participle verb form)
You dug that hole in the wrong place. (past)
You have dug the hole in the wrong place. (past participle verb form)
She draws very well. (present)
She is drawing a new sketch. (present participle verb form)
She drew the school logo. (past)
She has drawn several prize winning designs. (past participle verb form)
I lay bricks for my living. (present)
I am laying a brick facade adjacent to the entrance. (present participle verb form)
I laid the bricks for the sidewalk in front of city hall. (past)
I have laid thousands of bricks. (past participle verb form)
I lie on the beach every evening. (present)
I am lying on the beach, and I am talking to you on my cell phone. (present participle verb form)
I lay on the sofa yeaterday. (past)
I have lain on this beach many times. (past participle verb form)
Do you lie? (present)
You are lying to me. (present participle verb form)
You lied to him. (past)
You have lied about your grades. (past participle verb form)
They set dinner tables to meet their school expenses. (present)
They are setting the tables for the luncheon. (present participle verb form)
They set the dinner tables for the banquet. (past)
They have set tables for many school functions. (past participle verb form)
I sit in the leather chair. (present)
I am sitting by the window. (present participle verb form)
I sat at my desk for an hour. (past)
I have sat on that hard bench. (past participle verb form)
I sing in the choir. (present)
I am singing the school song. (present participle verb form)
I sang at the civic center. (past)
I have sung the Battle Hymn of the Republic. (past participle vrb form)
He speaks professionally. (present)
He is speaking at the library. (present participle verb form)
He spoke to the students about the consequences of smoking. (past)
He has spoken to members of Congress. (past participle verb form)
They swim competitively. (present)
They are swimming today. (present participle verb form)
They swam before breakfast. (past)
They have swum the English Channel. (past participle verb form)
I bring good news. (present)
I am bringing the trophy home. (present particple verb form)
I brought the team to the track field. (past)
I have brought the first aid kit to team practice many times. (past participle verb form)
Most of us do not memorize all of the verbs in the English language. How can we determine the correct spelling for each form of the verb? We can use a dictionary. I used the The American Heritage Dictionary, Second College Edition for the following example. I chose the verb, take, for the example. The verb and its derivations are listed in the following order.
take, took, taken, taking, takes
The classification of each verb is shown below.
take (present tense)
took (past tense)
taken (past participle)
taking (present participle)
takes (present tense, third person singular)
There is a special information section in the front part of the dictionary that explains the listing pattern, i.e., present, past, past participle, present participle, and present–third person singular.
NOTE: Present tense, third person singular could be expressed as follows.
He takes calculus on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.
Some verbs conjugate differently. The verb, bring, and its derivations are displayed in the dictionary in the following pattern.
bring, brought, bringing, brings
The classification for this verb is shown below.
bring (present tense)
brought (past tense and past participle)
bringing (present participle)
brings (present tense, third person singular)
English sentences may be written in active or passive voice. If the subject of the sentence acts, the sentence is written in active voice. If the subject of the sentence is passive, the sentence is written in passive voice. Consider the following sentence examples.
Mr. Clayton hosted* the reception.
The reception was hosted by Mr. Clayton.
Mr. Clayton is the subject of the first sentence. Mr. Clayton acted. The sentence is written in active voice.
Reception is the subject of the second sentence. The subject did not act. The subject was passive. The sentence is written in passive voice.
Notice that the verb used in the passive sentence requires an auxiliary word.
*Some grammarians contend that the word, host, is not a verb. Americans routinely use the word, host, as a verb.
Sheep graze in this pasture.
The sheep were shorn for the exhibit at the county fair.
Sheep is the subject of the first sentence. The sheep act; they graze. The sentence is written in active voice.
Sheep is the subject of the second sentence, but the subject is passive. The sheep are passive. The sentence is written in pasive voice.