Action Verbs

Action verbs are verbs that specifically describe what the subject of the sentence is doing. These types of verbs carry a great deal of information in a sentence and serve to make the sentence complete (remember that all sentences need a subject and a verb). In English, there are thousands of verbs that convey subtle changes in meaning, so it's important to choose the right one. For example, the verb "to go" imparts a relatively vague sense of motion, while "to run" is more specific to add speed while "to stroll" is slower and more leisurely. Understanding action verbs will make students better writers and communicators.

Types of Action Verbs

Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs are action verbs that show what the subject is doing to another object. These verbs are coupled with a direct object, or the thing that is acted upon. For example:

Susan poked John in the eye.

In this sentence, "poked" is a transitive verb that transfers the action of poking directly to John. John is the direct object of the sentence and is the person being poked.

Below are additional examples of transitive verbs in action:

  • My dog ate the food quickly.

  • Jonathan chose me to be his best friend.

  • Why did your grandmother call my house?

  • Rick painted the fence white.

  • Ellie married a guy with a black belt in karate.

In each of the sentences above, the verbs are followed by a direct object that receives the action. Food is eaten, friends are chosen, and fences are painted. These action verbs directly affect things around them, so they are transitive verbs.

Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs are action verbs that do not take a direct object; that is, they don't act upon another noun or pronoun in the sentence. In general, transitive verbs only describe something the subject of the sentence does, but not something that happens to someone or something else. For example:

Michael ran to the store.

In this sentence, "ran" only describes what Michael does, but it doesn't affect the store. In this sentence, "store" is the object of the preposition "to," but it is not a direct object of the verb. "Ran" is an intransitive verb that does not take a direct object.

Below are additional examples of intransitive verbs used in sentences:

  • Charles swam in the pool.

  • My dog barked.

  • The twins whispered instead of sleeping.

  • The elephant sleeps soundly.

  • Two shoes fell in the lake.

The Function of Action Verbs

As their name suggests, action verbs create drama and movement in a sentence by showing what the subject is doing. This is fundamentally different from "to be" verbs, which only show a state of being and set up description. For example, compare the two sentences below:

Lynn is angry.
Lynn shouted at her brother.

The first sentence does not contain an action verb. Here "is" only serves to introduce the predicate adjective that describes Lynn, but she doesn't actually do anything in the sentence. In the second sentence, the action verb "shouted" shows what Lynn does. This action makes something happen and changes things around Lynn.

Pay Attention to Verbs

Action verbs can make or break your writing. They add interest and help propel the plot of a story or the theme of a persuasive argument, so choose them wisely. It's important to select the verb that conveys exactly the type of action you want, with the right connotation or emotion so your reader understands your point. YourDictionary's article on examples of action verbs will help you choose the right one for your work.

  • Student Tip! Revise your writing to include verbs that are lively and express action to improve your prose. Consider what the actions are in a sentence and choose the most expressive, powerful verbs to convey those actions.

  • Teacher Tip! Have students circle all the "to be" verbs in their papers and ask them to think about the action in the sentence. Do these verbs convey the action accurately, or are they only setting up description? Have them brainstorm other verbs that better express the action of the sentence.

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