What is a verb? Songs, poems and language teachers throughout history have attempted to explain verbs to us. In its most basic definition, a verb is a word used to indicate an action. For example, "She ironed her dress," or, "He drove to the mountains." It puts the subject of the sentence into motion and, often, provides further information to help clarify the subject.
However, to add another layer, verbs also describe a state of being, such as, "She feels tired," or, "He prefers coffee." Let's talk a little bit more about what verbs are and then dive into their many different types.
A brilliant professor once said that "a verb is a word that does verb-y things." He said the same thing about nouns (they do "noun-y things") and other parts of speech as well, and while it's not a very concrete or satisfying definition, it's probably the best one out there.
You see, the way English works is that every word sits in a specific place and plays a specific role in a sentence. And even though a word might not really even be a real word, if it's playing the role of the verb, then it's a verb. Look at these examples:
As I phlomoggled my yard, I accidentally shallimped two birds.
Jack pazotors as often as he can.
They couldn't believe she had never chorstined before.
This time next week, we'll be forrisking through the jungle!
If you speak English fairly well, you can identify the verbs in those sentences even though they aren't real words. You can do this because they are doing verb-y things. They have -ing, -ed, and -s endings depending on when they happen and who is doing them. They also follow the subjects of the sentence and appear next to adverbs. Even though we don't know what they mean, they somehow convey action. They behave like verbs.
Most verbs are action verbs (also called dynamic verbs): things you can do, things you can ask someone to demonstrate, and things "Simon" tells you to do when you're playing Simon Says. Hop, skip, pat your head, make a pair of moccasins - these are all action verbs.
For example, "She accepted the job offer." In this sentence, she is carrying out an action, as in accepting the job offer. Another example would be, "He sings down at the bar every night." He's performing a specific action, singing, every night.
Here are a few more examples of action verbs:
The next most popular type of verbs are linking verbs. These verbs do not express action. Rather, they connect the subject to the additional information that's about to come. "To be" verbs are typically linking verbs. These are verbs like "am," "is," "are," and "were."
For example, "Damien is an expert craftsman." You can see how the verb is merely acting as a link from the subject to the additional details.
Some verbs are strictly linking verbs. Here's a short list:
The tricky thing is that some verbs can be linking verbs or action verbs, depending on context. Here are a few examples:
So, the question you'd have to ask yourself is, "Is the verb performing an action or linking the subject to further details?"
Helping verbs do exactly what it seems like they should do. They help. That is, they help the main verb of the sentence by extending its meaning.
Let's look at an example (the main verb is in italics and the helping verb is in bold). "I have been there before." In this sentence, "been" is the primary linking verb, but it's receiving a small assist from "have," making it a complete thought.
Let's look at a few more examples with the main verb in italics and the helping verb in bold.
I am walking to the store.
We are reading the book together.
He will run for president.
We were moving across town that summer.
Stative verbs are much subtler and more difficult to identify as verbs. They describe a position or state of being; they have no duration, no beginning, and no end. They do not show any action, so if "Simon" tells you to do one, it is practically impossible for him to know whether or not you are doing it.
Here are some examples of stative verbs:
You deserve everything you get in life.
Jane dislikes humidity.
She hates eating contests.
Betty knows where to go.
Henry loves billiards.
You can see how these verbs have neither beginning nor end. They're more intangible than action verbs. While they don't perform any action, notice that they're typically followed by a direct object.
Sounds technical and tricky, right? Fear not. Transitive verbs simply express an action. Seems on par with what a verb is, right? The only thing to note with this category of verbs is that they're always followed by a direct object (someone or something that's receiving the action of the verb).
For example, "Mary sent the package from Ireland." In this sentence, "sent" is the action verb and "package" is the direct object, or the thing that's receiving the action of the verb.
Let's look at a few more examples. You'll notice each one follows the same pattern - subject, verb, direct object.
Mary drove the car.
Sam wants a bike.
Aileen wrote a poem.
Joshua ate the noodles.
Sarah cleaned the kitchen.
That brings us to the transitive verb's sibling: intransitive verbs. Again, they're far simpler than they sound. Intransitive verbs are verbs that show action. However, they're not followed by a direct object.
For example, "The plane lands at 5 o'clock." In this sentence, "lands" is the verb but there's nothing that's receiving the action of the verb. There's no direct object, as it is the plane (subject) itself that is doing the landing.
Let's look at a few more examples:
I arrived at the coffee shop.
He died in his sleep.
My dog lies by the couch.
Together, we sat on the stone wall.
Then, we went to the coffee shop.
Whether a verb is literally performing the action in the sentence or merely linking the subject to the rest of the information, they're always "doing." They're the busybodies of the sentence that bring the entire thought to completion.
Ready for a little fun? Why not enjoy a few games? Here are some action verb games to test your knowledge, as well as some helping verb games to help you or your students keep their verb game on point.