What is a verb?

Use verbs to tell people what you’re up to!

icon of a star with a smiley face

Jack Bamfield

December 12, 2023

What is a verb?

Use verbs to tell people what you’re up to! 

icon of a star with a smiley face

Jack Bamfield

Dec 12, 2023

What is a verb?

Use verbs to tell people what you’re up to! 

icon of a star with a smiley face

Jack Bamfield

Dec 12, 2023

Key takeaways

  • Verbs tell people what you’re doing – Whether you’re thinking, napping, reading, playing, or swimming, verbs are action words that tell people what you’re doing or experiencing. 
  • Watch out for “hidden” verbs – Some verbs aren’t immediately clear. These are words like “be,” “have,” “did,” and “would” — all describing actions or states of being in a sneakier way. 
  • You can do things in the past, present, and future – There are many different tenses that you can use with verbs, showing that you’re doing stuff in the past, right now, and in the future. An example of this with the verb “eating” would be: I ate pizza yesterday, I am eating pizza, and I will eat pizza later. 

Lights, camera, ACTION! Verbs are words that tell people what you’re doing and your state of being. It’s important to use these action words properly so that your sentences make sense. Luckily, we’ve put together this helpful guide that explores what verbs are, the many different types of verbs, and how to use each one of them to give your sentences meaning. Read on to learn more! 

Different types of verbs

We know that verbs tell people what we’re doing, did, or will do — now, it’s time to take a look at the different types of verbs. Knowing the types and when to use each of them will help us to have the most accurate sentences possible.

Action verbs

Action verbs tell someone what you’re currently doing or what you’ve already done. You’ll use these to tell a story, write an essay, or hold a conversation. Chances are, you’ve already used these types of verbs — even if you didn’t know what they were yet! 

Stative verbs

Stative verbs are used to describe how someone is perceiving or experiencing something. For example: Sarah might taste something sour. Common stative verbs that you’ll use daily include: 

  • Taste 
  • Smell 
  • Feel
  • Sound

Linking verbs

These verbs are used to describe the subject of the sentence — whether it’s you, a friend, or an inanimate object. 

Examples of linking verbs include: 

  • Melanie is having fun. 
  • James seems sad today. 
  • The cake looks like it’s chocolate, but I’m not sure.  
  • I am feeling tired, and I overslept. 


Below, we’ve listed some of the most common linking verbs. Like action verbs, you’ve probably already used these in your day-to-day talks with friends and family members.

  • Be
  • Seem
  • Feel
  • Have
  • Had
  • Has
  • Do
  • Did
  • Does
  • Would
  • Will

Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs are verbs that tell when or how something is happening. For example, someone might say: “It is snowing outside.” In this sentence, we see the verb “is” as a sign that shows us when something is happening. If something “is” happening, we can assume that it means it’s happening in the present, or right now. You wouldn’t say “it is snowing” to refer to snow that fell last winter! 

Regular and irregular verbs

Regular and irregular verbs still tell your listeners or readers what you’re doing or about an object’s state of being. The difference? Conjugation. 

Conjugation is a way to add detail to our verbs, sprinkling in information about the mood, tense (when the action happened), or other key notes. Both regular and irregular verbs have differences in conjugation, which means that they mean different things. 

Regular verbs follow a simple rule: When “-ed” is added, it puts a verb in the past tense, meaning that it tells a story about an action that has already happened. Examples of regular verbs include “walked,” “talked,” and “scored.” 

Irregular verbs follow a different rule. They ignore the “-ed” completely, and use different suffixes, or word endings, to give them a past tense meaning. Examples of irregular verbs include “sat,” “fell,” and “ate.” As you can see, you won’t see a single “-ed” word ending (i.e., felled or ated, which is incorrect). 

Verb conjugation and tense

Ready to dig deeper? Before we begin, let’s do a quick review of the terms to make sure everything makes sense. 

  • Conjugation. The conjugation of a verb gives us information about its tense and mood. For example, to say that someone “ate” a sandwich is different then saying someone is “eating” a sandwich. “Ate” tells us that the sandwich was consumed in the past, while “eating” tells us that the sandwich is being enjoyed right now. 
  • Tense. The tense of a verb tells us when an action took place. Going back to our sandwich analysis, we… 
    • Eat a sandwich = right now, 
    • Ate a sandwich = yesterday, or… 
    • Will eat a sandwich = any time in the future. 

Present tense verbs

These verbs can be any verbs that are happening right now. While they often end in “-ing,” they might not always (and that’s okay!). 

Some common present tense verbs include: 

  • Eating
  • Crying
  • Sleeping
  • Swimming
  • Exercising
  • Learning
  • Reading
  • Talking
  • Coming
  • Leaving
  • Trying
  • Flying
  • Traveling
  • Laughing

Past tense verbs

Past tense verbs talk about things that have already happened. In many cases, they end in “-ed” — but if you’re dealing with an irregular verb, it might have a different ending. 

Examples include: 

  • Ate
  • Sat
  • Played
  • Learned
  • Flew
  • Came
  • Went
  • Swam
  • Walked
  • Exercised
  • Laughed

Future tense verbs

As you’ve probably already guessed, these verbs talk about things that will happen, or that you plan to do. 

These verbs are often preceded by “will” or some variation that shows that the action is yet to come. Examples include: 

  • Will laugh
  • Will play
  • Will learn

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Using verbs in English grammar

Now that you know what verbs are, it’s time to learn how to wield them wisely. Here are a few more rules of the road to consider the next time you’re using a verb

Verbs and subject-verb agreement

Remember how you learned about the concepts of single objects vs. plural objects? Verbs play by the same rules — which we know as the subject-verb agreement rules. 

This one is simple. If your subject is singular, you’ll use a singular verb. If the subject is plural, you use a plural verb. 

An example of this would be: “The cat eats his fish vs. the cats eat their fish.” It wouldn’t be proper to say “The cats eats their fish.” So, we have to use the singular present tense form of “to eat,” which is “eat” — eats if we’re dealing with more than one cat. 

If you’re not sure if you’re using this rule correctly, quietly read the sentence to yourself and see if it makes sense. If it sounds correct, chances are you’re probably using it correctly. Speak with a teacher or a parent if you need extra help.  

Verbs in active and passive voice

Active and passive verbs are exactly like they seem. With active verbs, the object is having something done to it by an outside person or thing. 

An example of this would be: “The dog bit James,” vs. “James was bit by the dog.” 

In “James was bit by the dog,” we’re describing an object that is having something done to it. In this case, the subject is James.

We can revise this to be more active by switching the word order around. “The dog bit James” is a better and more accurate way to get the same point across!

Verbs in indicative, imperative, and subjunctive mood

When you see the terms imperative, subjunctive, and indicative, you can be sure that they’re describing the “mood’ of your verb. 

  • Indicative moods are used for stating your opinion, or facts that you know for sure. 
  • Imperative moods are used to relay instructions, like you probably have experienced with your parents when they’re asking you to do a chore. 
  • Subjunctive moods deal in things that haven’t happened yet, and can be used if you’re saying you want something, you wish something would happen, or you’re asking for something specific. These are not as common. 

Modifying verbs with adverbs

Adverbs tell us more about the verb we’re using. They can be used together with your main linking verb if it describes the subject, showing people how often the action happens, when it happened, or where something happened. These extra bits of information can be useful when you’re telling a story or holding a conversation with someone. 

Common verb errors in English

Now that we’ve covered the rules of verb usage, it’s time to look at the following sentences and see where they went wrong. Learning about common English verb errors helps us to avoid them in the future, and encourages us to use these verbs properly. 

Incorrect tense usage

This one can be easy to fall into when we’re talking about present vs. past tense. When you’re trying to talk about the sandwich you ate, you might accidentally say that you “eat” a sandwich yesterday — instead of saying you “eaten” a sandwich yesterday (and added extra pickles, too!) 

Again, quietly repeating the sentence to yourself can help you to ensure that you’re using different forms of verbs in the correct tense. It’s helpful to do this before turning in your homework or essay, as these types of mix-ups can give your sentences different meanings. 

Misuse of regular and irregular verbs

Mix-ups happen here, too. Be sure to mind the spelling and use rules of the “-ed” vs. irregular verbs. The best way to avoid mixing these up is to go over your vocab lists and see any weird “irregular” verb rules to remember for certain words. Your teacher or parent can help you do this. 

Verb agreement errors

Keeping singular and plural rules in mind is the best way to avoid this mistake. You want one subject to be doing a single verb, and multiple subjects to be referred to with a plural version of your verb of choice. 

For example: “One of my friends likes to play ball” is correct, compared to “One of my friends like to play ball.” It even sounds correct! That’s because “likes” is the singular form of the verb “to like,” as it describes one person liking an action. This is different than “like” which is the plural form of the verb that can be used for many subjects.

FAQs about verbs

Examples of verbs include copular verbs (which talk about change that has or hasn’t happened), transitive verbs that require an object (like borrow sugar and pay money), passive verbs, and active verbs. At their core, verbs describe the relationships between the subject of a sentence and action taken on or around that subject. 

Look for “-ing” or “-ed” first — since these suffixes often are tied to verbs that are happening or have already happened. If you’re still stumped, look for the “action” word that tells the reader what’s going on in the sentence. 

Yes! Verbs are action words that detail some of the most important information in a sentence. They tell what people do, and how these actions affect a subject. 

The subject of a verb is the person or object that the verb is describing or acting on. For example, in the sentence “The cat ate my homework,” “cat” would be the subject, while “ate” would be the past-tense verb used. 

Screenshot 2023-10-13 at 16.29.14

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