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In this article, you will learn about verbs, which are words that describe actions or states of being. You will discover the difference between action verbs and helping verbs, and how to use them correctly in sentences. You will also explore the various forms of verbs, such as modals, and how they can express different attitudes or moods. By the end of this article, you will have a better understanding of how verbs work in English and how to use them effectively in your writing.

A verb expresses action or a state of being.

  • The sea often inspires wonder in writers and artists. 
  • The oceans are broad and deep.

Main Verbs and Helping Verbs

A verb phrase is made up of at least one main verb and one or more helping verbs.

  • Have we considered other options? [Considered is the main verb. Have is a helping verb.] 
  • The nurses are currently working at their stations. [Working is the main verb. Are is a helping verb.] 
  • Andrea should have been sleeping. [Sleeping is the main verb. Should, have, and been are helping verbs.]

Common helping verbs include forms of be, forms of have, forms of do, and modals

am, are, be, been, being, is, was, were 
had, has, have 
do, does, did 
can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would

Verbs Reminder

A modal is a helping verb that is used with a main verb to express an attitude such as necessity or possibility. 

  • We must leave this afternoon. [Must expresses necessity.] 
  • If you shop carefully, you may find a bargain. [May expresses possibility.]

A helping verb may be separated from the main verb. 

  • Has the mail arrived yet? 
  • Do you know the way there?
Verbs NOTE

The words never and not, including the contraction –n’t, are adverbs that tell to what extent. They are not part of the verb phrase.

  • I have never been to Florida. [Never is an adverb that modifies have beenIt is not part of the verb phrase.] 
  • Doesn’t that building look ancient? [The contraction for not, –n’t, is an adverb that modifies Does lookIt is not part of the verb phrase.]

Action Verbs

An action verb expresses either physical or mental activity. 

  • lift
  • jog
  • listen
  • paint 
  • remember
  • concentrate
  • realize
  • dream

  • Benjamin wrote a short story and sold it to a magazine. [Wrote and sold are action verbs that describe Benjamin’s physical activities.] 
  • Dena considered the benefits of investing. [Considered is an action verb describing Dena’s mental activity.]

Linking Verbs

A linking verb connects the subject to a word or word group that identifies or describes the subject. This word or word group is called a subject complement.
Some common linking verbs are the forms of be as well as appear, become, feel, grow, look, remain, seem, smell, sound, stay, taste, and turn.

  • The little boy is shy. [Is, a form of be, is a linking verb that connects the subject boy to the subject complement shy. Shy describes boy.] 
  • Following a runoff election, she became mayor. [Became is a linking verb that connects the subject she to the subject complement mayor. Mayor identifies she.]

Some verbs may be used as linking verbs or as action verbs. To determine whether a verb in a sentence is a linking verb, substitute a form of the verb be or seem.
If the sentence makes sense with a form of be or seem, the verb is probably a linking verb.

  • The apple cider tasted great. [The apple cider was great makes sense. Tasted is a linking verb.] 
  • Jeff tasted the apple cider. [The sentence does not make sense with the verb was or seemed. Tasted is an action verb.]

Transitive Verbs

A transitive verb has an object. An object is a word or word group that tells who or what receives the action of the verb. 

  • We built a birdhouse. [The object birdhouse receives the action of the verb built.] 
  • Have you memorized the poem and the name of its author? [The objects poem and name receive the action of the verb Have memorized.]

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb does not have an object

  • The baby drew clumsily. [Drew does not have an object. Clumsily is an adverb describing how the baby drew.] 
  • Everyone shouted and jumped for joy. [Shouted and jumped do not have objects. Joy is the object of the preposition for.]

Although action verbs may be transitive or intransitive, linking verbs and state-of-being verbs are always intransitive. Linking verbs and state-of-being verbs never have direct objects

  • The basket is in the kitchen. 
  • The bear became slightly agitated. 
  • I feel much better now. 
  • That sounds like fun.

Many verbs can be either transitive or intransitive, depending on how they are used in a sentence. 

  • The candidate won the election. [Election is the object receiving the action of the verb won.] 

  • The candidate won by a landslide. [Won does not have an object. Landslide is the object of the preposition by.]

Most dictionaries indicate whether verbs are used transitively or intransitively.
To determine whether a verb is transitive or intransitive, find the definition of the verb as you intend to use it. Then, look for one of these symbols: vt for verb transitive or vi for verb intransitive.

Verbs Quiz

Decide what kind is the underlined verb.

Types of Verbs Interactive Quizizz Quiz


Q: What is a verb?
A: A verb expresses an action, occurrence, or state of being. As the main part of a sentence's predicate, verbs make a statement about the subject of the sentence.

Q: What are the main types of verbs?
A: The main types of verbs are action verbs, linking verbs, helping verbs, and modal auxiliaries. Action verbs describe what the subject is doing. Linking verbs connect the subject to more information about it. Helping verbs combine with main verbs to indicate tense, aspect, mood, etc. Modals express meanings like ability, necessity, permission, and possibility.

Q: What are the verb tenses?
A: The main verb tenses in English are present, past, future, perfect, progressive, and perfect progressive. Each tense places the action at a different point in time and expresses completed or ongoing actions.


  1. English Grammar Demystified, 2nd Edition, by Jim Peterson, McGraw-Hill Education, 2012.
  2. Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer, Random House, 2019.
  3. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, 11th Edition by Jane Straus, Jossey-Bass, 2014.
  4. The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th Edition, University of Chicago Press, 2017.
  5. Garner’s Modern English Usage, 4th Edition by Bryan A. Garner, Oxford University Press, 2016.
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