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Verbs English grammar lesson

What will I learn from the lesson English language grammar verbs?

During this English lesson you will learn what a verb is and how you can use them in sentences. There are many types of verbs by the end of the lesson you will have a understanding how to use each one.

What are Verbs?

Verbs show the action in a sentence. Example: - The girl walked home. the verb is walked as it's expressing an action.

Example 2

When I arrived at their house, the big dog, which was called Rover, was barking loudly because it was lonely.

Arrived = action called = action barking = action.

Verbs are words like:

       arrive, call, be, bark, do, happen, make, stand and contain

Verbs often used to be called 'doing words'. But that's misleading because the most common verb of all is probably the verb be. Pupils can also have problems thinking of words such as die, have, want and like as 'doing'.

Verbs are the only words that can have different tenses:

Verb           Present tense                                        Past tense

do              he does, we do                                      he did

walk           the horse walks, the horses walk              it walked

Sometimes several verbs together make up a verb chain

are going          will have been          didn't want           may arrive

The  main verb forms (with examples from a regular verb) are these:

present tense           we walk

                                     she walks                        FINITE

past tense                 I walked

imperative                Walk this way

present participle    I was walking

past participle          they have walked             NON-FINITE

infinitive                     they can walk         

                                     they like to walk

Sometimes the word itself is the same – for example, walk can be present, infinive or imperative. But it's important to be able to identify the different forms in use.

These six forms belong to two major groups, which play an important part in English grammar:

The present, past and imperative forms are finite.
The participles and the infinitive are non-finite.

Finite and non-finite verbs

If an ordinary sentence contains just one verb, this verb will be finite. 
This is [finite] a finite verb.

In a verb chain, the first verb in the chain is almost always finite, and the other verbs are always non-finite.
They have [finite] looked [non-finite] at it

The finite verb in a clause defines the way the clause works. It gives key information about:

who is doing the thing - i.e. the subject: e.g. They have ... but: She has ... and when it is being done - i.e. the tense: e.g. They have ... but: They had ...

Non-finite verbs are not restricted in these ways, though they are restricted in other ways. For example, the infinitive have can be used for any time and any subject:

He seems to have a cold. (present time, singular subject)

They seemed to have colds. (past time, plural subject)

Verb chains

A verb chain is a series of verbs which consists of one or more auxiliary verbs and one non-auxiliary verb, which carries the main meaning of the clause.

Dan was learning Spanish

It should have been working by now.

It might be hot

He hadn't wanted any

Why are we waiting?

The auxiliary verbs do most of the job of showing the tense of the verb chain. They also express ideas like possibility and necessity, and they are modified to show that the clause is negative or a question. For more information on verb chains.

In a verb chain, the first verb in the chain is almost always finite. The others never are.

He was walking to school.

We will go

They might have been chosen.

Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs are small verbs used to build verb chains.

    Kate is speaking.

    We had been asking.

    She did like him once.

The auxiliary verbs are:

have when followed by a past participle: e.g. have seen

be when followed by a present participle or by a past participle: are working     are admired

do when followed by an infinitive: do you think, do not think.

the modal verbs, which are generally followed by an infinitive: will think, must be

Strictly speaking we should also classify be as an auxiliary verb when it is used in other ways; for reasons, click here.

How we use auxiliary verbs

They often indicate tense

They are talking.            He has eaten it              It will happen

They express a range of other important distinctions such as:

    the contrast between active and passive:
       The car was found

    the contrast between real and conditional:
        He would have wanted to do it

We use finite auxiliaries to show that sentences are questions and negatives:
    We distinguish interrogative sentences from declaratives by putting the subject after the finite auxiliary;
    We make sentences negative by putting not or n't after the finite auxiliary.

They are talking.           I should go.                   It will happen.      

 Are they talking?          Should I go?                  Will it happen?           

They aren't talking.       I shouldn't go.               It won't (or will not) happen.

Do is used to give emphasis, to form negatives, and to form a question with verbs in the simple tenses that don't already have an auxiliary.

They talk                    He eats a lot.                  It happened.

They do talk!               He does eat a lot!             It did happen, I'm sure.

They do not talk           He doesn't eat a lot           It didn't happen   

Do they talk?                Does he eat a lot?             Did it happen?

Present tense

The present tense doesn't cause many problems for pupils.

Regular:                                                 Irregular:

I run                   we run                          I am              we are

you run               you run                         you are          you are

he/she/it runs     they run                         he/she/it is     they are

It's interesting that the present can be used in several quite different ways, sometimes referring to past or future times:

I think therefore I am.
It always rains when I'm on holiday.
Dad tells me you didn't go.
She starts school next week

Past tense

The simple past tense is the ed form, or the irregular equivalent (without an auxiliary verb).

The simple past form is almost always the same for each person.

Regular:                                                               Irregular:

I walked             we walked                                   I ran                 we ran

you walked         you walked                                  you ran             you ran

he she it walked  they walked                                 he she it ran      they ran

The exception is the verb be:

I was                   we were

you were              you were

he she it was         they were

The past tense can also be used for hypothetical situations:

I wish I had a bike.
If I saw a ghost ...


The imperative form of the verb gives instructions or commands. It is the base form of the verb, like the infinitive.

be                      Don't be afraid.

play                    Play quietly.

talk                    Talk to me!

put                     Put three eggs in a bowl.

The subject of the imperative isn't stated, but it is understood to be "you".


The present participle is the "ing" form of the verb.

It can be used with the auxiliary verb be to form verb chains. They can express present, future or past time.

                   I am waiting.

                   She will be coming soon.

                   They were living here then.

                   We have been eating well.

                   You should be getting the letter tomorrow.

You need to recognise that the ing form is not always a verb:

it can be used as a noun. This -ing form is sometimes called a verbal noun or a gerund.

                     We enjoy sailing.                            Smoking not allowed.

it can be used as an adjective.

                     amazing gracea                                 waiting game

                     a deafening noise                              an exhausting day

The past participle is the "ed" form of the verb, and irregular equivalents. It is used in two quite different ways:

in a verb chain with the auxiliary verb have.

         Dad has walked home.

         We will have finished it soon.

         He has seen the light.

As a passive, often (but not necessarily) with the auxiliary verb be:

They were beaten.

She got arrested.

Poor John was run over by a bus.

The person run over by the bus was taken to hospital.


The past participle with a passive meaning can also be used as an adjective:

a startled expression        a broken window        frozen peas        a cut lip

Last year the lake was frozen solid.         I noticed the mirror was cracked.


Many verbs have the same form for the past tense and the past participle.

past tense                                   past participle

he finished it                                he has finished it

he asked her                                 he has asked her

I opened it                                   I have opened it

she taught us                               she has taught us


But other verbs have a different form.

past tense                                           past participle

he ran the marathon                              he has run the marathon

I broke it                                             I have broken it

he went away                                      he has gone away

he came back                                       he has come back

I was pleased                                        I have been pleased

The infinitive is the base form of the verb with no added endings.

It's often used with to.

be          have          eat          finish          break

to be      to have      to eat      to finish      to break

The infinitive follows:

modal auxiliary verbs                      should come; could break; might eat: seems to be;

                                                 needs to improve; used to live here; must say; will go

The auxiliary do, in questions, etc.  Does he take sugar? She doesn't read much.

                                                 We don't like that.

                                                 Yes, I do like him.

other verbs                                  forgot to say; he'd like to drive; We hope to be ...

a noun                                        there's work to do; a book to read; hell to pay


Because the bare infinitive, without to, is often the same form as the present tense (I take/ does he take), pupils often fail to recognise it. The infinitive almost always follows another verb, or the word to; the present tense rarely does.

People often refer to the verb "to go", and there used to be a rule banning split infinitives. But "to go" is really two separate words, and they can legitimately be separated. This is a well established pattern even in government documents.

skimming to quickly pick up the gist.                                 try to really work at it this time

to boldly go ...                                                              they wanted to carefully arrange things

The term 'finite'

Why "finite"? What does the word "finite" mean? The word finite comes from the Latin meaning finished or limited. The most useful connection to make is with the word define, which comes from the same root. Finite verbs 'define' the time (past or present) and the subject (singular or plural, and sometimes I or you).

Non-finite verb chains

Why is the first verb only 'almost always' finite? Here's a verb chain where neither verb is finite:

                       Having walked to school, he felt tired.

That verb chain doesn't have a finite verb. Without the clause "he felt tired", the sentence wouldn't make sense.

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that come in front of an infinitive (usually without to). They express such ideas as possibility, willingness, prediction, speculation, deduction, necessity and habit.

              He must be angry                 I can't understand.                  You ought to tell us.

Here are the main modal verbs:

will/would       may/might    dare       

shall/should     must            need        

can/could       ought           used to

Why be is always an auxiliary verb and possessive have sometimes is.

One of the main differences between auxiliary and main verbs is that auxiliaries are used in questions like Are you listening? and in negative sentences like You aren't listening. If we apply this as a test for auxiliary verbs, then other uses of be should also count as auxiliaries:

They are happy.                  Are they happy?                  They aren't happy.
He is your friend.                 Is he your friend?                  He isn't your friend.
It was here.                       Was it here?                         It wasn't here.

The same applies, for some people, to the verb have which means 'possess':

She has enough money.           Has she enough money?              She hasn't enough money.