Page 2 Parts of Speech Study Guide for the English Basics


Verbs are the words used to name actions, feelings, or a state of being. After nouns, verbs are probably one of the most plentiful parts of speech in the English language because every noun has to do or be something, which requires verbs. Although they are plentiful and found in every complete sentence, verbs can be tricky when you try to use them. Verbs have all sorts of exceptions to rules and how to use them can get confusing. Hopefully the following tips will help you sort things out when it comes to verbs.

Types of Verbs

There are many different types of verbs. This section includes some examples of the types of verbs you will probably come into contact with on tests and in your writing.

Action Verbs

Action verbs are just what they sound like: they show specific action or movement (run, walk, dive, stop, jump, do, etc.) There are two types of action verbs: transitive and intransitive.

  • Transitive verbs: show action but include a direct object (someone or something receives the action of the verb being done). For example, “My dog brings me my slippers.” In this sentence, brings is the verb and me is the direct object who benefits from the dog’s bringing action. Or, “Brad offered Jenna a seat at the lunch table.” In this sentence, offered is the verb and Jenna is the direct object.

  • Intransitive verbs: show action that does not require a direct object. “The boy shouted in anger.” We don’t know who or what he is shouting at, but we can understand his action of shouting. And, “The rain fell bleakly over the city.” In this sentence, bleakly is an adverb explaining how the rain fell and there is no need for a direct object.

Helping Verbs

Helping verbs are used together with a main verb to show the verb’s tense, to form a negative, or to ask a question. Helping verbs can also add emphasis. Forms of the verbs have, do, and be are the most common types of auxiliary verbs.

  • Sheri should have told her mother the truth.
  • Sam does not remember setting his alarm.
  • Ryan is going to be living in his parents’ basement until he’s 40.

One specific type of helping verb is a modal. Modals express ability, possibility, obligation, or permission to do something. The most common modals in English are: will, would, can, could, may, might, shall, should, must, and have to.

Verb Tenses

Verbs are words that can be used to describe actions or feelings that happened in the past, are happening right now in the present, or might happen at some point in the future. Depending on what point in time a verb is referring to, you have to conjugate it differently. While there are three main categories of tenses (past, present, future), there are other variations within each one.

And this is where your mind may be saying, “Aggghhhh! I do not get this!” Relax. Here is a quick run down of the six tenses you may use in writing and speaking. It is not important to be able to name the tense you use, but it is important to use the right tense and not to mix tenses inappropriately in one sentence.

Note: A participle is a word formed from a verb but which is being used as an adjective or a noun. A participle is used to make compound verb forms. Participles can be present (ending in ing), or past (usually ending in ed or en). For example, for the verb walk, the present participle is walking and the past participle is walked. Irregular verbs have varied past participles but present participles always end in ing.

Common Confusion in Verb Usage

There are several verbs that often cause errors in subject-verb agreement. Among the most commonly confused (and misused) verb forms are:

lay and lieLay means to put or place something somewhere. Lie means to either recline or to not tell the truth.

sit and setSit means to be seated or to come to a resting position. Set means to place something somewhere.

rise and raiseRise means steady movement upward. Raise means to cause to rise.

As a result of these differences in meanings, using the right word and the right form of the word becomes very important to the meaning of your sentence. Here’s how three commonly-confused words should be conjugated from present to past to past participle:

Subject-Verb Agreement

Like nouns and pronouns, subjects and verbs must agree in number and tense. That means that if a subject is singular, the verb that goes with it must be singular as well. If a subject is plural, the verb must be plural. That all sounds easy enough, but making verbs plural seems counterintuitive and writers who are not paying attention can end up with verbs that don’t agree with their subjects.

Singular Verbs vs Plural Verbs

Singular nouns are easy; they are what they are, and to change them to plural, you generally just add s, es, or ies. Singular verbs (verbs that go with singular nouns), however, already have an s attached and it is that s that actually makes them singular. (Yes, that’s weird… “singular” verbs have an s.) Here are some examples of singular verbs (and the list could be much more extensive):

Think of the sentence “The boy ____.” All of the singular verbs listed above could fit in the blank and make sense with that singular noun (boy).

To make a noun plural, it’s easy to add s, es, or ies to the end of the word and then you have more than one of whatever you were talking about (puppy to puppies, car to cars, sky to skies, wish to wishes, bike to bikes, girl to girls, etc.). However, to make a verb plural, you actually do just the opposite and take the s off the end of the verb to make the plural verb form. Look:

“Katie skips down the sidewalk.”

In this sentence, we have a singular noun (Katie) and a singular verb (skips). Notice that the singular verb ends in an s. Here are some more examples of sentences with singular subjects and singular verbs:

“Mark takes notes in class.”
“The cat plays with the mouse.”
“Mom makes dinner every night.”
“Dad carries a briefcase to work.”
“Jane watches her cat play.”

In all of these examples, there is a singular noun and a singular verb. But when the subject becomes plural, the verb must become plural, which requires you to take off the -s at the end of the verb. Here are some examples changing our singular subjects from above into plural subjects and changing the singular verbs to plural verbs:

“Mark and Steve take notes in class.”
“The cats play with the mouse.”
“Mom and Aunt Karen make dinner every night.”
“Dad and Grandpa Rick carry briefcases to work.”
“Jane and Erin watch Jane’s cat play.”

When you take the s off the end of a verb, it becomes plural—just the opposite of what you do for a noun.

So, the major “take-away” from all of this is: When we say “plural verb” or “plural form of the verb,” do not expect to see s or es. That’s what you will see on a “singular verb” or “singular verb form.”

Noun Exceptions = Verb Exceptions:

There are all sorts of exceptions to verb rules. One of them is the rule for those pesky nouns that end in s but are actually singular (pants, scissors, eyeglasses, etc.), which may trick you into using the wrong verb form. Keep in mind that even though they are singular and refer to one thing, they actually get a plural verb unless preceded by the phrase pair of—then they are singular and need a singular verb.

“My pants were wrinkled.”
“My pair of pants was wrinkled.”

“His glasses are on the nightstand.”
“His pair of glasses is on the nightstand.”

“The scissors are in the drawer.”
“The pair of scissors is in the drawer.”

Irregular Verbs

Just when you may have thought that verbs could not get more confusing, we introduce to you some irregular verbs. Verbs tend to have three parts: the root form (present tense), the (simple) past form, and the past participle form. Regular verbs are conjugated into past tense (either simple or past participle) generally by adding -ed to the end of the root form (kick to kicked, walk to walked, jump to jumped, etc.). Irregular verbs, however, make grammatical life more complicated. Irregular verbs don’t follow this general pattern but instead take on a different pattern of conjugation. Here is a list of some irregular verbs so you can see how they conjugate differently from the root form to past to past participle:

Important Rule: One of the most obvious errors in spoken and written English involves the use of has, have, and had with past and past participle forms of verbs.

In the case of the past form, such as went, you do not need has, have, or had. For example, it is either:

“I went to the store” or “I have gone to the store,” but never “I have went to the store.”

Likewise, if you use the past participle form of a verb, you must use has, have, or had:

“I have done the laundry” not “I done the laundry.”

Unfortunately, there is no easy-to-remember rule for identifying or conjugating irregular verbs. So make sure, if you are uncertain, that you look them up in a reputable source to make sure that you are using the correct form.

The Role of a Verb in a Predicate

As mentioned earlier, every complete sentence must include a subject and a predicate. The subject identifies who or what the sentence is about and is generally a noun or pronoun. The predicate is the part of the sentence that explains what the subject is or what it does. The verb (the action word or state of being) will always be located in the predicate part of a sentence. Here are some examples:

Imelda answered the phone.”

The dark horse galloped quickly around the track.”

Anna’s bright green car is easy to find in a parking lot.”

The school’s choir performance starts at 7 p.m.

Betty likes to drive go-carts.”

In these examples, the single-underlined portions of the sentences are the subjects and the double-underlined portions are the predicate (the part of the sentence containing the verb and stating something about the subject). These sentences all happen to be structured in a way that the complete subject comes first and then the complete predicate. When we use complete in this sense, it just means that all parts of the sentence are accounted for as either being a part of the subject or a part of the predicate.

You could also identify the simple subject and simple predicate by just identifying the exact noun subject(s) and the exact verb or verb phrase in the sentence. Simple subject and simple predicate for the examples above would be Imelda and answered, horse and galloped, car and is easy to find, performance and starts, and Betty and likes.