This is a comprehensive guide to using verbs in the English language, looking at the vast amount of grammatical terminology that comes with them, from phrasal and reflexive verbs to irregular verbs and verb conjugation.

Verb definition

Verbs express actions. They are “doing words” whose existence forms language; without them, you cannot form a sentence. Verb comes from the Latin word verbum, meaning word.

When a verb is preceded by the word “to”, it is described as being in its infinitive or base form, for example “to see”, “to do”, “to be”.

Subjects and objects

A verb usually has a subject, singular or plural. The subject is the person or thing performing the action. Verbs that do not have a direct object are called intransitive verbs [link to Intransitive Verbs section].

Simon played his guitar (Simon is the subject of the verb “to play”)

The children opened their presents (The children are the subjects of the verb “to open”)

Many verbs perform an action on something, which is referred to as the direct object of the verb.

Mia ate her dinner (dinner is the object of the verb “to eat”. Mia is the subject)

Gary played a record (record is the object of the verb “to play”. Gary is the subject)

Categorising verbs

Verb definition fall into three categories:

  1. A physical action: to run, to walk, to sing, to dance
  2. A mental action: to think, to guess, to know, to consider
  3. A state of being: to be, to seem, to appear, to exist
  4. Physical actions

There are thousands of verbs that express physical actions, and as a simple grammar test, the verb in this context is always pretty easy to spot.

She cooked us a wonderful dinner (the past tense of the verb “to cook”).

He loves sunny mornings (the present tense [link to Verb Tenses section] of the verb “to love”).

We will see you tomorrow (the future tense of the verb “to see”. Future tense verbs are usually formed by preceding the verb with will).

  1. Mental actions

Verbs can also express mental or “thought” actions.

I thought the same thing (expressing the mental activity “to think”).

I know nothing about that (expressing the mental activity “to know”).

John guessed the answer correctly (expressing the mental activity “to guess”).

  1. A state of being

This group of verbs is the smallest of all, but the most important, as it includes the verb “to be”, which is the most common verb used in the English language.

Past tense: I was, you were, he/she/it was, we were, you (plural) were, they were

Present tense: I am, you are, he/she/it is, we are, you (plural) are, they are

Future tense: I will be, you will be, he/she/it will be, we will be, you (plural) will be, they will be