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The Verb | The Simple Sentence

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The Verb

A verb is a word or phrase that expresses and action (e.g., run, play, see, take care of, turn off), a state of being (e.g., be, seem, appear), or an event (e.g., happen, rain, disappear). Verbs can be categorized broadly as (1) action verbs, (2) linking verbs, and (3) helping verbs (auxiliary and modal verbs).

(Note that you may find linguists and grammarians who categorize verbs differently.)

Action Verbs

Broadly speaking, “action verbs” express what someone or something does.

Examples of “action verbs”




come about



doze off


go down

hand up



look up

put off



wake up


Example sentences using “action verbs

Natalia has left.

Bob investigated the noise outside.

Gas prices are going up.

Have youunderstood the instructions?

Children should not talk back to their elders.

The new treatment consists of a combination of drugs.

Toddlers lose their balance and fall all the time.

Researchers have found a new treatment for diabetes.

Linking Verbs

Linking verbs do not express and action; they simply link the subject to a state of existence, quality, or description. They equate someone or something to someone or something else as in A = B.

Any form of the verb be (am, is, are, was, were, has been, have been, had been, etc.) is a common linking verb, sometimes referred to as a being verb because it expresses what someone or something is.

Examine the examples below. In the first example, the verb links someone to a descriptive quality. In the second, the verb links something to something else, stating that they are equivalent or one “equals” the other.

Example sentences using “linking” or “being verbs”

Bob is kind. (A = a quality)

Knives are tools. (A = B)

Other Examples (A = quality)

We were late yesterday.

These houses are old.

This movie will be exciting.

Rita has been sick all week.

Other Examples (A = B)

Fatima is a very kind woman.

Cars aremachines.

Caffeine is a chemical.

Diabetes is a serious illness.

Helping Verbs: Auxiliaries and Modals

A “helping verb” always appears in combination with other verbs. They are divided into (a) auxiliary verbs, which are used to build verbal constructions and (b) modal verbs, which add shades of meaning to the verb

Auxiliary Verbs

Depending on the verb in English, sometimes you need an auxiliary verb to express the time of the action or state, to ask questions, or to negate the verb.

In the following examples, the basic sentence uses the verb “eat” as in John eats. Notice how auxiliary verbs are used to change the time the action occurs, to ask questions, or to build a negative construction.

Examples of verb conjugations using “auxiliary verbs”

John eats dinner. (no auxiliary)

John will eat dinner when he arrives.

John was going to eat dinner when they arrived.

John has eaten dinner at the same time for years.

John was eating dinner when I got there.

John will be eating dinner when I get there.

Does John always eat dinner at 8?

John does not eat dinner at 7.

John did not eat dinner last night.

Did’t John eat dinner last night?

Modal Verbs

In addition to changing the time of the action or state, modal verbs also convey a shade of meaning such as ability, permission, expectation, probability, necessity, obligation, politeness, and so on.

Examples of modal verbs and the nuance they express

can — ability; request; permission.

could — past ability; possibility; permission.

must — obligation; prohibition; necessity; requirement.

may — possibility; permission; probability.

should — advisability; prediction; suggestion.

and so on…

Example sentences:

John must eat dinner at 8 every night.

John should be eating dinner now.

John could not eat dinner last night.

John may not have eaten dinner yet.

John might eat dinner with us.

As you can see above, modal verbs can be combined with auxiliary and main verbs, resulting in very complex verb forms. Examine the following examples that expand the verb “run” in more and more complex ways.

Examples of combinations of modals and auxiliaries


are running

were running

have run

have been running

must have been running

will have been running

Related Course

Visit Modal Verbs in English (opens in a new tab) for a complete, advanced course on modal verbs.

Important note about the types of verbs

You should note that some verbs can have dual functions depending on how they are used. For example, in “Bob is kind,” the verb (“is”) is used as a linking verb.

”Bob is eating,” however, the verb is “eat,” and “is” is being used as an auxiliary verb to help conjugate the verb.

Similarly, the verb “look” is used as a linking verb in “Bob looks tired” and as an action verb in “Boob looked at the book.”

Practice Activity

Practice 1. Practice distinguishing the types of verbs.

The Subject

Continue the lesson to learn about simple and complex subjects.