Grammar-QuizzesVerb PhrasesVerbs › A Verb

A Verb 

Recognize how it can function in a clause

X verb diagram
walking
We like walking outside.
‹ diagram ›
► What is a  verb?▼ Explanation of term

A primary verb:

  • expresses an action (eat, walk, drive, breathe), an occurrence (happen, become), or a state of being (be, appear, seem).
  • functions as the predicate. It completes the idea about the subject in regards to what it does or is.
  • takes form as plain form (see), past form (saw), participle form (seen), person form (see [1st & 2nd] /sees [3rd]), and, in a rare case, number form (am, is are).

A secondary verb:

  • expresses the meaning of the verb as:
    • an activity. Walking is good for us. We like to walk. We enjoy walking.
    • an attribute or characteristic. He wears running shoes. The boy tired from running rested a while. He took off his long-sleeved shirt.
  • functions as:
    • a subject. Walking is good for us.
    • a complement to the verb; it completes the idea of the verb. We like to walk.
    • a complement to a noun; it modifies the noun. The shoes covered with dust were his favorite ones.
  • takes form as
    • an infinitive—plain form verb (Exercise helps reduce stress.) or with to (Exercise helps us to reduce stress.)
    • a gerund (gerund-participle)—with an -ing suffix. Feeling better is our goal.
    • a past participle—with an -ed (-en, -n, -t and variants) suffix. His running shoes worn out from use were on the floor of his closet.
    Diagram:  Verb, Verb Group, Verb Phrase

Two Basic Categories

Primary and secondary verbs

 

 

Primary (in finite clauses) vs. Secondary (in nonfinite clauses)

PRIMARY VERB FORM

A primary verb can be marked for tense (walked), person (walks) and in some cases number (is, was, were). Present and past tenses are formed with verb inflection, the other tenses are formed in combination with auxiliary verbs. A finite clause includes a primary verb.

PRESENT

We walk the dog everyday. 

She walks the dog everyday.  (marked for 3rd per sing.)

 Our dog tires easily.

PAST

We walked the dog everyday. (marked for tense)

She walked the dog everyday. 

 

 

 

The trip tired us. (marked for tense)

 

 

 

 

SECONDARY VERB FORM

A secondary verb is not marked for tense, aspect, mood, number and person, and it cannot serve as a predicate, nor can it be used in an independent clause. See Nonfinite.  (These are also called "reduced verbs".) A nonfinite clause includes a secondary verb.

PLAIN FORM / INFINITIVAL

He can walk. (plain form)

The dog makes us walk faster. (plain form, infinitive without "to")

He wants to walk. (infinitive with "to")

GERUND-PARTICIPLE FORM

She is walking in the rain. (aux. complement, progressive)

She likes walking in the rain. (verb complement)

People walking their dogs seem happy. (noun complement–modifier)

They rested after walking for two hours.  (preposition complement)

PAST PARTICIPLE FORM

The dog has tired its owners(aux. complement, pres. perfect)

The dog was tired by walking so much. (aux. complement, passive)

The tired walkers rested their feet.  (past participle modifier)

The people tired of walking took a taxi home. (past participle modifier)

 

 

Primary forms are inflected for mood or tense; secondary forms are the remainder. (Huddleston 3 1.8)

A bare infinitive (plain or bare verb form) without to is used after dare, need, help and modals.

A finite clause may stand alone as a complete sentence. It includes a subject and a primary verb form that can be inflected (suffixed) for tense, person and sometimes number. It is an independent clause (matrix clause).  See Finite / Nonfinite and see Grammar notes.

A nonfinite clause cannot stand alone. It rarely includes a subject, and its verb is a secondary verb form (infinitival, gerund-participle or past participle) which cannot be inflected for tense, person or number. It is a dependent clause serving as a subject or a complement to a verb, preposition or noun.

inflect (V) — mark with a suffix

 

For practice quizzes, see the following pages:

 

 

 

 

Verbs Forms

Inflections

 

 

Verb Forms  

PLAIN FORM  (PRI/SEC) 3RD PERSON (PRI) PAST (PRI) PAST PARTCPL (SEC) PRES PARTICIPLE (SEC)

plain form is the verb in its simplest, most basic form. It can be a primary or a secondary (infinitival ) verb form.

Third person is marked with the suffix -s in present tense only. It is a primary verb form. (primary verbs)

Past tense takes form as verb + the suffix -ed with variants -d, -t, or mid-vowel changes. (primary verbs)

Past participles take form as verb + -ed  with variants -d, -t, -en, -n, or mid-vowel changes. (secondary verbs)

Gerund-participles¹ take form as verb-ing. (secondary verbs)

have

has

had

had²

having

hit²

hits

hit²

hit²

hitting

see

sees

saw

seen

seeing

sing

sings

sang

sung

singing

talk

talks

talked

talked²

talking

take

takes

took

taken

taking

(PRI) — primary verb; (SEC) — secondary verb

inflections – grammatical term for the marking of word forms, for example, in English, suffixes mark person, number or tense.

Lexical verbs — having dictionary meanings

¹gerund-participle—in linguistic description, this is one form; A distinction between a gerund and present-participle cannot be sustained. (Huddleston 82, 1220)

²syncretism—when two or more word forms are the same, but have different grammatical functions (cut, cut, cut) [present, past, and perfect verbs forms]

Related Past and Participle Forms 1  Past and Participle Forms 2.

Also see Azar (1-5) and Swan (421-27).

 

 

 

 

 

Verb Tense

Indicate tense with inflection or auxiliary verbs

 

 

Inflected Tense vs. Auxiliary Verb Tense

PRIMARY VERBS—INFLECTED TENSE

In many languages, verb tenses are formed by inflection (adding a suffix or some other kind of marking). English has only two tenses formed by inflection—present and past tense.

PRESENT

We walk to work every morning.  (plain form)

He walks to work every morning. (plain form + 3rd per sing.)

PAST

We walked to work every morning.  (past form)

 

These tenses express "factual" information without reference to the flow of time or opinion about the activity.

 
 
SECONDARY VERBS—AUXILIARY GROUP TENSE

The other "tenses" are formed with auxiliary verbs and a secondary verb form  (bare, -ing or -ed)  The auxiliaries combine to express tense, mood and aspect. See Verbal Systems below.

PROGRESSIVE  (ASPECT)

We are walking to work.

We have been walking to work

PERFECT  (ASPECT)

We have finished our work.

We will have finished to work.

FUTURE / PREDICTION (MOOD)

We will finish tonight.

She may have finished her work already.

CONDITIONAL (MOOD)

If I knew, I would tell you.

We wouldn't be working now, if we had started earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tense, Aspect & Mood

Systems that affect the meaning 

 

 

 

Tense, Aspect, Mood and Voice

SYSTEM APPROXIMATE FUNCTION EXAMPLE

(none)

Not marked. 

It rains.  (fact, always, whenever)

MARKED BY INFLECTION (SUFFIXES) OR VERB COMBINATIONS

TENSE

temporal location

 

Locates the action or event in a period of time.

It rains. (fact, general truth)

It rained. (fact, past, done)

ASPECT

temporal flow

Takes an internal, experience view of how an activity relates to time —ongoing, continuous, repetitive, habitual.

It was raining. (progressive aspect) ongoing experience

It has rained. (perfect aspect) has continuing relevance

It used to rain (habitual aspect) was repetitive

MOOD

non-factual assertions

 

Allows the addition of opinion, prediction, or inference to the clause.

It may stop raining in a few minutes.  (opinion)

MARKED BY STRUCTURAL CHANGE AND VERB COMBINATIONS

VOICE

focus on agent or patient

Allows placing either the "patient" (w/ passive verb) in the subject position or the "agent" (w/active verb) in the subject position.

Her prediction was proved wrong as it continued raining.

agent—the person or thing that takes action to do something. (He sang a song for them.. The wind blew the leaves.)

patient ("theme")—the person or thing that is affected by the action denoted by the predicate. The thing acted upon. (He sang a song for them.)

(Aarts 9, 10) (Biber 4) (Huddleston 3 §3) (Payne 12)

aspect is a grammatical category that expresses how an action, event or state, denoted by a verb, relates to the flow of time.

mood is a grammatical category that expresses how an action, event or state, denoted by a verb, relates to the flow of time.

(Biber 4) (Huddleston 3 §3) .

 

 

 

 

 

Lexical vs. Auxiliary Verbs

Properties and Characteristics

 

 

 

Lexical vs. Auxiliary Verbs

LEXICAL VERB

Most verbs are lexical verbs. A lexical verb has a dictionary meaning and can be marked for tense and 3rd person. It normally uses do support for questions, negatives and emphasis.                                                                    

MEANING AND TENSE

You have a computer.  (present) (possession)

You had a computer.  (past)

DO & INVERSION—QUESTIONS

Do you have a new computer? 

DO + NOT—NEGATIONS

You do not like your new computer. 

DO—EMPHASIS / TAG QUES. / PAIRED CONJ

I do like my new computer!

You like your new computer, don't you?

He likes his new computer, and you do too?

AUXILIARY VERB

A non-modal auxiliary can be marked for tense and 3rd person, but it does not have a dictionary meaning. It combines with a lexical verb to form meaning. It uses auxiliary support for questions, negatives and emphasis.

TENSE BUT NO MEANING

He is working on his computer. (is, was)

She has worked on her computer. (has, had)

She will work on her computer.

AUX & INVERSION—QUESTIONS

Is he working on his computer? (Aux ← Subj)

Has she worked on her computer?  (Aux ← Subj)

Will she work on her computer?

AUX + NOT—NEGATIONS

He is not working on his computer. (is, was)

She has not worked on her computer. (has, had)

She will not work on her computer.

AUX—EMPHASIS / TAG QUES. / PAIRED CONJ

He is working on his computer!

She has worked on her computer, hasn't she?

She will work on her computer, and so will you.

 

Both lexical and auxiliary verbs are considered primary (finite) verbs – inflected with tense and person. (Swan 85)

Biber sets out the classes as full (lexical verbs)  primary (be, have, and do) and modal auxiliaries (will, might, etc.) (Biber 3.21, 96)

¹ Be (copula) does not use "do" support. (Huddleston 3 §2.5.7)  See  "Be"–Lexical or Auxiliary?.

(Swan 89-91)

 

 

 

Works Cited

  • Azar, Betty Schrampfer, and Stacy A. Hagen. Understanding and Using English Grammar. 4th ed., Pearson Education, 2009.
  • Biber, Douglas, and Stig Johansson, et al. Longman Grammar Of Spoken And Written English. Pearson Education, 1999.
  • Huddleston, Rodney D., and Geoffrey K. Pullum. The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language. Cambridge UP, 2002.
  • Swan, Michael. Practical English Usage. 3rd ed., Oxford UP, 2005.
 

 

 

 

 

Practice

Walking for Health

jet interior
 

 

Read Context

Walking is a simple way to stay fit and healthy. Experts recommend at least 2½ hours of exercising every week. Just 5 or 10 minutes every day improves health and well-being.

Wearing a pedometer helps a person increase walking time. Balance will be improved too. Be healthy. Be happy.

 

 

 

 

Which is the "primary" verb in the clause?

  1. Select the verb.  (A primary verb can be marked for tense, person, and in some cases, number (raise, raises, raised; is, was, were).
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check 1-6" button at the bottom.

 

1.
Walking is a simple way to stay fit and healthy.






2.
Experts recommend at least 2½ hours of exercising every week.




3.
Just 5 or 10 minutes every day improves health and well-being. 





4.
Wearing a pedometer helps a person increase walking time.






5.
Balance will be improved too.   








6.
Get healthy. Be happy.