You make use of different parts of speech ever day. You might not think about the grammar that you are using, but it is there. But what happens if you would like to know more about grammar, or you are planning to teach English to foreigners and have to know. Suddenly you may not feel so at home with your home language as what you thought – but no need to worry, there is no need to be a walking textbook. This simple guide will give you a reminder of the deeper workings of the language that you use every day. Whether it's for yourself or to teach to someone else, the simple guide will tell you all you need to know about verbs.

What is a verb?

A verb is a word that shows action or a state of being.

A verb is often referred to as a doing word since it refers to an action that is taking place, and while this is good to remember, a verb does more than just indicate action. A verb is also refers to states of being and determines the tense of a sentence.


The boy kicked the ball ("Kicked" is a verb as it shows the action boy is doing)

Transitive and intransitive verbs

All verbs are either transitive or intransitive, depending on how they are used in a sentence.

Transitive verbs need to be followed by an object for a sentence to make sense (slapped, invited, love, envy) E.g.

She slapped him; They love football; Since he won the lottery, everyone envies him (All of the verbs in bold are transitive as the sentence would not make sense without the object).

Intransitive verbs cannot be followed by an object; if they are the sentence will not make sense (arrive, sleep, reply, swung) E.g.

We arrived early in the evening; He replied to my letter; The pendulum swung back and forth (The bold verbs are intransitive as they are not followed by objects)

Transitive verbs transfer the main meaning of the sentence to the object (and the rest of the sentence).

Intransitive verbs contain the main meaning of the sentence within themselves - the rest of the sentence adds meaning.

Types of Verbs

There are three main types of verbs:

1. Action verbs

Action verbs refer to an action performed by the subject. They imply a beginning and an end. (Kick, run, jump, eat, play)

2. State verbs

State verbs refer to the states of being and mental processes of the subject. They do not generally imply a beginning and an end. (Feel, be, know, seem, own, like)

3. Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs are sometimes called helping or linking verbs. They combine with other verbs (particularly participles and infinitives) to create a tense or an expression. They help other verbs to form meaning. (Do, did, be, have, were, was, is)

Auxiliary verbs have different forms based on the tense that is used:

Be: Present= am, is, are; Past simple = was; Past perfect = been

Have: Present = have, had; Past simple = had; Past perfect = had

Do: Present = Do, does; Past simple = Did; Past perfect = done

Keep it simple

The verb is the most important part of the sentence, as it determines the tense and overall meaning. For a deeper understanding of verbs, an understanding of participles, gerunds and infinitives is necessary as these are a part of the verb family. To keep things simple however, it is best to keep these categories separate.