Verbs



Introduction to Verbs: Tense, Aspect, and Mood

Verbs are crucial to expressing a sentence’s meaning, so it is important to use them correctly.

Learning Objectives

Identify transitive, intransitive, and linking verbs

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Every sentence needs a verb. Verbs express action, describe an event, or establish a state of being.
  • Verbs are influenced by tense, aspect, and mood.
  • “Verb tense” refers to when the action occurred. The most common tenses are past, present, or future.
  • “Verb aspect” refers to the flow of time. Aspect addresses whether or not the action takes place in a single block of time or if the action is continuous or repeated.
  • “Verb mood” refers to the “attitude” of the action. Is the verb actually happening, possibly happening, or being commanded to happen?

Key Terms

  • aspect: Describes the action’s degree of progress or completion. The three main aspects are indefinite, progressive, and perfect.
  • direct object: A word that answers the question, “What is being acted upon?” In “Danielle ate fruit,” fruit is a direct object of the verb ate.
  • verb: A word that expresses an action, describes an occurrence, or establishes a state of being.
  • tense: Any of the forms of a verb that distinguish when an action or state of being occurs or exists. The three simple tenses are past, present, and future.

A verb is a word that expresses an action, describes an occurrence, or establishes a state of being. Every sentence needs at least one verb, which is paired with the subject. All verbs have tense, aspect, and mood, of which there is a wide variety of combinations. These concepts are part of the foundation of accurately expressing your thoughts in writing.

Verb Tense

Tense indicates when the action expressed by a verb takes place. The three simple tenses are past, present, and future.

Different tenses take different verb forms, either by changing the word itself or by adding helping verbs. There is no single formula for how to change verb tenses. Here are a few examples:

Present Tense

Present tense expresses unchanging actions and states of being. It is also used with recurring actions and with universal or widespread truths.

  • I walk
  • She runs

Past Tense

Past tense is used for actions that started and finished in the past.

  • I walked
  • She ran

Future Tense

Future tense expresses an action or event that will take place in the future.

  • I will walk
  • She will run

Verbal Aspect

“Verbal aspect” refers to the timing of the verb. More specifically, it addresses whether the action occurs in a single block of time, continuously, or repetitively. All verbs have both tense and aspect. Verbal aspect consists of simple, progressive, perfect, or perfect progressive, where each refers to a different fabric of time.

Simple

The simple aspect is used to express a single action, a repeated action, or a permanent state.

  • Permanent state: David lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.
  • Repeated or habitual action: He runs every morning.
  • Single action: He graduated from the University of North Carolina.

Progressive

The progressive aspect is used to talk about continuous events.

  • Dr. Jones was lecturing about grammar.
  • Jane is reading a novel.

Perfect

The perfect aspect is used to discuss completed actions. It is often formed by the verb have combined with a past tense verb.

  • My family had left before the flooding reached our home.
  • She has visited their mountain home.

Perfect Progressive

The perfect progressive combines the perfect and the progressive to refer to the completed portion of a continuous action.

  • The news crew had been working for more than twelve hours to provide full coverage of the event.
  • I will have been sleeping for many hours by then.

Verbal Mood

Verb mood is to the “attitude” of the verb. More specifically, “mood” refers to the degree of necessity, obligation, or probability. Is it a statement of fact? Is it a command? Mood can be expressed in any verb tense. The three main moods used in English are indicative, subjunctive, imperative.

Indicative

The indicative mood is used for factual statements.

  • Sally is drinking coffee.
  • Sally drinks coffee.
  • Sally drank coffee.

Subjunctive

The subjunctive mood is for hypothetical situations, emotions, or making requests. It is often (but not always) paired with a clause containing would, should, or could, or an if-then statement.

  • If I were a pilot, I would fly through the clouds.
  • The carousel closed. I wish it were still in use.

Imperative

The imperative mood is used to give commands.

  • Go finish your homework.
  • Please hang your coat.
  • Don’t eat a snack now or  you’ll ruin your supper.

Special Types of Verbs

Linking Verbs

Linking verbs are used to connect subjects with their complements. They may be the main verb in a sentence, even if they express a description rather than an action. The most common linking verb is to be, which takes many different forms:

  • This tea is hot.
  • There are many books in his library.

Other common linking verbs include the following:

  • appear
  • become
  • seem
  • taste
  • continue
  • remain

Linking verbs take no direct objects. Consequently, if a sentence’s main verb is a linking verb, it cannot be written in the passive voice.

Transitive Verbs

Transitive verbs describe actions that are done to a specific thing, called the verb’s direct object.

  • She cut her hair. (Subject: She. Transitive verb: cut. Direct object: her hair.)
  • Romeo kissed Juliet. (Subject: Romeo. Verb: kissed. Object: Juliet.)

All of the verbs are performed by the subject, to something or someone else.

Intransitive Verbs

Intransitive verbs are actions that are complete on their own, and do not require any object:

  • Sally ran fast.
  • The bird flew.

Most verbs can be classified as transitive or intransitive, depending on their context. Just remember, if your verb has an object, make sure it’s clear to the reader: Don’t say “Sally kissed her” if you don’t know who “her” is!

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He walked the wire: The verb tense in the title signals that this action took place in the past. It is not only important to have subject and verb agreement, but also to utilize the correct verb tense to ensure that a sentence contains its intended meaning.

Verb Tense: Past, Present, and Future

Verb tense indicates whether the action of a sentence occurred in the past, present, or future.

Learning Objectives

Identify the tense of a verb

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • In English, the three basic verb tenses are past, present, and future.
  • Verbs in past tense express what happened in the past.
  • Verbs in present tense express actions that are currently happening, or occur over a period of time that includes the present.
  • Verbs in future tense express actions that will happen in the future.
  • All verbs have both tense and aspect. Because there are three verb tenses and four verb aspects, there are twelve possible combinations of tense and aspect.

Key Terms

  • tense: Any of the forms of a verb that distinguish when an action or state of being occurs or exists. The three simple tenses are past, present, and future.
  • verb: A word that indicates an action, event, or state.
  • aspect: A grammatical category that expresses how a verb relates to the flow of time.

Verb Tenses

The verb contains the action of the sentence. Without verbs, we couldn’t talk about running, or jumping, or eating. And without verb tenses, we couldn’t talk about when we did those things. Did we eat dinner yesterday? Will we go for a run tomorrow? We need verb tenses to talk about time.

Present Tenses

The present tense refers to circumstances that exist now, or that have occurred over a period of time that includes the present. Present tense can also be used to express basic facts or circumstances that are continuous.

Simple Present

The simple present expresses current events, recurring events, and general facts.

  • There is a shady park down the block.
  • I paint a portrait of my cat every week.
  • Mary hears a noise in the attic.

The verbs is, paint, and hears are in the simple present tense. They refer to actions that are occurring in the present.

Present Progressive

The present progressive expresses continuous actions.

  • I am reading a letter.
  • The car is running at high speed.
  • Michael and Anna are always working in the library.

To show that the action is continuous the verbs reading, running, and working are paired with the appropriate form of the verb to be (am, is, are)

Present Perfect

The present perfect expresses a completed event that is still relevant to the present.

  • I have read several of Shaw’s novels.
  • She has seen him every Saturday this month.
  • Jed has sampled six ice cream flavors so far.

In these examples, have and has are paired with read, seen, and sampled to show readers that these actions began in the past and are still occurring in the present.

Present Perfect Progressive

Finally, the present perfect progressive expresses a continuous action that began in the past and continues into the present.

  • I have been standing on this corner for six hours.
  • She has been dreaming of becoming an actress since she was ten.
  • Even though it’s raining, that Girl Scout has been selling cookies all day.

The present perfect progressive tense combines have/has with been and the verb to show that the action began in the past and is still occurring in the present.

Past Tenses

The past tense refers to events that have occurred in the past or an event that occurred continually in the past. It can also be used when discussing hypothetical situations. The types of past tense are simple past, past progressive, past perfect, and the past perfect progressive.

Simple Past

First, the simple past expresses a past event:

  • Last week, I read several of Shaw’s novels.
  • The mother took her son to the beach every day last summer.
  • The book sat on the shelf, collecting dust.

The verbs read, took, and sat are in the past tense to show these actions have already occurred.

Past Progressive

The past progressive expresses a continuous action in the past:

  • She was giving a presentation when the microphone broke.
  • The computer was downloading the file for 20 minutes.
  • During their first year, the puppies were growing at an alarming rate.

In the past progressive tense, the primary action verbs (in this case giving, downloading, and growing) are paired with the past tense of the verb to be (was/were) to show that the action occurred continually in the past.

Past Perfect

The past perfect expresses a completed action from the past.

  • I had already seen him that morning.
  • As soon as my car had been repaired, I continued my trip.
  • The power had gone out by then.

This verb tense uses had, paired with a verb, to show that the verb is a completed action.

Past Perfect Progressive

The past perfect progressive expresses a continuous, completed action that had taken place in the past.

  • I had been listening to the radio when she dropped in.
  • The car had been running smoothly until the exhaust pipe fell off.
  • She realized she had been standing on his foot when he gently shoved her.

The past perfect progressive tense combines have/has with been and the past tense of the verb (listening, running, standing) to show that the action occurred continually in the past until the action was completed.

Future Tenses

The future tense is used to express circumstances that will occur in the future. The future tense is different from the present and past tenses in that there is not usually a type of verb conjugation that shows the future tense. Instead, future verbs are formed by combining them with words like will or shall, or the phrase going to. The different future tenses are simple future, future progressive, future perfect, and future perfect progressive.

Simple Future

The simple future expresses an action that will take place in the future.

  • Next week, her uncle will be in town.
  • Will you carry this bag for me?

To show that these actions take place in the future, the verbs are paired with will.

Future Progressive

The future progressive expresses a continuous action which will take place in the future.

  • He will be conducting a meeting between noon and one o’clock every day this week.
  • Next summer, Jake will be traveling through South America.

To show that the action is continuous and in the future, the verbs are paired with will be, and to show that they are progressive, the main verb ends in -ing.

Future Perfect

The future perfect expresses a completed action that will have taken place in the future.

  • We will have finished cooking by the time you arrive.
  • Margaret will have dropped off her niece at the airport before meeting Joe.

In these examples, will and have are paired with the main verb to show readers that these actions will take place in the future, but will have already occurred.

Future Perfect Progressive

Lastly, the future perfect progressive tense expresses a continuous, completed action that will have taken place in the future.

  • I will have been exercising for hours by the time you wake up tomorrow.
  • When they arrive, they will have been traveling for 12 hours straight.

The verb has will to show that it takes place in the future, have been to show that it is completed, and an -ing verb to show that it is progressive or continuous.

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Verb tense: The table shows how to correctly format verbs in a given tense. The “continuous” aspect is another name for the progressive aspect.

Verbal Aspect: Simple, Progressive, Perfect, and Perfect Progressive

“Aspect” refers to whether a verb is continuous, completed, both continuous and completed, or neither continuous nor completed.

Learning Objectives

Identify the aspect of a verb

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Aspect gives us additional information about a verb by telling us whether the action was completed, continuous, neither, or both.
  • The simple aspect is for actions that are neither completed nor continuous.
  • The perfect aspect is for actions that are completed, but not continuous.
  • The progressive aspect is for actions that are continuous, but not completed.
  • The perfect progressive aspect is for actions that are both continuous and completed.
  • All verbs have both tense and aspect. Because there are three verb tenses and four verb aspects, there are twelve possible combinations of tense and aspect.

Key Terms

  • tense: A quality of verbs which indicates whether the verb occurred in the past, present, or future.
  • aspect: A quality of verbs which indicates whether the verb is continuous, completed, both of those, or neither.

Verb Aspect

We need tense to know if an event took place in the past, present, or future, but that’s not all we need in order to know what happened. Aspect gives us additional information about a verb by telling us whether the action was completed, continuous, neither, or both.

“Aspect” refers to the flow of time. Does the action take place in a single block of time, does the action occur continuously, or is the action a repetitive occurrence? There are four main aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive.

Since all verbs have both tense and aspect, all combinations of tenses and aspects, such as past progressive and future perfect, are possible. Think about it this way: tense tells us when an action began, and aspect tells us whether that action was continuous, completed, or something else.

Simple

The simple aspect describes a general action, one that is neither continuous nor completed. It is usually used to describe an action that takes place habitually.

Simple Past

Verbs in simple past describe a normal or habitual action that began in the past,  and used to happen but no longer does.

  • June rode her bike to work every day that year.
  • You had a dog when you were young, right?

Simple Present

Verbs in simple present describe a habitual action that still occurs in the present.

  • My dad always enjoys novels about bakeries.
  • Grandma drops me off at the bus stop every morning.

Simple Future

Verbs in simple future describe an action that will begin in the future, and occur with regularity or certainty. To describe an action that will happen in the future, precede your main verb with “will,” “shall,” or another word or phrase indicating that the action occurs in the future.

  • The sun will rise at 6:38 AM tomorrow.
  • She will call you back after dinner.

Progressive

The progressive form expresses continuous actions that happen over a period of time. They almost always involve some combination of the verb “to be” paired with the main verb ending in -ing.

Past Progressive

Past progressive verbs express actions that began in the past and were continuous, but did not continue into the present. In the past progressive tense, the main verb is paired with the past tense of the verb “to be” (was/were) to show that the action occurred continually in the past.

  • She was always saying stuff like that.
  • I was running late all morning.

Present Progressive

Present progressive verbs express actions that are continuous, and are still happening at the present moment. In present progressive, the main verb is paired with the present tense of the verb “to be” (is/are) to show that the action is happening currently.

  • Phil is running around the block.
  • Are you enjoying your tacos?

Future Progressive

Future progressive verbs express actions that will begin in the future and be continuous. In future progressive, the main verb is paired with the future tense of the verb “to be” (will be) to show that the action will begin in the future.

  • I will be heading home around nine o’clock.
  • He will be traveling around the Yukon later this year.

Perfect

The perfect form refers to events that have been completed, but are still relevant to the speaker in the present moment. It almost always involves some form of the verb “have” combined with another verb.

Past Perfect

Verbs in past perfect express an action that both began and was completed in the past. Use “had” paired with the main verb in simple past tense.

  • We had left before the stadium got crowded.
  • Don’t worry, Emmett had already ruined the surprise.

Present Perfect

Verbs in present perfect express actions that began in the past, and have just now been completed. Use “has” or “have” paired with the main verb in simple past tense.

  • Omar has finished his dinner.
  • Laura and Tomika have arranged the memorial.

Future Perfect

Verbs in future perfect express actions that will be completed in the future. Use “will have” paired with the main verb in simple past tense.

  • I hope you will have completed your report by then!
  • They will have won over half their games by the end of the season.

Perfect Progressive

The perfect progressive, just as you would expect, is a combination of the perfect and progressive aspects. Perfect progressive refers to the completed portion of an ongoing action. It almost always involves a form of the verb “have” and a form of the verb “to be” combined with a verb ending in -ing.

Past Perfect Progressive

Verbs in past perfect progressive express a continuous, completed action that had taken place in the past. Use “had been” combined with the -ing form of the main verb.

  • She was tired because she had been running.
  • I had been lying awake for hours when the alarm went off.

Present Perfect Progressive

Verbs in present perfect progressive express a continuous action that began in the past and continues into the present. Use “has been” or “have been” combined with the -ing form of the main verb.

  • He has been working on his paper all morning.
  • The librarians have been helping me with my research.

Future Perfect Progressive

Verbs in future perfect progressive express a continuous, completed action that will have taken place in the future. Use “will have been” combined with the -ing form of the main verb.

  • By the time the winter ends, we will have been getting a foot of snow every week.
  • This spring, I will have been working for Cool Stuff, Inc. for twenty years!

Verb Mood: Indicative, Subjunctive, and Imperative

Grammatical mood is a verb feature that allows speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying.

Learning Objectives

Identify the mood of a verb

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Grammatical mood is a verb feature that allows writers to express their attitude toward what they are saying.
  • The most commonly used mood is the indicative mood, which is used to express factual statements.
  • The subjunctive mood refers to hypothetical situations.
  • The imperative mood gives commands or makes requests.

Key Terms

  • imperative mood: Gives commands or makes requests.
  • subjunctive mood: Expresses situations that are hypothetical or conditional.
  • indicative mood: Expresses factual statements.
  • grammatical mood: A feature of verbs which expresses the speaker’s attitude toward the subject.

Grammatical mood allows speakers and writers to express their attitudes toward what they are saying (for example, whether it is intended as a statement of fact, of desire, or of command). In English, there are many grammatical moods, but by far the most common are the indicative, the imperative, the subjunctive, and the conditional.

You can change tense and aspect of a verb by changing something about the verb itself: For example, to make the verb “enjoy” past tense, you add -ed to the end. In English, mood is a little different. You don’t change anything about the verb itself. Instead, you change the sentence structure to express a certain mood.

The Indicative Mood

In English, the indicative mood is the most commonly used. It is used to express factual statements.

  • Atlanta is the capital of Georgia.
  • Penguins cannot fly.
  • Jebediah likes the beach.

The Imperative Mood

The imperative mood expresses direct commands, prohibitions, and requests. In other words, it is used to tell someone to do something. In the imperative mood, the subject is almost always implied to be “you.”

  • Do your homework now.
  • Please don’t leave your bag there.

However, sometimes the subject can be implied to be “we.”

  • Let’s go!
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Let’s go: The imperative mood expresses direct commands and prohibitions.

The Subjunctive Mood

The subjunctive mood is not commonly used in English. It is used for discussing imaginary or hypothetical events and situations, expressing opinions or emotions, or making polite requests. Usually, the subjunctive mood is used in a dependent clause. Subjunctive sentences are often of the following form: [Indicative verb phrase setting up a hypothetical scenario such as “I wish,” “I believe,” “I hope”] + [Subjunctive phrase describing hypothetical scenario].

  • I wish Paul would eat more healthfully. [Main clause “I wish” is factual and in indicative mood; dependent clause “Paul would eat” is hypothetical and in subjunctive mood.]
  • I suggest that we wait until after dinner to eat the cake. [Main clause “I suggest” is factual and in indicative mood; dependent clause “we wait until” is hypothetical and in subjunctive mood.]

The Conditional Mood

The conditional mood is used for speaking of an event whose completion depends on another event. In English, the conditional mood is usually of the form “would” + bare verb with no tense or aspect markers.

  • I would go swimming if it weren’t so rainy.
  • He would bake more often if he had a better oven.