Verb Types

Learning Objectives

  • Effectively identify verb types

Active Verbs

Icon of figure doing flying kick.

Figure 1. A verb like the verb “to kick” is an example of an action verb.

Active verbs are the simplest type of verb: they simply express some sort of action: e.g., contain, roars, runs, sleeps.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Active verbs can be divided into two categories: transitive and intransitive verbs. A transitive verb is a verb that requires one or more objects. In contrast, intransitive verbs do not have objects.

It might be helpful to think of it this way: transitive verbs have to be done to something or someone in the sentence. Intransitive verbs only have to be done by someone.

Why does this matter? Because you can have a sentence with a subject and a verb, but if the verb requires an object (transitive), the sentence won’t be complete or make sense without that object.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Incorrect: We are going to need.

  • Consider how incomplete the thought is here! Despite having a subject and a verb, the sentence is meaningless without the object phrase

Correct: We are going to need a better way to study if we are going to succeed in organic chemistry and become doctors!

Now, we know what we need: a better way to study.

Incorrect: She hates filling out.

Hates is also a transitive verb. Without the phrase “filling out forms,” but it doesn’t make any sense.

Again, we need an object for filling out in order for this sentence to make sense.

  • Jaipal sneezed.
    • Even though there’s just a subject (Jaipal) and a verb (sneezed), the sentence works. We don’t need to know anything more!
  • My computer completely died.
    • Again, died here is enough for the sentence to make sense. We know that the computer (the subject) is what died.

Note: there are some verbs that can act as both transitive and intransitive verbs. Here are a few examples:

Intransitive Transitive
The fire has burned for hundreds of years. Miranda burned all of her old school papers.
The engine is running fine. Karl ran the best horse track this side of the river.
The vase broke. She broke the toothpick.

Try It

Multi-Word Verbs

Multi-word verbs are subclass of active verbs. As you might guess, they are comprised of multiple words. They include things like stirfrykickstart, and turn in. Multi-word verbs often have a slightly different meaning than their base parts. Take a look at the difference between the next two sentences:

  • Gurdeep carried the boxes out of the house.
  • Gurdeep carried out the task well.

The first sentence uses a single word verb (carried) and the preposition out. If you remove the preposition (and its object), you get “Gurdeep carried the boxes,” which makes perfect sense. In the second sentence, carried out acts as a single entity. If you remove out, the sentence becomes “Gurdeep carried the task well,” which doesn’t make much sense.

Let’s look at another example:

  • She’s been shut up in there for years.
  • Dude, shut up.

Can you see how the same principles apply here? Other multi-word verbs include find outmake off with, turn in, and put up with.

Linking Verbs

A linking verb is a verb that links a subject to the rest of the sentence. There isn’t any “real” action happening in the sentence. Sentences with linking verbs are similar to math equations. The verb acts as an equal sign between the items it links.

While to be verbs are the most common linking verbs (is, was, were, etc.), there are other linking verbs, as well. Here are some illustrations of other common linking verbs:

  • Since last summer, Chakir has become a new man.
    • It’s easy to reimagine this sentence as “Since last summer, Chakir = a new man.”
  • I feel sick to my stomach.
    • The linking verb feel expresses the following relationship: I = sick to my stomach.”

Helping Verbs

A figure helping another figure up the stairs.

Figure 2. Helping verbs can help to express tense when the tense of a sentence is otherwise unclear.

Helping verbs (sometimes called auxiliary verbs) are, as the name suggests, verbs that help another verb. They provide additional meaning.

Here are some examples of helping verbs in sentences:

  • Mariah is looking for her keys still. (Notice that “is looking” is stronger than just “looks.”
  • Kai had checked the weather three times already. (Kai checked the weather makes clear that he did the checking in the past, but “had checked” emphasizes that he might have done this excessively.)

Let’s look at one more example:

Regina rides her bike.

Regina can ride her bike.

In both cases, Regina rides her bike, but the helping verb “can” in the second example puts additional emphasis on Regina’s ability to ride.