Verbs 1: How to detect
them/forms of verbs
Materials by Liz Siler
Definitions of Verbs
• There are many unsatisfactory
definitions of verbs.
• Many of these are focused around
• The least useful definition is the old
saying that a verb is an “action” word --a word that shows the action in a
• Here is a sentence with many action
words, none of which are actually verbs:
– His reaction is a rejection of her inspiration.
• Here is a sentence with a verb that
shows no action:
– She is very nice.
• Better definitions of verbs focus on the
form and behavior of the word in the
• We will focus on these forms and
behaviors in this class
Some Characteristics of Verbs
Verbs are the words in clauses that can do
• Show marked tense;
• Show marked aspect;
• Show agreement with the subject in person
and number in the present tense;
• Can be used to form English verb phrases;
• Can be operators.
Inflection of Verbs
• Inflection: a property (characteristic) of
• The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary En
defines “inflect” as: if a word inflects,
it changes form according to its
meaning or use.
Forms of Verbs
• All English verbs are shapeshifters.
• They have five characteristic forms:
– base form;
– -s form;
– progressive participle form (also called
-ing participle form);
– past tense form;
– past participle form.
• The verb “to be” is somewhat irregular
within this paradigm of forms.
The Base Form
• All English verbs start with a “base” form.
• This is the form you look up to learn about the
verb in the dictionary. Sometimes teachers
call it the “dictionary form.”
• If you look up one of the other forms of the
verb, you will be referred back to the base
• The base form is always uninflected, because
it hasn’t been changed.
Test #1 for the Base Form
Fill in the blank:
I really like to ______ (other words).
I really like to swim.
I really like to be silly.
I really like to politicize problems.
I really like to prepare vegan food.
I really like to drink Sake on Friday nights.
I really like to complain about the government.
Test #2 for the Base Form
Fill in the blank:
That will _____
That will happen
That will do
That will be
That will mind
The Base Form and the
• The base form is used in the creation of
the English infinitive.
• The infinitive form of the verb is formed
is formed by adding “to” in front of the
Examples of Infinitives
Editing Note #1
• English infinitives are formed by two separable parts:
to + base form. EX: to read
• French and Spanish infinitives are formed by single
words, which are obviously not separable. EX: leer
(Sp); lire (Fr).
• Yet there are grammar fools who believe that you
should never “split” (separate the two parts with
another word) an English infinitive because you can’t
do that with the single word infinitives of Latin-based
• Thus, they complain that you must never say “to
slowly read” because in Latin-based languages such
as French and Spanish you can’t do that!
Editing Note #1b
• When we talk about a verb as a verb,
we generally use the infinitive form.
• Example: The verb to be is wildly
irregular in English.
The - S Form
• This is the form of the verb used to form
the third person singular in the present
• This is most commonly formed by
simply adding “s” or “es” to the base
form, but there are spelling exceptions.
Test #1 for the -S form
Fill in the blank:
He ________ every day.
He swims every day.
He runs every day.
He does his job every day.
He is pleasant every day.
Editing Note #2
• Most dictionaries, including online ones,
will mark exceptions to form rules.
• Whenever a verb form is slightly
different than the general pattern (in
other words there is an exception to the
form rule), the verb or the form is called
• Example: to do/ to be
The Verb TO BE
• Note that the -s form of the verb “to be”
is very irregular.
• You would expect it to be “bes” --- but it
The Progressive (ing)
• This form is produced by adding -ing to
• Again, there are sometimes spelling
changes in the base (usually dropped
final “e” or doubling of the final
Editing Note #3
• Except in the case of the final consonants w,
x and y, when a one-syllable verb ends in a
single consonant preceded by a single vowel,
the final consonant must be doubled before
the ending ing is added.
• How do you spell the -ing participle of the
verb “to write”?
• For a fast refresher course on spelling rules
with -ing participles, click here:
The Past Tense Form
• This is the form used to create the past tense
of the verb.
• In English many, but not all, verbs are
formed by adding “d” or “ed” to the base form.
• There are numerous exceptions. These are
called irregular forms. And some verbs,
including the verb to be, have two past tense
Test #1 for Past Tense Form
Use the verb in a sentence with an adverb such as “yesterday.”
Yesterday, the man swam two miles.
Yesterday, they were in Houston.
Yesterday, you politicized that idea in an argument with the teacher.
Yesterday, you drank too much Sake.
Yesterday, you complained about Harry Reid.
Yesterday, the accident happened.
Yesterday, a stupid idea occurred to me.
Yesterday, I stopped at Safeway.
Yesterday, she dove into the pool.
The Past Participle Form
• For many, (but sadly not all), verbs the
past tense form and the past participle
form are identical.
• For some verbs the past participle form
is different and involves a word that
ends in -t or a vowel change.
Examples of Past Participle
Test #1 for the Past Participle
• You can always figure out the past participle
of the verb by moving the base form through
a sentence with a verb phrase with a form of
the auxiliary verb “have.”
• I have______ (swum, driven, cooked . . .)
Examples of Past Participles
I have swum for ten years.
Obama has been President for 5 years.
The media has politicized this problem.
I have drunk two bottles of Sake.
She had complained about a hangover.
It will have happened by then.
It has occurred to me.
The hangover had stopped by noon.
• There are important differences between the
use of the past tense form and the past
• The past tense form can be used by itself to
express the past tense.
– I swam a mile yesterday.
• The past participle form can only be used
with other verbs (called auxiliaries) to form
perfect aspect or passive.
– I have swum ten miles. The race was swum in ten
A Regular Example
– Base: cook - Infinitive: to cook
– -s form: cooks
– Past tense form: cooked
– -ing participle form: cooking
– Past participle form: cooked
An Irregular Example
– Base: sleep -- Infinitive: to sleep
– -S form: sleeps
– Past tense form: slept
– -ing participle form: sleeping
– Past participle form: slept
The Verb “to be”
• You are going to hear a lot about the verb
“be” (base form), which is sometimes called
the verb “to be” (infinitive form).
• This verb is wildly irregular in English, and
before we go on, it’s worth looking at it
• It’s worth noting it’s also irregular in all Latinbased languages (etre -- FR)/ (ser/estar -Spanish). Learn it now!
The Forms of “to be”
Base form: be -- Infinitive form: to be
“s” form: is
-Ing participle form: being
Past tense form: was/were (depending on
• Past participle form: been (pronounced as
• Note this verb also has three present tense
forms: am, is, are
Editing for Verbs
• People everywhere have trouble with verb
forms, in part because English has so many
irregular verb forms.
• Common editing symbols for verb form
problems are: V, vb, vb form, and v/sp (verb
spelling). V/sp is used only when the form is
right, but the spelling is not!