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Types of Verbs (Modal, Stative, Infinitives and Transitives)

Verbs describe actions, states of being, and conditions. They're a pillar of language, and an essential part of speech.

Last updated on February 20th, 2024 at 03:58 am



What are verbs?

Verbs describe actions, states of being and conditions. They’re a pillar of language, and an essential part of speech. Verb derives from the Latin verbum, which literally translates to “a word,” (of Proto-Indo European origin.) Verbs are an essential part of speech. Verbs are what gives language meaning and substance: they tell us about what is happening, and they are half of what makes up sentences.  

Stripped down, sentences are thoughts that make sense (and contain a subject and a predicate.) When we think about things, or talk about our days with other people, we naturally describes events, occurrences, actions, ideas, and anything else as happening to someone or something.  Verbs are words that tell us what is happening; they are action words, and describe what’s taking place.

What are parts of speech, again? As a reminder, a part of speech refers to the main categories or class of words that make up language. English has 8 main parts of speech: nouns, verbs, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections, adjectives.

Each category of speech carries an important role in how we communicate through language and words. Verbs, however, are words that describe states of being. In simpler terms: verbs tell us what is happening in a sentence or clause.

Types of verbs

Verbs are a broad category of language, and they are not limited to describing actions, or even individual words. There are 11 main types of verbs:

  • Action verbs
  • Stative verbs
  • Transitive verbs
  • Intransitive verbs
  • Linking verbs
  • Helping verbs (or auxiliary verbs)
  • Modal verbs
  • Regular verbs
  • Irregular verbs
  • Phrasal verbs
  • Infinitives 

Action verbs

Action verbs are exactly what they sound like: action words. They are words that describe actions, and can be physical or mental. Thinking is a type of action, despite that a person thinking doesn’t necessarily look as though they are doing anything in particular.  

Sitting, sleeping, reading, and typing are all actions; and as such, they’re also action verbs.

1. Timmy kicks the ball.

2. Ashley rides the horse.

3. I work at a restaurant.

Stative verbs

Stative verbs depict states of being, thoughts or conditions:

  1. The dog is dead. (dead is a state)
  2. My bones are brittle. (brittle describes a condition)
  3. I dislike coffee. (disliking something  is a feeling or opinion)

Stative verbs relate to:

  • thoughts and opinions: agree, believe, doubt, guess, imagine, know, mean, recognise, remember, suspect, think, understand
  • feelings and emotions: dislike, hate, like, love, prefer, want, wish
  • senses and perceptions: appear, be, feel, hear, look, see, seem, smell, taste
  • possession and measurement: belong, have, measure, own, possess, weigh.

Transitive verbs

Transitive verbs are verbs with one or more sentence object:

1. Timmy kicks the ball.

2. Ashley rides the horse.

3. Ben eats the sandwich.

In both sentences, the subject performs an action that is received by something. Whatever receives the action in a sentence is the sentence object.

In the first sentence, the ball is kicked by Timmy; therefore, the ball is the object: it receives the action of the subject. In the second sentence, the horse is ridden by Ashley. This makes the horse the direct object, and rides, a transitive verb (along with kicks.)

A way to remember is that transitive verbs transition: they move from the doer to the receiver, and include one or more objects.  

Intransitive verbs

Opposite transitive verbs are intransitive verbs. Intransitive verbs, as you might suspect, do not have objects, since the action is not received by anyone or anything. With intransitives, the ‘action’ is within the actor or doer of the action themselves:  

1. She is sleeping.

2. Sarah laughs quietly.

3. He fought fiercely.

Sleeping is an action we do as human beings. It’s not something people do to other people or things—it’s something we do on our own, and depicts a state of being. When actions occur and end within the subject or actor themselves, they are intransitive (and are not received by anyone or anything.)

Certain verbs are strictly intransitives (e.g. sleeping, laughing, thinking, falling.) Others function as both transitive and intransitive: fighting, riding, reading, and so on.

Importantly, what distinguishes transitives from intransitives is whether an action is done to something (transitive), or whether it describes a state of being/manner in which an action was performed (intransitive.)

Linking verbs

Linking verbs, also known as copulas (from the Latin, “uniting, serving to couple”) are a kind of stative verb that link subjects with their subject complement. Linking verbs can do not show actions but describe subjects:

1. The travelers became sleepy.

2. That gold necklace looks expensive.

3. Suddenly, the store got very busy.

Helping verbs (or auxiliary verbs)

Helping verbs, or auxiliary verbs work with the sentence’s main verb to convey time or modes of being. Auxiliary verbs cannot stand on their own and must be paired with a main verb to make sense. Be and have are the primary auxiliary/helping verbs:

Examples:

1. Matt is using the computer.

2. She could not decide whether she wanted to go out or not.

3. These books are sold in supermarkets.

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary or helping verb that show ‘possibility, ability intent or necessity.’ Since modal verbs are helping verbs, they pair with the main verb in the sentence. Examples of common modal verbs are:

  • can
  • may
  • might
  • could
  • should
  • would
  • will
  • must

Examples:

1. I could do a handstand when I was a kid.

2. I could be working right now.

3. Will you turn that music down?  

4. That guy should wear less cologne.

Regular verbs

Regular verbs are verbs that end in -ed when modified to past tense; such as ‘walk,’ ‘climb,’ ‘decide,’ ‘describe,’ ‘drop,’ ‘want,’ ‘call,’ and ‘beg’.

In English, the general rule is to add –ed or –d  to the base form of a verb to change its tense. Verbs that take on this regular suffix in the past tense and past participle are regular verbs.

Examples:

1. She performed in the play.

2. He decided to walk to school.

3. Sam looked past the employer’s shortcomings.

Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs are the opposite of regular verbs (as you might have guessed) and do not take on the usual –d, -ed, or -ied spelling patterns of the past simple or past participle.  

Examples:

1. Harry ran as fast as he could.

2. Our kids have all grown up.

3. We told you to wait before you had dessert.

Phrasal verbs

A phrasal verb combine normal verbs with an adverb or a preposition to create verbal phrases—i.e., the phrasal verb.

Examples:

1. My friend is the only one who backed me up.

2. The ice cream machine at McDonald’s is always breaking down.

3. Sam called around to find a nearby mechanic.

Infinitives

Infinitives function in sentences as a noun, adjective, or adverb. Most infinitives are formed by adding the preposition to before the base verb: “I want to go home.”

Examples:

1. To do well in college, one must study diligently.

2. Wherever I go, I always bring a book to read in case I get bored.  

3. Sally left the camping trip early to recover from poison ivy.

Keep on reading!

What’re personal pronouns?

What’s the difference between they’re, their, and there?

Whose vs who’s?

Is or are?

Sources

  1. Evan Peters  
  2. Proto-Indo-European language
  3. Verb
  4. Copulas
  5. Grammarly on modal verbs
  6. Subject complements
  7. Helping verbs/auxiliary verbs

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