We say that a verb is a part of speech (or word class) that describes an action or occurrence or indicates a state of being. Generally, it makes more sense to define a verb by what it does than by what it is. Just as the "same" word (rain or snow, for example) can serve as either a noun or a verb, the same verb can play a number of different roles depending on how it's used.
Put simply, verbs move our sentences along in a variety of ways.
Here, by identifying 10 types of verbs, we'll briefly consider some of their more common functions as well. For additional examples and more detailed explanations of these verb forms and functions, follow the links to our Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms.
- Auxiliary Verbs and Lexical Verbs
An auxiliary verb (also know as a helping verb) determines the mood or tense of another verb in a phrase: "It will rain tonight." The primary auxiliaries are be, have, and do. The modal auxiliaries include can, could, may, must, should, will, and would.
A lexical verb (also known as a full or main verb) is any verb in English that isn't an auxiliary verb: it conveys a real meaning and doesn't depend on another verb: "It rained all night."
- Dynamic Verbs and Stative Verbs
A dynamic verb indicates an action, process, or sensation: "I bought a new guitar."
A stative verb (such as be, have, know, like, own, and seem) describes a state, situation, or condition: "Now I own a Gibson Explorer."
- Finite Verbs and Nonfinite Verbs
A finite verb expresses tense and can occur on its own in a main clause: "She walked to school."
A nonfinite verb (an infinitive or participle) doesn't show a distinction in tense and can occur on its own only in a dependent phrase or clause: "While walking to school, she spotted a bluejay."
- Regular Verbs and Irregular Verbs
A regular verb (also known as a weak verb) forms its past tense and past participle by adding -d or -ed (or in some cases -t) to the base form: "We finished the project." (See Forming the Past Tense of Regular Verbs.)
An irregular verb (also known as a strong verb) doesn't form the past tense by adding -d or -ed: "Gus ate the wrapper on his candy bar." (See Introduction to Irregular Verbs in English.)
- Transitive Verbs and Intransitive Verbs
A transitive verb is followed by a direct object: "She sells seashells."
An intransitive verb doesn't take a direct object: "He sat there quietly." (This distinction is especially tricky because many verbs have both a transitive and an intransitive function.)
Does that cover everything verbs can do? Far from it. Causative verbs, for example, show that some person or thing helps to make something happen. Catenative verbs join with other verbs to form a chain or series. Copular verbs link the subject of a sentence to its complement.
But you get the idea. Though they can get tense and moody, verbs are hard-working parts of speech, and we can count on them to make things happen in many different ways.