Verdant Venerable Verbs: Part One

Mayan Ruins

To be or not to be? Where would the English language be without verbs? Well, pretty much frozen. Verbs launch us into action, describe events, and animate states of being.

Because they are one of the most important parts of speech, I’m going to dedicate two posts to verbs. Today we will look at the types of verbs. Next time, we’ll discuss their properties. And if you are interested in some of the more interesting roles verbs can play, check out my posts on gerunds and dangling participles.

At the simplest level, verbs can be divided into action (run, yell, dance, fly) and non-action (worry, envision, desire, hope).

Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs
A verb’s relationship with an object will determine whether it is playing a transitive or an intransitive role. Transitive verbs need an object in order to express a complete thought — they describe the action between the subject and the object. For example:

  • The angry mob trampled my flowers.

Intransitive verbs, on the other hand, do not need an object to express a complete thought. For example:

  • The monster howled.
  • The sacrificial victim trembled.

Regular vs. Irregular Verbs
Verbs are classified as regular or irregular depending on how we form their past and past-participle forms. Verbs that take an –ed or a –d in their past or past-participle forms are regular verbs:

  • graft–grafted
  • fade–faded
  • devour–devoured

Verbs that don’t take an –ed or a –d are irregular. Many irregular verbs harken back to Old English and have maintained their past and past-participle forms.

  • bite–bit–bitten
  • drink–drank–drunk
  • eat–ate–eaten

Principal & Auxiliary Verbs
A principal verb can stand by itself to express an action or state, like this:

  • He undulates.
  • She eviscerates.
  • I flee.

An auxiliary verb is used in combination with a principal verb to form a verb phrase that denotes mood, tense or voice. Some of the most common auxiliaries are be, can, do, have, may, and will. Here are some auxiliaries in action:

  • You can tell the shaman what you saw.
  • He may perish out of fear.

Linking Verbs
A linking verb, unsurprisingly, links the subject to a subject complement (which will be either a noun or an adjective). It doesn’t take its own object when used this way. Here are some examples:

  • The shaman thought the ritual was awesome.
  • But even the captives said it became tedious after the third hour.

Phrasal Verbs
A phrasal verb is typically a verb and a preposition working together to present a unique meaning. So, for example: 

  • It would have been easier just to rub out the shaman. (In this context rub out = kill.)
  • All the monster really wanted was to settle down with a nice lady monster. (In this context settle down = live with.)

Infinitive Verbs
The infinitive verb is often called the root or the stem verb. Simply, it is a verb with to before it. (to sacrifice, to fight, to explode).

Infinitives are versatile. They can be used as nouns and, in some cases, can also be used as adjective and adverbs. Here are some examples:

  • To err is human; to frighten is monster. (The infinitives act as subjects.)
  • The shaman told me to destroy this altar after the ritual. (The infinitive acts as an adjective.)

Well that’s it for today. Check back next week for Verdant Venerable Verbs: Part Two, where we’ll look at all the nifty properties of verbs.


Image credit:  Neil Denize /


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