Verb Conjugation and Other Torture

Shrunken HeadGood morning, dear readers! Today, we’re going to dive into the wonderful world of verb conjugation. Now, now, please try to contain your excitement.

So what exactly is verb conjugation? Well, it’s what happens when we change a verb’s form to match the properties of voice, mood, tense, person, and number (which you may remember learning about in my earlier post on verbs). Right, so what does that mean?

First, let’s do a quick review of those five properties. Voice tells us who is performing the action and/or who is receiving it (active vs. passive). Mood tells us if something is being expressed as a fact (indicative), a command (imperative), or something hypothetical (subjunctive). Tense tells us whether the action occurred in the present, past, or future. Person tells us who is acting. Number tells us whether the verb is singular or plural.

When we conjugate a verb, all of these properties may be reflected in the results. And most verbs, except auxiliary verbs, will take one of the following five forms: 1) Infinitive, 2) Simple Present, 3) Simple Past, 4) Present Participle, 5) Past Participle.

Okay, so let’s look at some examples using the verbs terrify, curdle, and shrink.

Infinitive terrify curdle shrink
Simple Present terrify (terrifies) curdle (curdles) shrinks
Simple Past terrified curdled shrank
Present Participle terrifying curdling shrinking
Past Participle terrified curdled shrunk

She terrifies small children.
Voice: active (she is performing the action)
Mood: indicative (it is a fact that she does this)
Tense: present (simple)
Person: third person singular (indicated by the “s” at the end of the verb)
Number: singular (because person in singular)

We are curdling blood.
Voice: active (we are performing the action)
Mood: indicative (it is a fact that we are doing this)
Tense: present (continuous, because it’s happening right now)
Person: third person plural (indicated by the pronoun “we” and the auxiliary “are”)
Number: plural (because person in plural)

You will shrink 13 heads today!
Voice: active (you will perform the action)
Mood: imperative (it is a command)
Tense: future (simple)
Person: second person (indicated by the pronoun “you”)
Number: singular (because person in singular)

If only they had been terrifying the villagers last night.
Voice: active (they should have been performing the action)
Mood: subjunctive (this is expressing a hypothetical desire)
Tense: past (perfect continuous, because it would have been a continued action)
Person: third person plural (indicated by the pronoun “they”)
Number: plural (because person is plural)

And there you have it. Conjugating verbs in a nutshell.

If you would like to learn more, check out the following resources:


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Verbs Helping Verbs


‘Tis the season of peace, love, and helping others. So it seemed like the perfect time to talk about auxiliary verbs, which are also known as helping verbs.

Auxiliary verbs are these odd little verbs in English that are used in conjunction with other verbs to express things like voice, tense, and mood (including things like necessity and possibility). The most common auxiliary verbs are be, can, do, did, have, had, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, and would. Let’s look at some examples:

  • The zombie dressed like a Christmas elf had bitten Steve.
  • Zombie Steve’s first thought was, “I must bite Santa.”
  • Armed to the teeth, Santa would destroy them all, laughing all the way.
  • Amazingly, come Christmas morning, Santa had successfully exterminated all the zombies and had delivered all his presents.

Note in the last example that the first auxiliary and its verb are separated by an adverb, which is not uncommon.

A Side Note About “Be” Verbs

Sometimes you will hear people talk about “be” verbs. This is because “be” is a bit special, or irregular, as grammarians like to say. Be has eight forms (be, is, are, was, were, been, being, am) and is conjugated differently than other verbs. For example, in the present indicative form we don’t use the stem of be—instead we use am, is, or are.

  • I am Rudolph.
  • He is a reindeer.
  • We are zombie hunters.

In its present participle form, we simply add –ing to be (being) and apply that to everyone. But if you’re using the present perfect form, you also add the appropriate indicative (am, is, or are).

  • I am not being funny, you guys.
  • You are being followed by the living dead.
  • And she is being stalked by a zombie in elf’s clothing.

Then, when we switch to the past indicative, there are two forms: was and were. But the past participle form for everyone is been.

  • I was just about to die when a red glow emerged from the fog.
  • We were thankful that Rudolph and Santa saved us on Christmas Eve.

And, finally, the imperative form of “be” is, well, be.

  • Be quiet!” Santa ordered. “The zombies are everywhere.” 


Image credit: Mike Kiev /

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 /