3 Types Of Verbs: Action, Linking, And Helping

Verbs do a lot of things—and of course, that is their very nature. They communicate to the world what is happening in a sentence. There are three types of verbs you will commonly encounter: helping verbs, linking verbs, and action verbs. Most verbs are either action or linking verbs, depending on how they’re used in a sentence.

What are action verbs?

Any verb that demonstrates an action is an action verb. These are the types of verbs you tend to hear the most about. Physical actions, like running, and mental actions, like thinking, both qualify as action verbs. You can see some examples of action verbs in this quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “See how she leans her cheek upon her hand. / O, that I were a glove upon that hand / That I might touch that cheek!” Since the words see, leans, and touch all describe actions, they’re all action verbs.

Transitive vs. intransitive verbs

Action verbs are either transitive or intransitive. If the verb is followed by a direct object, then the verb is transitive. A direct object is a noun or pronoun that receives the action in the verb. An example of a transitive verb in the previous Romeo and Juliet quote is “That I might touch that cheek!” The direct object of the sentence is cheek because it receives the action of the verb touch. So touch is a transitive action verb.

Verbs that lack direct objects are intransitive, as in the sentence “John drives.” To make the verb transitive, you could add a direct object like his car to the end of the sentence (“John drives his car”). The action verb can be followed by an adjective, adverb, or prepositional phrase and still be intransitive as long there’s no direct object. For example, drives is intransitive in both “John drives slowly,” and “John drives for two hours.”

As you can see, just as there are action verbs that can only be transitive or intransitive, there are action verbs that can be used both ways. That would include verbs like eat, since you can both say you “ate a salad” (salad is the direct object) or “I already ate” (no direct object).

How to use action verbs

An action verb is a word that describes an activity that can be performed. (By contrast, something that is felt—like seem—is not considered an action.) Action verbs tell you what someone is doing.

Common action verbs

These action verbs are included among the most common English words:

 

  • do
  • say
  • go
  • make
  • know
  • think
  • see

What are linking verbs?

Linking verbs get their name from the way they link the subject of a sentence to its complement. A complement is a word or a group of words that describe the subject of a sentence. For example, “The pizza tastes great.” The verb tastes is a linking verb. It links the subject (pizza) with an adjective (great) that describes it. The same verb could function as an action verb in a case like “Sandra tastes the pizza.” This is because in this sentence, pizza is the direct object instead of the subject.

How to use linking verbs

If you’re unsure whether or not a verb is functioning as a linking verb in a sentence, use this handy trick: if you can substitute to be for a verb and the sentence makes sense, it is a linking verb. For example, in the sentence “Cora looks tired,” the verb is can substitute for looks. The new sentence, “Cora is tired,” still makes sense.

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Common linking verbs

These three verbs cannot function as action verbs:

 

  • be
  • become
  • seem

Other common verbs can function as either linking or action verbs:

 

  • feel
  • taste
  • remain
  • appear
  • grow
  • look

What are helping verbs?

While linking and action verbs describe the main verb in a sentence, some verbs play a supporting role. These are called helping verbs.

The verbs behave, and do can be used as helping verbs (though they can also play other roles as well). For example, in the sentence “Rafael is driving the red car,” the verb is functions as a helping verb. It is paired with the verb driving in this verb phrase.

How to use helping verbs

Helping verbs provide more information about the main verb of a sentence. For example, the verb can combines with a main verb to clarify ability. It answers, “How well is someone able to do something?” You might say “Victoria can play piano, but she cannot play the guitar.” Can and cannot are helping verbs.

Common helping verbs

 

  • be
  • have
  • do
  • will
  • would
  • shall
  • should

 

So many pronouns, and plenty of time to review them! Learn all about the different types of pronouns, here.