What Is A Verb? Definition, Types, And Examples

A verb conveys the action or state of being within a sentence. It answers the question what happens? In the sentence “John drives to the store,” for example, the answer to “What happens to John?” is that John drives. The base form of a verb starts with the word to and ends with the infinitive, or root, verb. Examples include to walk, to go, to see, and to catch.

Conjugating Verbs

Conjugating a verb changes the infinitive into a finite form of the word. Conjugated verbs need a subject (such as a person, place, or thing) to make sense of them. For example, you can conjugate the infinitive verb to walk as I walk, you walk, she walks, and they walk. All of these sentences demonstrate that the subject walks right now, at the present time.

Present Tense

Verbs also have tenses, which means they change to fit the past, present or future of the sentence’s action. The present tense suggests something happens immediately or repeatedly. Present tense also shows someone’s belief, opinion or characteristics. The sentence “Heather has brown hair” shows Heather’s physical nature in its current state.

Future Tense

The future tense requires that terms like will, is going to, or shall be in front of the verb. For example, you could say, “I will go to the store,” to indicate that your trip to the store will be at a point in the near future.

Past Tense

A verb’s past tense illustrates an action that happened at a time in the past. It also shows that an action has finished. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Polonius tells Hamlet, “Brutus killed me,” in reference to a time Polonius was once in a play about Julius Caesar. The past tense verb killed means the action happened at some point before Polonius spoke this line to Hamlet.

Irregular Verbs

Irregular verbs have conjugations that differ from regular verbs. For example, the past tense of the regular verb walk is walked. Regular verbs become past tense with the addition of the ending -ed. Irregular verbs don’t follow this pattern. For example, the past tense of the irregular verb to buy is bought, and the past tense of to go is went.


Participles are special forms of verbs that don’t conjugate, yet they create a phrases that describe action more accurately. The present participle of regular verbs ends with -ing (e.g. talking and hammering). The past participle of regular verbs ends with -ed (e.g. such as asked and yelped).

Auxiliary Verbs

Special verbs known as auxiliary verbs, or helping verbs, complete a participle. These verbs include to have and to be. Auxiliary verbs define the mood and set the tone of the verb. “Mary is walking the dog” demonstrates present behavior that has a finite ending point sometime in the future. “David had asked for help five times before receiving assistance” reveals what happened to David before someone finally decided to help him.

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