Verbs are a part of speech that is essential to the construction of a sentence. Without a verb, a sentence cannot be complete. Besides the verbs already dealt with, there are other types of verbs used in the grammatical makeup of a sentence. There are classes of verbs that have different names but perform more or less the same functions; for example, auxiliary verbs and helping verbs. There are also different categories of verbs but have significant differences in their usage in the English language; for example, finite verbs and nonfinite verbs.
The other types of verbs include causative verb, catenative verb, compound verb, dynamic verb, and primary verb. But presented here are action verb, helping verb, main verb, and lexical verb.
An action verb expresses the physical or mental action of the subject of a sentence.
- An action verb is used for an action that has happened, or is still taking place at the time of speaking, or is done habitually.
- He cycled to the shopping mall.
- He is cycling to the shopping mall.
- He cycles to work.
- John read the newspaper.
- John has read the newspaper.
- The Queen will meet the President.
- The Queen will be meeting the President.
- My father owns that building.
Not: My father is owning that building.
- That book belongs to me.
Not: That book is belonging to me.
The main (action) verbs in a sentence, on their own, cannot adequately express the intended meaning with regards to the time at which an action happens. They need the helping verbs, also called auxiliary verbs to convey more precise meaning. As the name indicates, helping verbs help the main verbs by specifying whether an action happened in the past (past tense), is in progress (continuous tense) or has completed (perfect tense). Helping verbs are not used on their own as action verbs as they do not make sense. Helping verbs are known as modal verbs when they help to express possibility, probability, necessity, obligation, etc that is not expressed by the main verb.
There are altogether 23 helping verbs: am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, have, has, had, do, does, and did, and the modal helping verbs: can, could, may, might, will, would, shall, should and must.
Helping verbs precede main verb to form tenses.
- He went to the dentist. (Main verb: went)
- He is going to the dentist. (Present continuous tense: is going)
- He has gone to the dentist. (Present perfect tense: has gone)
Helping verbs include modal verbs or modal helping verbs. Modal helping verbs help to express an idea such as ability, necessity, obligation, permission, possibility, probability, suggestion.
- Can you lend me your car? (Permission)
- He could be telling the truth. (Possibility)
- You might like to try one of these. It’s juicy. (Suggestion)
- I must try to give up smoking. (Necessity/Obligation)
A main verb does not always need a helping verb to form a verb phrase. It can stand alone in a complete sentence. However, the helping verb is needed if the main verb ends in –ing. The main verb always follows the helping verb.
- She smiles at me.
(Without helping verb)
- The sun rises in the East.
(Without helping verb)
- She is smiling at me.
(Main verb smiling ends in -ing, so helping verb is must be used.)
- The dogs were chasing him down the street.
(Main verb chasing ends in -ing; helping verb were is used.)
Helping verbs (in bold) are used in questions and negative sentences.
- Have you seen him lately?
(Have is the helping word used to ask the question.)
- Do you have to leave now?
(Do is the helping word used to ask the question.)
Main verbs also called lexical verbs are those verbs that can stand alone without the help of another verb to complete a sentence. A main verb expresses the action or state of being of the subject. When expressing an action, a main verb is an action verb. When it expresses the subject’s state of being, it takes a different name of linking verb. Every sentence must have a main verb, without which a sentence is incomplete and thus, meaningless. Most verbs are main verbs and any verb in a sentence that is not an auxiliary verb is a main verb .The main verb can be in the present or past tense forms.
Main verbs can be used with a helping verb, also called auxiliary verb to show when an action happens, such as is happening continuously in the present (am eating). The word am is a linking verb joining the main verb eating to the subject. In the verb phrase have taken, have is the linking verb helping the main verb taken to show the present perfect tense. Without a linking verb such as I painted the wheelbarrow, the main verb painted indicates an action that is completed, perhaps not too long ago. However, to express the action that happened much earlier, the right linking verb can be used: I had painted wheelbarrow. The linking verb had is added to show the past perfect tense.
The main verb can be a linking verb that links what follows it to the subject. Examples will clarify this.
- The mask is ugly.
(The linking verb is acts as the main verb, which is not an action verb, to express the state of being ugly of the subject mask.)
- Jef was a janitor at the local hospital.
(The main verb is the linking verb was. It links the subject Jef to its complement janitor.)
- Jan and Jen are sisters in a nearby convent.
- They were old army buddies of mine.
- She has skill as a science-fiction writer.
Use of action verb as main verb
- He might have been seeing her secretly.
- We are going to dine at the new restaurant this evening.
- As a young single mum, she found it difficult bringing up her twin daughters.
Conjugation of main verb
Main verbs can be transitive verbs which have direct objects, or intransitive verbs which take no direct object. The main verb changes in form (conjugates) to agree with the subject in number (singular and plural), person (first person, second person, third person) and tense.
Main verb used with auxiliary verb
Main verbs are used with the auxiliary verbs in questions, negative statements, tenses, and passive sentences.
- When are you coming again? (Auxiliary and main verbs)
- Have you been there before? (Auxiliary and main verbs)
- You have not (haven't) paid your share of the bill.
- She is not (isn't) going to reply to his letter.
- Police have been investigating the complaints. (Present perfect tense)
- They were sailing along the coast when it happened. (Past continuous tense)
- He was stung by a bee.
- The detainees have been tortured.
Lexical verbs are a classification of verbs, also called full or main verbs, that include all verbs except auxiliary verbs. In other words, a lexical verb can be any verb, which is not an auxiliary verb. It is used as the main verb in the sentence to show an action or a state of being of the subject. A verb phrase in a sentence begins with a lexical verb.
A lexical verb can be used on its own in the sentence without the need of an auxiliary verb. An auxiliary verb however is used as a helping verb for a lexical verb to make sense of a sentence. It comes before he lexical verb.
Examples of sentences using lexical verbs:
- She smiles. / She laughed.
(Subjects and lexical verbs in simple tenses.)
- He dove into the swimming pool.
(The lexical verb dove shows what the subject he did. It introduces the phrase: dove into the swimming pool.)
- I have eaten. / We had met.
(Lexical verbs used with auxiliary verbs: have, had.)
- The dog was barking. / The children were playing.
(Lexical verbs used with auxiliary verbs: was, were.)
Without a lexical verb, a sentence will not be complete nor have any meaning.
- No: The girls will together.
(This sentence is not complete and does not make sense as it has an auxiliary verb but no lexical verb.)
- Yes: The girls will sing together.
(This sentence is complete and makes sense as it has an auxiliary verb and a lexical verb.)
There are four types of lexical verbs: transitive and intransitive, linking, dynamic and stative, and regular and irregular.