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English Parts of Speech: Verbs August 31, 2006

Posted by LearningNerd in English, Grammar, Language.

Series index: English Parts of Speech Overview


Verbs express actions and states of existence, like “I eat” and “I am hungry.” Know Your Verb Tenses offers grammatical information about any verb.


English verbs have only a few basic forms:

  • Infinitivewrite
  • Singular third personwrites
  • Preterite (simple past tense)wrote
  • Present participlewriting
  • Past participlewritten

They can be categorized based on their conjugations:

Verb Agreement: Number and Person

In English, a verb must agree with the number and person of its subject: I write, you write, he/she/it writes, we write, you (y’all) write, they write. See Making Subjects and Verbs Agree for basic guidelines. These conjugated verbs, called finite verbs, are required to form a complete sentence; on the other hand, non-finite verbs can’t function as verbs without helping verbs (see Types of Verbs below).

Tense and Aspect

English has three distinct tenses (past, present, and future) and three distinct aspects (simple, perfect, and progressive). Whereas tense distinguishes between I write (present) and I wrote (past), aspect distinguishes between I write (present simple) and I am writing (present progressive). Traditional grammar generally uses the term “tense” for both — in fact, I had never heard of verb aspect until today.

Here’s a list of each tense and aspect in English:

  • Past (simple)I wrote
  • Past progressiveI was writing
  • Past perfectI had written
  • Past perfect progressiveI had been writing
  • Present (simple)I write
  • Present progressiveI am writing
  • Present perfectI have written
  • Present perfect progressiveI have been writing
  • Future (simple)I will write
  • Future progressiveI will be writing
  • Future perfectI will have written
  • Future perfect progressiveI will have been writing

Using Verb Tenses gives a complete overview of each tense and aspect with many examples. If you’re interested in linguistics, read Rick Harrison’s detailed article on Verb Aspect (definitely not light reading).


Verbs are either in the active voice (I threw the ball) or the passive voice (The ball was thrown). Read this article on Active and Passive Voice if you need to brush up a bit.


English has three (arguably four) moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive — some also include the conditional mood.

Types of Verbs

Linguists categorize other types of verbs based on their meaning and usage.

  • Modal Verbsmay, can, must, would, etc. Modal verbs are types of auxiliary verbs.
  • Compound Verbsdownsize, out-fox, sidestep, etc. Note: not to be confused with verb groups, which are also sometimes called compound verbs.

Some other types of verbs exist, but they aren’t particularly important unless you’re a linguist. If you are, see Wikipedia Category: Verb Types for more.

Verb Quizzes


1. Johanna - November 27, 2006

i am from argentina and your page is really usefull
thank you very much!

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