Types of Verbs: Examples, Uses, and More!
Verbs are the cornerstone of any sentence and are a critical part of speech. There can’t be a sentence or a clause without a verb because there would be no action! Verbs describe what we are doing, thinking, and feeling — they express action or state of being.
There are many grammatical rules for using verbs, and they can get quite confusing, even for English majors and writers. When you understand the basic types of verbs and how they work in sentences, you can improve your verbal and written communication.
Poised talks more about verbs and answers a few common questions below:
3 Types of Verbs and How To Use Them
There are many different types of verbs to consider for communicating with more impact.
Here are a few examples of verbs and how to use them:
1. How To Use Action Verbs
Action verbs describe what a subject does, and using the right action verbs in virtual meetings or in written communication can bring clarity and conciseness to your sentences and ideas. With that said, it's critical to use the correct verb for each part of a sentence or phrase because it can otherwise confuse your audience.
You can add punch to your speech and writing by using action verbs in place of weaker verbs. Some verbs (e.g., “think,” “do,” “show,” etc.) are clear but often flat and overused. For example, you can make the sentence “James showed his life’s work” more interesting simply by replacing “showed” with “revealed.”
A well-executed action verb can instantly boost your reputation as a communicator. Action verbs can also replace the passive voice, and even when you must use the passive voice, these verbs can make your sentences and phrases more engaging.
Try implementing more action verbs specific to your industry and the skill sets involved in your next meeting or business email. Researching different action verbs related to your job's required skills and disciplines can boost your communication skills with your colleagues and industry leaders. For instance, if you’re touching up your resume, it’s crucial to adjust the content to read in the active voice as much as possible.
2. How To Use Helping Verbs
Helping verbs add to the primary or “main verb” of a sentence or clause to form a verb phrase. These verbs are also known as auxiliary verbs or modal verbs. A helping verb can also be referred to as a verb marker since it signals the following verb.
It's easy to find a sentence's verb if it includes one primary verb in the simple present tense. All you have to do is identify the action word, as in:
Betty runs away.
Since “runs” is the physical action Betty performs, it's the primary verb. However, if you wanted to communicate Betty's action in a different tense, you would need an additional verb. Describing Betty's activity in the present progressive tense (suggesting she's currently doing the action) would read:
Betty is running away.
In this example, the helping verb (is) shows the tense of the action, essentially describing the primary verb in more detail. Helping verbs can add context and clarity to a sentence or phrase, helping your audience to better understand your meaning and stay engaged as you speak.
3. How To Use Linking Verbs
A linking verb (also known as a “state of being verb”) connects a sentence's subject with a subject complement. Subject complements are usually adjectives, adjective phrases, predicate nouns, noun phrases, or adverbs that further describe the subject noun.
Linking verbs help to solidify relationships between the subject and subject complements by defining the subject nouns more clearly. To identify a linking verb, assess whether the word or phrase after the linking verb further identifies the subject of the sentence.
One of the most common ways to use a linking verb is via a form of "to be,” such as:
"Seem" and "become" are common linking verbs as well. Communicators also use linking verbs to evoke the five senses because they can effectively link a sentence's subject to an identifier or descriptor for more information about the subject.
Here are a few examples with a linking verb:
- Johnny is the company’s top salesperson.
- I am ready for the next chapter.
- The suspects were taciturn during interviews.
- The coffee tastes bitter.
- That doesn’t seem fair.
FAQs About Verbs
Each of us uses verbs in daily conversation, but understanding the complexities of verbs and how they are used in the English language is a different story.
Here are a couple of the most common questions about verbs:
What Is a Transitive Verb?
Transitive verbs are the most common types used in everyday speech. A transitive verb clarifies a sentence by linking the sentence's subject, the subject's action, and the object receiving the action. This type of verb cannot stand alone as a sentence's predicate.
Here is a simple formula for understanding the role of a transitive verb:
Subject + transitive verb + direct object
A transitive verb is always an action attached to a direct object.
Let’s look at an example sentence and identify the role of its transitive verb:
Monica threw the disc.
In this sentence, Monica is the subject and the only noun that occurs before the predicate. Now, find the action the subject (Monica) is taking. Threw is the action, but since threw cannot stand as the predicate, we need a direct object to tell us what Monica threw. That brings us to the noun phrase the disc, which is the direct object — the thing that Monica threw.
When a sentence contains a direct object, it's clear what the transitive verb is.
This is the formula above applied to the example sentence:
Monica (subject) + threw (transitive verb) + the disc (direct object).
What Is an Intransitive Verb?
For a transitive verb to fully describe a subject's action, it must have an object. On the other hand, an intransitive verb does not require an object to justify the action being performed by the subject. With that said, some verbs can perform as both transitive and intransitive verbs.
Consider the following sentence:
The man drank.
Your first question might be, the man drank what? Without an object, we can’t make complete sense of the sentence. This would be a proper use of the transitive verb:
The man drank the coffee.
Intransitive verbs do not demand an object. Consider this sentence:
The woman was sleeping.
The intransitive verb here is “is sleeping,” and the sentence makes complete sense without an object. It’s worth noting that a sentence with a transitive verb can be converted to the passive voice, while a sentence using an intransitive verb cannot.
Moreover, intransitive verbs are always followed by a complement or an adjunct, while transitive verbs always precede a direct or indirect object.
Is Passive Voice Good or Bad?
The answer to this question is it depends.
The passive voice not only makes sentences longer than necessary but also hides the identity of the subject of a sentence. Sometimes, it's necessary and preferable to use the passive voice. However, in some industries and writing styles, the active voice is the better option.
Using the active voice allows you to take responsibility for your actions; it makes your message clearer and stronger, whether you’re speaking or writing. Essentially, most strong sentences center around the subject doing something. The passive voice alters that subject-verb relationship and often weakens the sentence.
With that said, there are times when the passive voice is necessary if not required.
Like when you want to shift the focus of a sentence to something other than the subject, as in:
Five customers died during the robbery.
In this case, perhaps the writer wanted to acknowledge the people who were killed instead of the criminal(s). Or maybe the writer has yet to learn who committed the crime. Writing in the passive voice sometimes allows you to sound more diplomatic and empathetic.
It can also help you describe a situation where the “doer” of the action is irrelevant, such as:
The guitar shop is equipped with state-of-the-art CNC machines.
The point of this sentence is to describe how the workers at the guitar shop use modern technology, not to highlight the person or entity that bought or installed the machines.
Using the passive voice is sometimes appropriate and should not be avoided on all fronts. However, your business speech and writing will be stronger, clearer, and more concise if you minimize passive language and use active language as much as possible.
What Are Direct and Indirect Objects?
There are three types of objects in English grammar: direct object, indirect object, and object of a preposition. Direct and indirect objects are the most likely to be confused with one another. As with most other grammatical structures, distinguishing between direct and indirect objects can be complex.
In most cases, these two simple points will help you identify which type of object you’re seeing:
- Direct Object: A direct object is the only object in a sentence. The noun or pronoun following the verb tells you who or what is responsible for the action. Example: “He is sewing a backpack.”
- Indirect Object: Indirect objects are only in sentences with one or more other objects. An indirect object benefits from the action of the verb and comes before the direct object. Example: “Brittany gave them the books.”
Take Your Communication Up a Notch
Understanding verbs on a deeper (and broader) level will help you communicate with more impact in the workplace and in your personal life.
If you really want to sharpen your communication during virtual meetings, look to Poised. The AI-powered communication coach provides real-time feedback and analyzes long-term trends. Poised can help you speak confidently with more active language — and no one else will know you’re using it!
Strong Action Verbs | University of Texas at Austin
Complements in English Grammar | ThoughtCo.
Passive Voice | UNC Writer Center
Definition and Examples of Helping Verbs in English | ThoughtCo.