Skip to main content
Select Source:

VERB

VERB A class of WORDS that serve to indicate the occurrence or performance of an action, or the existence of a state or condition: in English, such words (given here in the infinitive with to) as to climb, to cultivate, to descend, to fish, to laugh, to realize, to walk. Although many verbs in English have the same base form as nouns (climb, fish, hound, love, walk), they are morphologically and syntactically a distinct word class and one of the traditional parts of speech. There are two main types: full verb, AUXILIARY VERB. In terms of form, full verbs divide into REGULAR and IRREGULAR VERBS. Auxiliaries may be further divided into primary auxiliaries (be, have, do) and modal auxiliaries or modal verbs (may, can, will, shall, must, ought to, need, dare).

The morphology of regular verbs

Regular verbs have four forms used in the verb phrase: (1) The base form, for example walk, used for the PRESENT tense with all persons (except third-person singular) as subjects, for the IMPERATIVE, and (usually with to) for the INFINITIVE. (2) The -s form walks, used for the present tense with third-person singular subjects. (3) The -ing form, that is, the present or -ing PARTICIPLE, walking. (4) The -ed form, for both PAST tense and the past or -ed participle, walked. There are some spelling conventions associated with these forms, especially: (1) The doubling of the final consonants before -ing and -ed after a stressed syllable (beg/begging/begged) and, in BrE, of final -l and some other final consonants (travel/travelling/travelled, worship/worshipping/worshipped). (2) The dropping of final -e before -ing and -ed (like/liking/liked), except for the -ing forms of dye (dyeing), hoe (hoeing), some verbs ending in -nge (singeing), and optionally in ag(e)ing. (3) The addition of e before -s after sibilant consonants (pass/passes) and final -o (go/goes). (4) The change of -y to -ie before -s and to -i before -ed (carries/carried). The -s form is usually pronounced /z/ after sibilants (miss/misses) and voiced sounds (tab/tabs), and /s/ after all other voiceless sounds (fit/fits). The -ing form usually has its spelling pronunciation, but is also widely pronounced as if it were -in (sometimes shown with an apostrophe, as in huntin', shootin', and fishin'). The -ed form is pronounced as /ɪd/ or /əd/ after d and t (pat/patted), as /d/ after all other voiced sounds (save/saved), and as /t/ after all other voiceless sounds (pack/packed).

The morphology of irregular verbs

The -s forms and -ing forms are regular except that the -s form of say is usually pronounced ‘sez’. Many irregular verbs distinguish the past tense and participle (take/took/taken), but others do not distinguish one (come/came/come) or both (hit/hit/hit) from the base form. Many have a vowel change in either or both of the past tense or participle (swim/swam/swum), and may have an -n or -en ending for the past participle (broken, driven, shaken). There are seven main classes: (1) The past tense and participle are identical, but either the suffix is optionally devoiced and spelt with -t (as in burn/burnt: burned) or a final -d is changed to -t (as in send/sent). Make/made is idiosyncratic, but may be included here as it does not distinguish the two forms. (2) The past tense and participle are identical, the suffix usually devoiced, a vowel change occurring in the spoken form though not always shown in the spelling (as in keep/kept, mean/meant, sell/sold), but in BrE the forms dreamt, leant, leapt often occur, whereas in AmE only dreamed, leaned, leaped occur. Some forms are even more irregular with loss of final consonants (teach/taught). (3) The past participle has an -(e)n suffix (show/showed/shown) and in a few cases a vowel change (shear/sheared/shorn). (4) There are both an -(e)n suffix for the past participle and vowel changes of many kinds in either or both forms (steal/stole/stolen, grow/grew/grown, bite/bit/bitten). (5) Both forms are identical with the base form (hit/hit/hit). (6) There is a vowel change (not always shown in the spelling), no suffix, and the two forms are identical, but always pronounced and usually written differently from the base (feed/fed/fed, read/read/ read, dig/dug/dug, shoot/shot/shot). (7) There is vowel change, no suffix, and the two forms are different (sing/sang/sung). With a small number of verbs, the past participle is the same as the base form (come/came/come). See panel at IRREGULAR VERB.

The morphology of auxiliaries

Be, have, and do function not only as auxiliaries, but also as full verbs. The only morphological difference is that, except for be, the auxiliaries do not have the full range of non-finite forms (the infinitive and the participles). Be has eight different forms: in the present tense, am with first-person singular subjects; in the present tense, is with third-person singular subjects; in the present tense, are with the other pronouns; in the past tense, was with singular subjects; in the past tense, were with plural subjects and also with you when used in the singular; a present participle being; a past participle been; be itself, used as the infinitive and imperative. Have has an irregular -s form, has, and a past-tense had; the past participle had occurs only as a form of the full verb. Do has an irregular -s form in speech only (does), a past-tense form did, and a past participle done, but only the finite forms occur as auxiliaries. The present participles being, having, and doing are regular.

The modal auxiliaries have only one present-tense form, the base form (there is no -s form). Only may, can, will, shall have past-tense forms might, could, would, should, though these are not regularly used for the expression of past time: see MODAL VERB. Many of the auxiliaries have contracted forms: 'm (am), 's (is or has), 're (are), 'd (had or would), 'll (will). These are reflected in speech by ‘weak’ forms, but there are other weak forms not shown in the spelling, such as /wəz/ for was. Except for am and (usually) may, there is a full set of written contracted negative forms: isn't, aren't, wasn't, weren't, can't, couldn't, mightn't, won't, wouldn't, shan't, shouldn't, mustn't, oughtn't, needn't, daren't. These reflect speech, but not all the changes from the spoken forms are fully indicated by the spelling (for example, the omission of t in mustn't); especially in the English of England and of South Africa, the distinctive vowel of can't; the nasalized vowel and no /n/ in AmE can't.

The syntax and semantics of auxiliaries

The primary auxiliaries be and have mark aspect, phase, and voice (see TENSE) and the modal auxiliaries function in the modal system. A striking feature of the auxiliaries, which can be used as a criterion for recognizing them, is that there are four environments in which they alone of English verbs can occur: (1) Negation: He isn't coming, He can't come, but not *He comesn't or in contemporary English *He comes not. (2) Inversion of the subject: Is he coming?, Can he come? but not in contemporary English *Comes he? (3) In reduced clauses: Yes, he is and Yes, he can as replies, but not normally Yes, he comes as a reply to such a question as Is he coming? (4) Emphatic affirmation: He IS coming, He CAN come as confirmation of doubting questions or remarks. Where an auxiliary verb is not required by the semantics (to mark aspect, voice or modality), do is used, functioning as an ‘empty verb’: He doesn't/didn't come, Does/did he come?, Yes he DOES/DID, He DOES/DID come. However, be and have, even when used as full verbs, occur in these four environments without do: He isn't very happy, Have you any money?—Yes, I HAVE, He IS very unhappy, though have is also used with do, especially in AmE: Do you have/Have you got any money?—No, I don't have any money, Do you have any money?—Yes, I do/I DO have some money.

Active and passive

The PASSIVE is formed with be plus the past participle and involves placing the OBJECT of the active sentence in SUBJECT position and putting the subject after the verb, preceded by by (John saw Mary becoming Mary was seen by John). The function of the passive is to bring the object of the active sentence into focus, and not merely to remove the subject from focus, but frequently to omit it altogether, especially if it is unimportant or unknown. Constructions of the latter type are AGENTLESS PASSIVES: Mary was seen. The meaning is otherwise unchanged. With a small number of verbs it is the traditional indirect object that is placed in subject position (The boy was given a book by the teacher), but it can be argued that this is an interpretation derived from Latin. The corresponding active sentence is The teacher gave the boy a book, in which there is no formal evidence that the boy is an indirect rather than a direct object. Some prepositional objects are also placed in subject position: The woman looked after the old man becomes The old man was looked after by the woman; No one has slept in the bed becomes The bed's not been slept in. Here, look after and sleep in are treated as if they were single-word verbs. A few verbs appear not to be used in the passive, such as resemble, have, hold (in the sense of ‘contain’), and marry (in the sense of ‘wed’: Mary was married by John is only possible if John is a priest or official and not the husband).

See ADVERB, ADVERBIAL, ASPECT, BARE INFINITIVE, CAUSATIVE VERB, CONCORD, COPULA, DECLARATIVE, FINITE VERB, FUTURE, GERUND, GRAMMAR, HELPING VERB, INDICATIVE, INTERROGATIVE, MODALITY, MOOD, NEGATION, NUMBER 2, PART OF SPEECH, PASSIVIZATION, PERFECT, PERFORMATIVE VERB, PERSON, PHRASAL VERB, PHRASE, PLUPERFECT, PREPOSITIONAL VERB, PRETERITE, PROGRESSIVE, REFLEXIVE, SENTENCE, SPLIT INFINITIVE, STATIVE VERB, STRONG VERB, SUBJUNCTIVE, TRANSITIVE AND INTRANSITIVE, VOICE, WEAK VERB.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"VERB." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"VERB." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/verb

"VERB." Concise Oxford Companion to the English Language. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/verb

verb

verb,part of speech typically used to indicate an action. English verbs are inflected for person, number, tense and partially for mood; compound verbs formed with auxiliaries (e.g., be, can, have, do, will) provide a distinction of voice. Some English verblike forms have properties of two parts of speech (e.g., participles may be used as adjectives and gerunds as nouns). Verbs are also classified as transitive (requiring a direct object) or intransitive. In Latin verb inflection, voice and mood are indicated in every form. Most languages have a form class resembling that of English verbs. In many of them, unlike English, these words may form complete sentences, e.g., in Spanish, "I am singing" is expressed by the single word canto. Some languages (e.g., Turkish) can convey a great deal of information through modifications of form in the verb stem and ending, without the aid of auxiliary forms. A single word, for example, can indicate reciprocity, reflexivity, necessity, time, infinitive, number, person, and voice, as well as negative, causative, imperative, and intensive meanings.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"verb." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"verb." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/verb

"verb." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/verb

verb

verb Linguistic category (part of speech) found in all languages, consisting of words typically denoting an action, an event or a state (for example, in English, to run, to snow, to depend). Typical verbs are associated with one or more ‘arguments’, such as subject and direct object. In English, verbs may be intransitive or transitive; intransitives have one argument (she sneezed), and transitives two or (rarely) more (she played snooker, she taught him Russian). Verbs may carry grammatical information, including: person (as grammatical agreement with the subject); tense (relating to when the verb took place); aspect (whether what is meant is complete or incomplete at some reference time); number (whether any of the arguments are singular or plural); and voice (which argument serves as subject). In other languages, verbs may encode different information. A list of all forms of a verb is called its paradigm, and this may be regular (predictable by a rule) or irregular. The most irregular verbs in a language are often those in most frequent use and with the most general meaning.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"verb." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"verb." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/verb

"verb." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/verb

verb

verb XIV. — (O)F. verbe or L. verbum word.
So verbal dealing with words XV; consisting of words, oral XVI; pert. to a verb; concerned with words only XVII. — (O)F. verbal or late L. verbālis; see -AL1. verbatim word by word. XV. — medL. verbiage excessive accumulation of words XVIII; wording XIX. — F., f. †verbeier chatter. verbose XVII. — L. verbōsus. verbosity XVI. — L.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"verb." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"verb." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/verb-2

"verb." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/verb-2

verb

verb / vərb/ • n. Gram. a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hear, become, happen. DERIVATIVES: verb·less adj.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"verb." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"verb." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/verb-1

"verb." The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/verb-1

verb

verbacerb, blurb, curb, disturb, herb, kerb, perturb, Serb, superb, verb •suburb • potherb • willowherb •exurb • adverb • proverb

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"verb." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. 19 Nov. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"verb." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 19, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/verb-0

"verb." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . Retrieved November 19, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/verb-0