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1 Verbs: Chapter Preview

Inside this Chapter

Begin here to navigate through each section.

  1. Your Writing: Recounting a Recent Incident or Story
  2. Doing and Being Verbs
  3. Single-Word Verbs and Verb Strings
  4. Split Verbs
  5. Time (Tense)
  6. A Verb's Four Forms
  7. Irregular Verbs
  8. Non-Verb Forms
  9. Combining Sentences by Compounding Verbs
  10. Review & Practice
  11. Fun With Grammar: Pattern Puzzle
  12. Return to Your Writing || Mastery Test on Verbs
A sentence contains two essential parts, a verb and a subject. Recognizing the verb is the key to analyzing a sentence. Further, knowing how verbs work allows you to make intelligent choices among verb forms as you write.

In Chapter 2, you will learn that:

  • verbs usually begin the section of a sentence that tells what something is doing or being. (Fabian TALKS to himself. He IS often alone in the car.)
  • verbs can be combinations of a main verb plus one or more auxiliaries. (I COULD UNDERSTAND only a little of the speech.)
  • verbs split apart in a question or negative statement. (CAN you HEAR me now? The window SHOULD not BE open.)
  • verbs give clues about the time of an event. (Yesterday he RAN down the street. Today he IS RUNNING on the grass.)
  • verbs can appear in four different forms: base, simple past, present participle, and past participle.
  • irregular verbs do not follow the usual pattern in the four forms.
  • sentences can be combined by compounding their verbs.


Think about a TV show you saw, a story you read, or an incident at school in the past week. Remember what happened, who did what, and why. Try to recall what was interesting or funny or exciting. On scrap paper, jot notes and freewrite about what happened in the show, story, or incident. (Click HERE for a review of the technique of freewriting.)

Arrange your ideas into the first few sentences of a paragraph describing the events as they happened in the past. For example, your paragraph might start like this:
In history class yesterday, I got mad. The videotape we were watching irritated me because the narrator kept trying to force his opinion down our throats. . .

Now change the time of your sentences. Tell the story as if it were happening right now. Find the words which place the events in the past and change them to words which place the events in the present. The example sentences above would look like this (notice the underlined changes):

In history class today, I'm getting mad. The videotape we are watching irritates me because the narrator keeps trying to force his opinion down our throats. . .

Most of the words you change will be verbs.

If your teacher or study group would like you to develop this exercise into a longer narrative paragraph, decide whether to use the present or the past time and stick with that time throughout. Revise the paragraph double-spaced on a word processor or on your class bulletin board.


A verb usually begins the section of a sentence which tells what someone or something is doing or being.
Someone or Something: Doing: Finally Sir Edmund HilaryARRIVED at the peak of Mt. Everest. CloudsWERE ROLLING far below. HeBREATHED carefully through his mask. His oxygen supplyWAS RUNNING low. Being: HilaryHAD BECOME the first foreign conqueror of
the mountain. ThisWAS a great moment for international
exploration. However, for Tenzing Norkay,
the Sherpa guide, itWAS simply another trip up the ancient
and holy slopes.

The words in SMALL CAPS are the verbs of the sentences above.

Application 1

Application 2

TIP FOR FINDING VERBS: Look at the first few words in the doing or being part of the sentence.


A verb may be just one word:
The moon's cycle, not the sun's, GOVERNS the tides. Therefore, low tide COMES at a later time each day.
Often, however, a verb is a string of words made of a main verb with one or more auxiliaries in front of it.
The tide WAS CHANGING at 10:30 yesterday morning. It SHOULD BE TURNING today at about 11:10 A.M. We probably COULD HAVE WAITED until noon for our fishing trip.
The main verb identifies the event which the sentence is reporting. The auxiliaries tell more about the time or conditions of the event, and they always come before the main verb. The verb string is the combination of auxiliaries and main verb acting together to play the role of verb in a sentence. In the following exercises, the verbs will be analyzed and marked like this:
single-word verb = SV
main verb = MV
auxiliary = X
Verbs in the simple present or simple past tense consist of just one word.

Verbs that emphasize the continuation of an event include some form of to be as an auxiliary (am, is, are, was, were, being).

Verbs that emphasize the completion of an event include some form of to have as an auxiliary (have, has, had).

Verbs that express a future event include the auxiliary will or shall.

Verbs may include several other auxiliaries to express shadings of time or condition. These additional auxiliaries are: do, does, did, can, could, should, would, may, might, must.

Application 3

The following words may be used as auxiliaries within verb strings:

The words in the blue-shaded area of the above chart may sometimes act as single-word verbs:

I AM your brother. You HAVE the same kind of eyes as I DO.
The rest of the auxiliaries in the chart work only in verb strings:
Everyone WILL BE happy. They MUST HAVE BEEN EXPECTING something.

Learn the auxiliaries in the chart. They will help you to find verb strings.

Application 4

Many auxiliaries can shrink into shorter forms called contractions.
I'M LOOKING forward to this evening with Arny's boss. After supper we'LL WATCH the game unless she'D PREFER to play cards.
Here are some common contractions. Click
HERE for a printable one-page duplicate of this chart.
AuxiliaryShort form Example of Contraction am 'm I am = I'm are 're you are = you're is or has 's Emma is = Emma's have 've they have = they've had or would 'd we would =we'd will or shall 'll he will = he'll
Notice that the apostrophe (') replaces missing letters.

Application 5


Questions and negative statements split verbs into two parts.
In a question, the subject splits the verb apart.

Some of the union members ARE VOTING for the strike
ARE some of the union members VOTING for the strike?
In a negative statement, the word not splits the verb.
Some of the union members ARE not VOTING for the strike.
Sometimes the word not contracts and attaches itself to the first part of the split verb:
Some of the union members AREn't VOTING for the strike.
TIP for finding verbs: Look for auxiliaries. If you find one, look for a main verb accompanying it. Remember that auxiliaries are sometimes squeezed into contractions.

Application 6

When you turned the sentences of Application 6 into questions or negative statements, you split the verbs between the first auxiliary and the rest of the verb string. But what happens when the verb is a single word? You have to change a single-word verb to a verb string before you can split it. For this purpose, add the auxiliary do, does, or did. Then split the string to make the question or negative statement:
Those people TRAIN tigers. -- Those people DO TRAIN tigers.
Question: DO those people TRAIN tigers?
Negative: Those people DO not TRAIN tigers.

Sandra TRAINS tigers. -- Sandra DOES TRAIN tigers.
Question: DOES Sandra TRAIN tigers?
Negative: Sandra DOES not TRAIN tigers.

Sandra TRAINED tigers several years ago. -- Sandra DID TRAIN tigers several years ago.
Question: DID Sandra TRAIN tigers several years ago?
Negative: Sandra DID not TRAIN tigers several years ago.

Notice that if the single-word verb ends in -s or -ed, it drops that ending as it enters the verb string, allowing the auxiliary to show the time clues. Chapters 9 and 10 explain this shift. For now, practice adding do, does, or did and then splitting the new verb string.

Application 7

TIP for finding verbs: Turn each sentence into a negative statement. The word not will come before the main verb and after any auxiliaries. (When a form of the verb to be stands alone as a single-word verb, it is an exception; it will come right before the word not.)

The verb to be often behaves differently from other verbs. When a form of to be stands alone as a single word verb, it doesn't need to split to form a question or a negative statement. It simply moves to the beginning for a question, or adds not for a negative statement:

Dinosaurs WERE warm-blooded. WERE dinosaurs warm-blooded?

Their bones ARE like birds' bones. Their bones ARE not like birds' bones.

Application 8


A verb gives clues about the time of an event.
When Ricardo WAS MAKING flan, he USED a couple of the eggs that we HAD BROUGHT from the farm. There IS only one left, and we HAVE FINISHED all the other food in the house, so we WILL HAVE a very small supper.
The verbs in the sentences above can be spread out on a time line like this:

Application 9

A verb usually changes to show time differences.
Channice IS WORKING on the same paper she WORKED on last week. She WORKS on it a little bit every day.

Application 10

TIP: The words in CAPS in Application 10 are the verbs of the sentences. They show the time changes built into the verb to sing. Notice that the verb is sometimes a single word and sometimes a verb string. These forms showing different times are often called tenses.

Application 11


Verbs show up in four forms: base, simple past, present participle, and past participle.

Before we define each form, study these examples. Copy this page and print it out (click
HERE for a one-page duplicate of this chart) so that you can fill in the blanks in the last half of the chart, following the pattern of the first half.

Name of verbBase formPast formPresent participlePast participle to watchI can WATCH.
to waitI can WAIT.
to tryI can TRY.
to laughI can LAUGH.
to yellI can YELL.
I YELL. I ___________. I am YELLING. I have ___________.
to danceI can ___________.
I ____________ . I DANCED. I am ___________. I have DANCED.
to winkI can WINK.
I WINK. I WINKED. I am ___________. I have ___________.
to stopI can STOP.
I _________ . I __________. I am STOPPING. I have STOPPED.

Study the chart again. Which forms can stand alone as single-word verbs? Which ones act as main verbs in verb strings? Draw your own conclusions before going on to the explanations of each form below.

The base form comes directly from the name of the verb.

to watch -- WATCH
to wait -- WAIT
The base form can combine in a string with any of these auxiliaries:

TIP for finding verbs:Change the time of each sentence. Look carefully at the words which change form. Many of them will be verbs.

Application 12

Used without any auxiliary, the base form expresses present or recurring time. This way of expressing time is called the simple present tense.
Under warm air, water EVAPORATES faster than under cold air.
The minerals in the water REMAIN behind, so south sea waters CONTAIN a higher concentration of salt than northern seas DO.
Notice that in some cases, the base form adds an -s.
Chapter 11 explains how this -s ending works.

Application 13

The simple past form is usually the base form + -ed:

watch -- WATCHED
wait -- WAITED
It works without any auxiliary, expressing past time. This way of expressing time is called the simple past tense.
The spider webs COLLECTED dew and SPARKLED when the wind moved them. The light GREW on them slowly, and no animal DISTURBED them.
Notice that one simple past verb above (grew) does not end in -ed. We'll examine the exceptions to the -ed ending rule when we study irregular verbs later in this chapter.
Chapter 10 also explains more about how the -ed ending works.

Application 14

The present participle is always the base form + -ing.
watch -- WATCHING
wait -- WAITING
It combines with a form of the auxiliary to be (am, are, is, was, were, being, been, be) in a verb string that expresses a continuing action.
Two storm systems ARE CONVERGING on the island. This morning schoolteachers WERE BRINGING blankets to the shelter. The trucks WILL BE ARRIVING soon for emergency assignments.

Application 15

The past participle usually looks the same as the simple past form.
I watched. I have WATCHED.
I waited. I have WAITED.
It can combine with a form of the auxiliary to have (have, has, had) to express a completed action.
Marty HAS COOKED me dinner twice since Saturday. When he HAD FINISHED last night's clean-up, he joked that by the time my leg HAS HEALED, he WILL HAVE WEANED me from junk food entirely.

Application 16

A past participle can also combine with a form of to be to express the passive voice, a sentence structure in which the subject isn't performing the action of the sentence.
The tree WAS DAMAGED by the wind.
Our house WAS not HARMED, though.
The subjects above are are tree and house, and neither the tree nor the house is doing anything. Both are simply sitting there passively, having something done to them. Notice how a past participle and a form of the auxiliary to be (am, are, is, was, were, being, been, be) combine to form a verb string in each sentence below.
The umpire's call WAS DROWNED out by the clamor of the fans.
The camera crew IS AMAZED by the enthusiasm.
This play WILL BE REMEMBERED for years.

Application 17


Many English verbs are irregular: their simple past and past participle forms are unpredictable.

The verbs you've been working with in Applications 12 through 17 have been regular verbs which move through their four forms in a regular way, adding either -ed or -ing to the base. But irregular verbs break that pattern. Although their present participles always end in the usual -ing, you can't count on the -ed endings for the simple past and past participle forms.

The verb to be is the most irregular of all.

You ARE patient with me when I AM in trouble. Many times I HAVE BEEN glad that you WERE nearby.
This verb, whether it acts as an auxiliary, a main verb, or a single-word verb, appears in more forms than any other verb. Here are examples of its eight forms:
BaseSimple presentSimple past Present participlePast participle I can beI am
You are
She is I was
We were I am beingI have been

HERE for a one-page duplicate of this chart that will be easy to print.

Most verbs appear in their base form for the simple present tense, but the verb to be doesn't. Instead it uses three different simple present forms. Further, the simple past tense of this verb has two forms. Chapter 12 will explain how to decide which form to use in each of these tenses. The following application will help you see what you already know about choosing the forms of the verb to be.

Application 18

The other irregular verbs have only four forms.

No other verb is as irregular as to be. But some may be unfamiliar to you. Below is a list of irregular verbs. Look it over, marking and memorizing any forms that you don't already know. Click HERE for a one-sheet duplicate of this list that will be easier to print.


knowknewknowingknown becomebecamebecomingbecomelaylaidlayinglaid beginbeganbeginningbegunleadledleadingled betbetbettingbetleaveleftleavingleft bitebitbitingbittenlendlentlendinglent blowblewblowingblownlielaylyinglain breakbrokebreakingbrokenloselostlosinglost bringbroughtbringingbroughtmakemademakingmade buyboughtbuyingboughtpaypaidpayingpaid catchcaughtcatchingcaughtputputputtingput choosechosechoosingchosenreadreadreadingread comecamecomingcomerideroderidingridden cutcutcuttingcutringrangringingrung digdugdiggingdugriseroserisingrisen drinkdrankdrunkdrunkrunranrunningrun drivedrovedrivingdrivensaysaidsayingsaid drawdrewdrawingdrawnseesawseeingseen eatateeatingeatensetsetsettingset fallfellfallingfallenshakeshookshakingshaken feedfedfeedingfedsingsangsingingsun feelfeltfeelingfeltsitsatsittingsat findfoundfindingfoundspeakspokespeakingspoken freezefrozefreezingfrozenstealstolestealingstolen getgotgettinggottenswearsworeswearingsworn givegavegivinggivenswimswamswimmingswum gowentgoinggonetaketooktakingtaken growgrewgrowinggrownteachtaughtteachingtaught havehadhavinghadteartoretearingtorn hearheardhearingheardthinkthoughtthinkingthought hithithittinghitthrowthrewthrowingthrown hurthurthurtinghurtwearworewearingworn keepkeptkeepingkeptwritewrotewritingwritten knowknewknowingknown

Application 19

Application 20


A participle must be in a verb string in order to behave as a verb. Without an auxiliary, a participle plays a non-verb role in its sentence.
Arriving home late, Priscilla RUSHED into the kitchen.
She WAS THINKING about the burnt potatoes.
Remember that participles are parts of verb strings. They need auxiliaries to do a verb's work. If a participle has no auxiliary in front of it, look elsewhere for the sentence's verb.

When the word to stands in front of the base form of a verb, it creates an infinitive. An infinitive plays a non-verb role in its sentence.

To know him IS to love him.
I WANT to bring him with me at Christmas.
The infinitive serves as the name of a verb. It can play several roles in a sentence. However, if a base form has the word to in front of it, look elsewhere for the sentence's verb.

Application 21

TIP for separating the non-verb forms from the verb forms: A base form with -ing on the end can act as part of a verb only if it is in a verb string. A base form with to in front never plays the role of verb.

Chapter 5 explains the behavior of these non-verb forms in more detail.


A subject may take more than one verb.
I SAT right down and CUT my toenails.
Compounding is the process of joining similar parts. Joining two separate verbs to go with one subject results in a compound verb. The words that can join verbs are: and, but, yet, or, nor. These words are conjunctions.
Population growth WILL SLOW down and MAY STABILIZE by the year 2110.
Sometimes the conjunctions work in partnership with other words, such as:
either. . . or
neither. . . nor
both . . . and
not only . . . but also
One study not only PREDICTS a steady 10.5 billion total population for several decades, but also DESCRIBES a new distribution of people throughout the world.
When more than two verbs are compounded, the conjunction may appear between only the last two, while the others are separated by commas.
In contrast to families in the Third World, families in the industrialized nations BEAR fewer children, MOVE more frequently, and FEEL less bound to their home communities.

Application 22




Read aloud the paragraph you wrote at the beginning of this chapter. Where are the verbs? Look for the words that indicate time. Which of these are verbs and which aren't? Using the printable Chart for Auxiliary Verbs, find the auxiliaries in your paragraph. Where you find one, check to see if a main verb follows. Where you're not sure of a verb, turn the sentence into a negative statement and use the not or n't as a flag that waves in the middle of your verb. Mark all your verbs. Have you used any compound verbs? Trade marked paragraphs with a classmate, and check each other's work. Wherever you disagree, explain your reasons. Raise questions and get a tutor or teacher to answer them.

Complete your work on Verbs by taking the Mastery Test for this chapter.

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