A verb is a word by means of which something is said about somebody or something. It may be recalled from the section on sentences that the noun or pronoun is the most important part of the subject of a sentence. The verb is the most important part of that which is said about the subject, that is of the predicate. These sentences illustrate what a verb does:

  1. The lion hunts.
  2. The lion eats its prey
  3. The prey is eaten by the lion
  4. The lion is satisfied

In the above sentences the subjects are, respectively, lion, lion, prey and lion. From the rest of the sentences, the predicates, the verbs indicate (1) what the lion does (hunts), (2) what the lion does to the prey (eats), (3) what is done to the prey (eaten), (4) in what state the lion is (satisfied).

In some cases a verb takes an object.

  1. The man walks.
  2. The woman eats a banana

The first sentence is complete. The act of walking does not pass over to an object. I the second sentence the verb "eats" states an action which passes over to an object and the sense is not complete unless the object is stated. In the first case the verb is said to be used "intransitively" and in the second it is used "transitively". The same verb can be used both intransitively and transitively:

  1. The ice melts. : The heat melts the ice.
  2. We won : We won the game.

The word governed by the verb is the object. When the verb and the object have a similar meaning the object is called a cognate object : "I dreamt a bad dream".

Sometimes there is more than one object. In the sentence "Mary baked him a cake." the word "cake" is the direct object and "him" is the indirect object of the verb (baked).

Another property of the verb is "voice". The "active voice" is the form of the verb used when the subject is the doer of the action (The dog bit the boy.). When the subject is the sufferer or receiver of an action the the verb form is said to be in the "passive voice" (The boy was bitten by the dog.) Only transitive verbs can be used in the passive voice. Also the passive voice is formed with various tenses of the verb "to be".

Mood is the form of the verb which shows the manner in which an action is represented. There are four moods:

  1. Indicative:
    1. is used to state facts : "He has gone."
    2. is used to ask questions : "Has he gone?"
  2. Imperative:
    1. is used to give orders : "Come here."
    2. Is used to make requests : "Lend me a dollar."
    3. is used to entreat : "Help me!"
  3. Subjunctive:
    1. is used to express a supposition : "If I were you I should go."
    2. is used to express a wish : "May God save you."
    3. is used to express uncertainty : "Whoever you may be."
  4. Infinitive:
    1. is used to name the verb : "To move." (It includes the Gerunds, the verbal nouns and the Participles, the verbal adjectives.)

The subjunctive mood has almost disappeared. The only subjunctive form in use is the past tense of the verb "to be" ( if) I were, (if) he were). The verbs may, might, shall should and would are used as auxiliaries so as to express the meaning of the subjunctive mood. The subjunctive mood is often employed but it may look like the indicative mood. The distinction is in meaning. The indicative mood is the mood of certainty and fact whereas the subjunctive mood expresses uncertainty, doubt, hope and desire.

Actions must take place at some time, either now, some time ago or in the future. These distinctions of time are indicated by verbs by means of "tenses". As there are three main divisions of time, so there are three main tenses:

  1. Present: I speak.
  2. Past: I spoke.
  3. Future: I will speak.

Other tenses are used to indicate, in addition to the time of an action, its completeness and its continuousness.

  1. I have finished my meal.
  2. I am finishing my meal.

Both of these tenses refer to the present time but "finished" says that the action is now complete. The words "am finishing" say that the action is still going on. These tenses are known as the "Perfect" and the 'Continuous" tenses respectively. They are used with the "past", "present" and "future" tenses as shown below:

  1. Perfect:
    1. Present Perfect : I have spoken.
    2. Past Perfect : I had spoken.
    3. Future Perfect : I shall have spoken.
  2. Continuous:
    1. Present continuous : I am Speaking.
    2. Past Continuous : I was speaking.
    3. Future Continuous : I shall be speaking.

It will be noticed that all of the above examples use the personal pronoun "I". This means that they are said to be given in the "first person". Verbs have three "persons" and these may be either in the singular or the plural. The full present indicative of the verb "to love" is:

  1. Singular:
    • I love
    • He loves
    • You love
  2. Plural:
    • We love
    • You love
    • They love

The third person singular uses the same personal pronoun as the second person plural because the former once used the form "thou". This word has fallen into disuse. Also not used now are the forms "lovest, lovedst and loveth. Only the form "loves" survives in ordinary usage. All of the tenses (usually) may be written in all of the "persons" and in both the "singular" and "plural". A verb is said to be conjugated when written for all persons. You will gather that such a "list" is very long.

The terms "finite" and "infinite" as applied to verbs concerns whether or not they are limited in number. The tenses stated in the "persons" form are clearly limited by the pronouns and the the state of being "singular" or "plural". The form which simply names the verb and includes the participles has no such limitation. This form - using the same verb as was used for the "persons" example above is:

  • To love
  • loving
  • loved

These forms are not limited by "persons" and are the fourth mood, the "infinitive". Alone, these forms cannot make sense of a group of words. A sentence must contain a finite verb.

It can be seen from the above that certain verbs are used with ordinary verbs to form some of the tenses. These are called "auxiliary" verbs. The most commonly used auxiliary verbs are "be" (with its various forms - is, are, am, was, were, been, being) and "have" (having, had). Also used are "shall ("should"), "will" ("would"), "may" ("might") and "do" ("did").

"Be" is used to form the passive voice (I am lost) and the continuous tenses (We are sleeping). It is also used by itself as an ordinary verb. "Have" is used to form the perfect tenses (We have eaten). "Shall" and "will" are used to make the future tenses with "shall" used for the first persons singular and plural and "will" for the others. This order is reversed when emphasis is required such as when an order is given or an imperative expressed ("I shall eat."(simple future) and "I will eat" (emphatic - in the face of food being scarce or of the threat to withhold it). The situation is similar so far as use with the "persons" forms with "would and "should" and "may" and "might" which are used to form subjunctive equivalents. "Do" is used in negative, interrogative and emphatic forms.

verbs can also be classified as "strong" or "weak". Strong verbs form their past tense by means of a vowel change and without the addition of "d" or "t" (take : took). Weak verbs have no vowel change and simply add "d" or "t" for past tense formation (dream : dreamt). Although interesting this has no particular grammatical value and knowledge of it will not assist in the writing and speaking of good English. Much more could be said about verbs but the above is sufficient for this primary grammar course.













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