Verbs constitute one of the major word classes, including words for actions (e.g. shout, work, travel) and states (e.g. be, belong, remain). There are two main types of verb: main verbs and auxiliary verbs.

The surest way to identify verbs is by the ways they can be used: they can usually have a tense, either present tense or past tense (see also future).

  • He lives in Birmingham. [present tense]
  • The teacher wrote a song for the class. [past tense]

Verbs are sometimes called ‘doing words’ because many verbs name an action that someone does; while this can be a way of recognising verbs, it doesn’t distinguish verbs from nouns (which can also name actions). Moreover many verbs name states or feelings rather than actions.

  • He likes chocolate. [present tense; not an action]
  • He knew my father. [past tense; not an action]

Not verbs:

  • The walk to Halina’s house will take an hour. [noun]
  • All that surfing makes Morwenna so sleepy! [noun]

Verbs can be classified in various ways: for example, as auxiliary verbs, or modal verbs; as transitive verbs or intransitive verbs; and as states or events.

Irregular verbs form their past tense typically by a change of vowel (e.g. break-broke, see-saw, eat-ate). Be aware that in the National Curriculum a sequence of one or more auxiliaries together with a main verb are regarded as forms of the main verb. For example, have eaten is a form (the perfect form) of the verb eat, and will have been being seen is a form of the verb see. In other frameworks such sequences are regarded as verb phrases.

Auxiliary verbs

What is an Auxiliary verb?

In this short video, we explain look at a special set of verbs, called auxiliary verbs.


What is a verb? Is it right to call them 'doing words'?

In this short film, Professor Aarts shows the problems with defining verbs as 'doing words' and explains that English has no future tense.


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