English Grammar 101: Introduction to the English Verb

By Maeve Maddox

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English has three kinds of Verbs: transitive, intransitive, and incomplete.

1. Transitive Verbs
A verb is transitive when the action is carried across to a receiver:

The farmer grows potatoes. Elvis sang ballads.

The receiver is called the direct object. It answers the question “What?” or “Whom? after the verb. Grows what? Potatoes. Sang what? Ballads.

2. Intransitive Verbs
A verb is intransitive when the action stays with the verb. It is not carried across to a receiver:

Corn grows. Elvis sang.
Adding a prepositional phrase to modify the verb does not change the fact that the action remains with the subject:
Corn grows in the fields. Elvis sang all over the world.

Both transitive and intransitive verbs are action verbs.

3. Incomplete Verbs
There are three types of incomplete verbs:

i. being verbs – also called linking or copulative verbs
to be, seem, become, taste, smell, sound, feel

TIP: Some of these verbs can also be used transitively. If in doubt, substitute a form of to be for the verb. If the sentence still makes sense, the verb is being used as a copulative verb:

He feels depressed. He is depressed.
He feels the wall. He is the wall.

ii. auxiliary verbs – also called helping verbs
be, have, shall, will, do, and may.
He could have gone earlier.

iii. semi-auxiliary verbs
must, can, ought, dare, need.
You must not go. You dare not go.

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11 Responses to “English Grammar 101: Introduction to the English Verb”

  • Charity

    The referenced semi-auxiliary verbs have always been a source of trouble for me… I’m not referring to usage, of course; almost everyone uses these phrases with little trouble. I’ve just never been quite sure how to classify, for example, the word “must” in the sentence, “You must not go.” I’m glad to see the official verdict! This article has answered one of my few remaining questions on the subject of English– and that’s always exciting for me! I’m really glad that little tidbit was in there. 🙂

  • temp-

    thanks a lot!

    i would like an expansion to the auxiliar verbs, im very bad with them

    ps. you have “seem” 2 times between the incomplete verbs examples

  • Maeve

    Thanks for catching the second “seem.” We’ll get that out of there.

    Your suggestion is a good one. I’ll write an article on the auxiliary verbs alone.

  • toshiba

    in transitive verb can we ask the question who?

  • tenzin

    i am confused with the kinds of verbs. R.P Sinha’s grammar book says that there are only two kinds of verbs, namely main verbs and auxilairy verbs which is again subdivided and your theory is completely different here. how should i make a choice and whom should i rely on.

  • john

    thanks for the knowledge you give to us… god bless

  • Rod

    I’m not American so I have plenty of doubts such as the use of used to for example I used to ride my bike says that I no longer do it but can I ask questions like what did you use to do when you were a kid? or is this negative form correct? I didn’t use to play marbles or I used to not play marbles I know that you don’t intend to teach but I really need help from people like you I mean who really knows ’cause “English teachers” in Mexico have the same doubts.
    I am used to asking too many questions sorry

  • buglak sergey

    transitive -intransitive verbs are quite relative,because there are many verbs with mixed zone.e.g.there are many prepositional verbs and treat them as intransitive is against the elementary logic.e.g.to laugh at’ There is action and object,we can make up passive voice:he is often laughed at.so it would be better interpret prepositional verbs as semitransitive/Ditransitive verbs require a prepositional phrase as a second complement

  • Fardin

    I really appreciate you, like all the things that are in this site, I am from Afghanistan and like to learn new things.

  • haroon

    thanks for the knowledge..That was a positive addition….but we want to learn more about the verbs….

  • Joanne

    Why is ‘sang’ in your example ‘Elvis sang all over the world’ intransitive? One can still say ‘Elvis sang ballads all over the world’. Sang what all over the world? Ballads (=direct object).

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