Section 1.3

Verbs

Verbs usually describe existence or action and can be divided into three broad categories: action, linking, and auxiliary. Understanding these categories can help you recognize verbs more easily in a sentence.

1.3.1 Action Verbs

As their name suggests, action verbs generally describe action. Examples include:

speak
bend
meet
sing
install
arrive

Not all action verbs, however, describe visible action. For instance, in the sentence Martha sat there quietly, the verb sat is an action verb even though Martha is not moving.

Action verbs can be transitive or intransitive. A transitive verb requires a direct object; an intransitive verb cannot take a direct object. Consider these sentences:

The attorney questioned her client.

The attorney strode swiftly down the hallway.

In the first sentence, client is a direct object because it receives the action of the verb questioned, and questioned is a transitive verb. In the second sentence, there is no object to receive the action of the verb strode. In this case, strode is intransitive.

1.3.2 Linking Verbs

Linking verbs describe a state of being. The most common linking verb is to be, whose forms include am, is, are, was, were, be, being, and been.

Other examples of linking verbs include seem and become. Verbs such as appear, feel, look, sound, and smell can all be either linking verbs or action verbs, depending on how they are used in a sentence.

For instance, in the following sentence, appeared is a linking verb because it describes a state of being rather than an action.

The manager appeared tired.

But in this next sentence, appeared is an action verb because it describes an occurrence; something happens in the sentence.

The manager appeared in the doorway.

1.3.3 Auxiliary (Helping) Verbs

Auxiliary verbs are often called helping verbs because of the supportive role they play in a sentence. They help out — by accompanying the main verb in a clause (see Section 2.1 for more on clauses) and expressing distinctions in tense as well as what are known as mood and voice.

Examples of auxiliary verbs include:

have
can
will
should
would
do

The following sentences show auxiliary verbs at work alongside main verbs.

Auxiliary VerbsMain Verbs

They have talked to the chairman.

She would have attended the meeting if she had been in town.

Some auxiliary verbs can also be action or linking verbs, depending on how they are used.