Verbs – You can do it!


A verb is a doing or being word; a verb is a word which expresses an action or state. The word ‘verb’ derives from the Latin word ‘verbum’, meaning ‘word’. The reason for this rather peculiar and dreary derivation is that a verb is the word in any sentence. Should you omit it, all other words cease to make sense and your sentences become confuddled. For simple minds like myself, I like to think of verbs as just ‘a telling word’.

When I was a young Sir, I became rather muddled by all these inflections during my French and Latin lessons and thus ran from them as quickly as possible to the rugger pitch, wanting to dive around in the mud. Therefore, to save both my head and yours, I will outline the very basics of verbs and how to use them correctly in sentences.

Verbs are the Everest of word classes: ridiculously difficult to define, describe and analyse. Nevertheless, the main characteristics you will find explained in detail below:

1.     Tenses: Questionably, the most important division of verbs is into tenses, which show when the action is being done (or might have been done, or should have been done, and so on). Tense shows the time of a verb’s action or being. There are three inflected forms reflected by changes in the endings of verbs. The present tense indicates that something is happening or being now: “She is a disco diva. She has a potato on her head.” The simple past tense indicates that something happened in the past: “She was a disco diva. She had a potato on her head.” And the past participle form is combined with auxiliary verbs to indicate that something happened in the past prior to another action: “She has been a disco diva. She had driven a new car.”

 There are several different ways in English that you can talk about the future. Unlike most other languages, English does not have inflected forms for the future tense. Instead, English future forms are created with the use of auxiliaries: so called because they help verbs to form some of their parts, such as “She will be a disco diva. She is going to have a potato on her head.” Furthermore, modal verbs are used to show what is possible (can, could, may and might); what is necessary (must); what is allowed (may and might); and what is expected or intended (may, might, will and shall).

2.     Voices: Doing verbs are either in the active voice or in the passive voice. The active voice is for when the subject of the sentence is doing whatever is being done. The passive voice is for when the subject is not doing the action but experiencing it – that is , having it done to them. Take the following example:

active verbs

3.     Moods: Verbs are also a) in the indicative mood, or b) in the imperative mood, or c) in the subjunctive mood, or d) in the infinitive mood. The mood of a verb indicates its function – what it is used for – in the sentence in which it appears.

a)      The indicative mood is usually for making a statement or asking a question

b)      The imperative mood is used for commands and orders

c)       The subjunctive mood expresses doubt, uncertainty, improbability, an order, a wish, a condition or a purpose.

d)      The infinitive mood is used to express an action or state of being without giving any indication of a subject. In effect, it plays the role of a noun as well as a verb.

4.     Non-finite parts of verbs: after tenses, voices and moods, there is one last group of verb that needs to be explained: these are called non-finite parts of verbs. Non-finite parts are verbs which, unlike any other verb type, are not, and cannot in any way be connected with a subject (the do-er). There are three types of non-finite verb parts: the infinitive (as in ‘To teach); the participle (as in ‘The teaching profession’); and the gerund (as in ‘Teaching is satisfying). In contrast to any other type of verb, these cannot have a noun or personal pronoun placed in front of it as a subject.

a)    The infinitive simply names the action or state without reference to who or what is either doing the action, or being whatever it is that he or she is being.

b)    A participle is a part of a verb which does the job of an adjective as well as a verb. It is called such as it participates in the nature of both verbs and adjectives.

c)     The gerund, formed from the verb by adding ‘-ing’ on the end and making it a verbal noun; that is to say, the gerund is in one respect a verb and another a noun.

5.     Irregular verbs: Finally on the subject of verbs (as my eyes have gone a little squiffy), there are irregular verbs. Most verbs form both their past tense and the past participle by adding ‘-d’ or ‘-ed’ on the end of the base form of the verb. Thus ‘love’ becomes ‘I loved’ and ‘I have loved’. However, there are more than two hundred verbs which you do not simply add ‘-d’ or ‘-ed at the end, and these tend to be more common nouns. For example, ‘teach/taught/taught’, ‘sing/sang/sung’, ‘go/went/gone’.



  1. Read the following extract from Martin Luther King’s infamous ‘I have a dream’ speech  and identify all the different types of verbs.
  2. Next, zoom in and analyse the different effects they have on the reader
  3. In the comments section below, provide an answer for the following question, providing evidence to support your opinion: How did Martin Luther King Jr’s speech reflect a changing American society?

Extract from Martin Luther King’s Speech: ‘I Have a Dream’

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!



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