Verbs are words that refer to an action or event or that is used in describing or identifying things. An “action” is something you do. “Event” is more general than “action.” “Events” are things that happen, such as death. A linking verb (“is”) describes a condition of being.
Examples The verbs in the examples below are bolded.
- John ran. (“Run” is an action.)
- John ate a banana. (“Eat” is an action.)
- John saw Mark. (“See” is an event.)
- John died. (“Die” is an event.)
- John is tall. (The phrase “is tall” describes John. The word “is” is a verb that links “John” with “tall.”)
- John looks handsome. (The phrase “is handsome” describes John. The word “looks” here is a verb that links “John” with “handsome.”)
- John is my brother. (The phrase “is my brother” identifies John.)
People or Things Associated With a Verb
A verb usually says something about someone or something. All of the example sentences above say something about John. “John” is the subject of those sentences. In English the subject usually comes before the verb.
Sometimes there is another person or thing associated with the verb. In the examples below, the bolded word is the verb, and the quoted phrase is the object. In English the object usually comes after the verb.
- He ate “lunch.”
- He sang “a song.”
- He read “a book.”
- He saw “the book.”
Some verbs never have an object.
- The sun rose at six o’clock.
- John slept well.
- John fell yesterday.
For many verbs in English, where the object is not important in the sentence, the object may not be stated.
- He never eats at night.
- He sings all the time.
- He reads well.
- He cannot see.
In some languages, a verb that needs an object must always take one, even if the object is not very important. People who speak those languages might restate the sentences above like this.
- He never eats food at night.
- He sings songs all the time.
- He reads words well.
- He cannot see anything.
Subject and Object Marking on Verbs
In some languages, the form of the verb may vary depending on the persons or things associated with it. For example, English speakers sometimes put “s” at the end of the verb when the subject is just one person. In other languages, marking on the verb may show whether the subject is “I,” “you,” or “he”; singular, dual, or plural; male or female, or human or non-human.
- They eat bananas every day. (The subject “they” is more than one person.)
- John eats bananas every day. (The subject “John” is one person.)
Time and Tense
When we tell about an event, we usually tell whether it is in the past, the present, or the future. Sometimes we do this with words like “yesterday,” “now,” or “tomorrow.”
In some languages the verb may be a little bit different depending on the time associated with it. This kind of marking on a verb is called “tense.” English speakers sometimes put “ed” at the end of the verb when the event happened in the past.
- Sometimes Mary cooks meat.
- Yesterday Mary cooked meat. (She did this in the past.)
In some languages speakers might add a word to tell something about the time. English speakers use the word “will” when the verb refers to something in the future.
- Tomorrow Mary will cook meat.
When we tell about an event, sometimes we want to show how the event progressed over a period of time or how the event relates to another event. This is called “aspect.” English speakers sometimes use the verbs “is” or “has” then add “s,” “ing,” or “ed” to the end of the verb in order to show how the event relates to another event or to the present time.
- Mary cooks meat every day. (This tells about something Mary often does.)
- Mary is cooking the meat. (This tells about something Mary is in the process of doing right now.)
- Mary cooked the meat, and John came home. (This simply tells about things that Mary and John did.)
- While Mary was cooking the meat, John came home. (This tells about something Mary was in the process of doing when John came home)
- Mary has cooked the meat, and she wants us to come eat it. (This tells about something Mary did that is still relevant now.)
- Mary had cooked the meat by the time John came home. (This tells about something that Mary completed in the past before something else happened.)