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What is a verb?

The verb is a part of speech, a word or compound of words, that performs one of three kinds of tasks: it expresses action; it expresses a state of being; or it expresses the relationship between two things. In its most powerful and normal position, it follows a noun (the agent of the verb). The forms and functions of verbs The verb is also the most complicated part of speech in that its forms and functions are several; verbs in special forms take on the properties of other parts of speech: we call these forms verbals, and they can become nouns (subjects and/or objects), adjectives, and adverbs. They lose their function as pure verbs--but they still insinuate actions, states of being, and relationships, and they can enliven one's writing considerably. Note Understanding verbs requires our attention to voice, mood, tense, function, relationships in the sentence, and many other aspects of writing. If the writer properly controls the verbs in her/his work, he/she will control ideas effectively

Kinds of Verbs The writer needs to understand three kinds of verbs: transitive verbs, intransitive verbs, and linking verbs. What are transitive verbs? Transitive verbs take objects. That is, these verbs carry the action of a subject and apply it to an object. They tells us what the subject (agent) does to something else (object).
Examples: He bought a shirt.

(agent) (did something) (object- answers the question "what?")

She brushes her hair every hour.

Marina will lose the race.

Note that the transitive verb can take any tense. What are intransitive verbs? Intransitive verbs do not take an object; they express actions that do not require the agent's doing something to something else. Examples: Tom danced.

The intransitive verb "danced" is a complete action by itself and does not require a direct object to receive the action.

They ran down the road.

They ran, but they do not run "something" in this sentence. The sentence contains no object.

Jack fell on the rocks in the alley.

Tip: Some verbs can function as both transitive and intransitive verbs. Example: intransitive: She dances. transitive: Linking Verbs She dances the rhumba.

Linking verbs link the relationship between the agent and the rest of the sentence. They explain the connection between the subject and its complement or that which completes the subject's description. The most common linking verb is "to be." Some other linking verbs are: appear become continue feel grow look remain seem smell sound stay taste


Opera seems overly dramatic to the music novice.

"overly dramatic" describes the agent or subject "opera" but it does not express an action that "opera" performs.

He appeared jubilant at the news of the inheritance.

I am pathetically inept in such situations.

He is a doctor of bioethics.

Note: while "a doctor" answers the question "what?" the verb is not an action verb, but rather a "state of being" verb. Therefore, is is not a transitive verb; it links the subject (he) with his state of being (doctor).

Remember, however, if what follows the verb can provide an answer to the question "what," then the verb is not a linking verb.


He tastes the soup as he cooks it.

"tastes" is transitive: he tastes "what?"

The fruit tastes rotten.

"rotten" describes or complements the state of the fruit, and therefore tastes links the agent (fruit) and its condition (rotten).

Problem: The two pair of verbs lay/lie and raise/rise are often misused. In each set there is a transitive verb and an intransitive verb, but they are often confused because of their similar sounds. LIE is intransitive and means to recline or be situated. LAY is transitive and means to place or put something. RISE is intransitive and means to get up. RAISE is transitive and means to lift something up.
(Intr.) Infinitive Past Tense Past Participle Present Participle S-form lie lay lain lying lies (Tr.) lay laid laid laying lays (Intr.) rise rose risen rising rises (Tr.) raise raised raised raising raises


Intr: She lay on the couch watching television. Tr: He laid the child gently on the bed.

Intr: The alligator rose out of the water. Tr: She raised the child above the crowd, so he could see.