Part Three Editing / Grammar Skills

Unit 9 Verb Basics in Academic Writing

Learning Objectives

  1. To understand what a verb is and why it is important
  2. To differentiate between main verbs and helping verbs, “be” verbs and “do” verbs, action verbs and non-action verbs, with their various uses though multiple examples and exercises
  3. To be aware of the twelve verb tenses and five basic verb forms

 

I. Pretest

a cat and a dog
a cat and a dog

The following ten sentences are about pets. Some verbs are bold-faced. Identify what type of verb each one is by selecting one of the two choices. After you finish one sentence, you will get instant feedback on your answer before the next sentence. If you make mistakes, you can retry all the questions or see all the answers at the end of the pre-test.

 

II. Definition of a Verb and Its Importance

 

Each sentence in English must have a verb. A verb expresses an action or shows a state of existence[1].

Why are verbs important? There are two reasons:

  1. They appear in every sentence in English.
  2. Errors in verbs cause serious misunderstanding[2].

 

In order to express ideas clearly and accurately, you need to make sure:

  1. You have a basic, clear understanding of different types and uses of verbs.  This is the purpose of this unit.
  2. A subject and its verb must match each other. For detailed information and practice, please refer to Unit 10 Subject-Verb Agreement. (Open Unit 10 here.)
  3. A verb tense and its verb form must match each other. There are detailed explanations and practice in verb tenses and forms from Unit 11 through Unit 14  in this book.  (Open Unit 11 Present Tenses, Unit 12 Past Tenses, Unit 13 Future Tenses, Unit 14 Mixed Tenses here.)

 

For detailed explanations and practice in sentence structure and punctuation, open Unit 7 here.

 

Exercise 1. Highlight the verbs in the following short paragraph about pet dogs. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

 

III. Types of Verbs

There are different ways to classify verbs. One of the easiest is to start from the chart below. Most verbs belong to one of the two types: the main verb (MV) or the helping verb (HV).

 

Types of verbs
Types of verbs

You are going to learn those types of verbs below. Linking verbs (not in the graph) are also explained below.

IV. Main Verbs (Action and Non-Action)

Main verbs
Main verbs

Main verbs:

  • show the action or state of being of the subject.
  • follow the subject of the sentence in most cases
  • can be a “be” verb or a “do” verb.
  • can be an action verb or a non-action verb.

 

Action Verbs as Main Verbs (They are all “Do” Verbs”.)

An action verb shows the action of the subject.

  1. In the U.S., many pet owners treat their pets as part of the family.
  2. Those pets get special food and even regular medical checkups.
  3. Some of them sleep in their owner’s bed.
  4. They receive toys and often wear festive[3] outfit[4] during holidays.

 

Non-Action “Do” Verbs as Main Verbs

Non-action verbs do not show actions; instead, they show emotional or mental states, five senses, possessions, and others. Non-action verbs are also called stative verbs or non-progressive verbs.

  1. Pets love their owners.
  2. Pets understand how much they are loved.
  3. Some pets can weigh over fifty pounds.
  4. Most pets have animal doctors called vets.

 

Common Non-Action “Do” Verbs

Emotional/mental state:

  • appreciate, believe, detest, dislike, fear, forget, hate, imagine, know, like, love, mean, mind, miss, need, prefer, remember, respect, understand, want …

Five senses:

  • appear, feel, hear, look, see, seem, smell, taste …

Possessions:

  • belong, contain, have, own, possess …

Others:

  • cost, find…

 

Sometimes, the same verb can be both an action verb and a non-action verb, with different meanings and grammatical structures. Discuss the difference between the underlined verbs below.

  1. What do you think of my kitten? It seems that she is always thinking about playing hide and seek with me. (non-action, action)
  2. Feel the fur of my kitten. It feels so soft. (action, non-action)
  3. My kitten measures twelve inches in length[5]. I measure her every month to see how much she has grown. (non-action, action)
  4. I see some red pots on the kitten’s skin. I am taking her to her vet. We are seeing the vet at 3 pm this afternoon. (non-action, action)

Non-action verbs can be used in different verb tenses except progressive tenses, but action verbs can be used in all tenses.

  1. The kitten has been napping for a long time. He looks (is looking) content[6] in his sleep.
  2. Samantha likes (is liking) kittens. She has (is having) two. Right now she is preparing their favorite snacks.

 

“Be” Verbs as Main Verbs

“Be” verbs appear most often as “am, is, are, was, were”. When a “be” verb is the main verb of a sentence, it is a non-action verb. In such a sentence, there are no other verbs in the “subject + verb” group. The “be” verb is followed by a noun, a pronoun, an adjective, a prepositional phrase, or an expression of age.

  1. My neighbor’s pet is a rabbit. Her name is Bonny. (followed by nouns)
  2. Bonny is not mine. (a pronoun)
  3. Bonny’s tail is short and cute. (adjectives)
  4. Bonny is in a cage when my neighbor is at work. . (prepositional phrases)
  5. Bonny was two months old when I first met her. (an age)

 

As the above sentences show, a “Be” verb is NEVER followed by the base form of a “Do” verb.

  1. Most rabbits are stay in a cage.  X
  2. Most rabbits stay in a cage.  √
  3. I was meet my neighbor’s pet rabbit for the first time last week.  X
  4. I met my neighbor’s pet rabbit for the first time last week.  √

 

When there is a helping verb (explained later) in front of a “be” verb, use “be” or “been”, not “am, is, are, was, were”.

  1. Bonny can be loud sometimes. (helping verb “can” + main verb “be”)
  2. Bonny will be one year old next week. (helping verb “will” + main verb “be”)
  3. Bonny has been sick for two days. (helping verb “has” + main verb “been”)

 

Linking Verbs (not included in the above graphs)

Verbs that can be immediately followed by an adjective are also called linking verbs.  They include

  • all the “Be” verbs
  • some “Do” action verbs: become, turn, get, grow (all of them with the same meaning as “become”)
  • some “Do” non-action verbs: look, seem, appear, smell, sound, taste, feel
  1. Most pets are cute.
  2. Some pets grow restless[7] in a new home.
  3. Some may appear violent when they see strangers.

 

Exercise 2. The following sentences are about color-blindness[8] of dogs. Highlight the main verb(s) in each sentence. Then highlight if each verb is an action verb or a non-action verb. The first one is an example. When you finish the exercise, you can retry or see all the answers. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

a black dog with a yellow tennis ball in mouth
a black dog with a yellow tennis ball in mouth

 

V. Helping Verbs

Helping verbs
Helping verbs

Helping verbs are also called auxiliary verbs. These verbs “help” the main verbs to

  • show verb tense
  • make a negative sentence
  • ask a question
  • change the meaning or tone
  • change the voice (from active to passive or passive to active, not addressed in this course)

Helping verbs must work with main verbs to form complete verbs.

helping verb  +  main verb  =   complete verb

  1. Mohamod has always wanted to get his driver’s license. (helping verb “has” + main verb “wanted”)
  2. He has prepared for this driver’s test for several months. (helping verb “has” + main verb “prepared”)
  3. He does not want to carpool with his friend every day. (helping verb “does” + main verb “want”)
  4. He hopes that he will pass the road test. (helping verb “will” + main verb “pass”)
  5. Should he celebrate if he passes? (helping verb “should” + main verb “celebrate”)

 

“Be” Verbs as Helping Verbs

When “be” is used as a helping verb, it often appears as “am, is, are, was, were”, and there is always another “main verb” after it. “Be” can be a helping verb in several situations, but you are going to focus on only “am/is/are/was/were + verb-ing” in this course.

  1. Mohamod is taking his road test now. (helping verb “is” + main verb “taking”)
    two people in a car
    two people in a car
  2. He and his driving examiner are focusing on the road ahead. (helping verb “are” + main verb “focusing”)
  3. The sun is shining, so it is a good day. (helping verb “is” + main verb “shining”)

 

“Do, Does, Did” as Helping Verbs

When “do, does, did” are used as helping verbs, they are mostly used in questions and negative sentences.

  1. Do more people take the road test on the weekend? (helping verb “do” + main verb “take”)
  2. Mohamod does not feel nervous about the test. (helping verb “does” + main verb “feel”)
  3. He did not register for the test last week because it was snowing. (helping verb “did” + main verb “register”)

 

“Have, Has, Had” as Helping Verbs

They are used as helping verbs only in present and past perfect tenses.

  1. I have had my driver’s license since I was eighteen years old. (helping verb “have” + main verb “had”)
  2. Has your brother been driving his Honda Civic for as long as fourteen years? (helping verb “has been” + main verb “driving”)
  3. Many of my classmates had never driven a car when they left their home countries. (helping verb “had” + main verb “driven”)

 

“Will” as a Helping Verb

It is used in future tenses. We are focusing on the simple future tense only in this course.

  1. My driver’s license will expire in two years. (helping verb “will” + main verb “expire”)
  2. I will not renew my driver’s license until the day before it expires. (helping verb “will” + main verb “renew”.)
  3. Will I be too rushed[9] if I wait till the last two days? (helping verb “will” + main verb “be”)

 

Modals as Helping Verbs

Modals are a special type of helping verbs. They mainly show ability, possibility, obligation, advice, and many others. They are followed by the base form of the main verb.

  1. Every driver in the U.S. must have a driver’s license. (modal/helping verb “must” + main verb “have”)
  2. Should he or she buy car insurance, too? (modal/helping verb “should” + main verb “buy”)
  3. Maintaining a car can be expensive. (modal/helping verb “can” + main verb “be”)
  4. Life could become difficult without a car. (modal/helping verb “could” + main verb “become”)

 

For detailed explanations and examples of modals, please refer to Unit 15 Modals. (Open Unit 15 here.)

 

Exercise 3. The following is a brief account of Jose and his car. Identify the helping verb and the main verb in each sentence. Type them in appropriate boxes.  The first sentence is an example. When you finish the entire exercise, you can retry or see all the answers.

 

VI. Some Confusing Main and Helping Verbs

The following groups of verbs can be main verbs in one sentence but helping verbs in another. If there is not another verb showing the action or state of the subject, these verbs are main verbs.  Otherwise, they are helping verbs in most cases. Remember, a helping verb must be accompanied by a main verb.

 

“Be” Verbs

  1. A car is essential in the U.S. because the public transportation is not convenient for most people. (main verbs)
  2. Owning a car will cost some money, but it will be worth it. (main verb)
  3. It has been exactly one year since my family brought the Chrysler PT Cruiser. It is doing great! (main verb, helping verb)

 

“Have, Has, Had” Verbs

  1. The new car has brought many conveniences to my family. (helping verb)
  2. What model of car do you have? (main verb)
  3. We had had a Honda Accord, but we switched to an Odyssey last year. Our family was expanding[10]. (helping verb, main verb)

 

“Do, Does, Did” Verbs

  1. We did a lot of research about minivans and decided to buy an Odyssey. (main verb)
  2. Do you have a large family? If so, I strongly recommend a minivan. (helping verb)
  3. A minivan can hold a large family, but it does not hold nine people or more. (helping verb)

 

Exercise 4. Read the following paragraph about getting the driver’s license.  If the bold-faced verb is a helping verb, highlight “HV”. If it is a main verb, highlight “MV”.  The first one is an example. When you finish the entire exercise, you can retry or see all the answers. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

 

VII. Twelve Verb Tenses

 

While verbs show actions or states of being, verb tenses indicate the time of those actions or states of being:

  • in the past, in the present, in the future, or from past to present
  • happened just once, happened repeatedly, or is still happening.

There are twelve tenses in English:

 

PAST

PRESENT

FUTURE

SIMPLE

I studied.

You studied.

He studied.

They studied.

I study.

You study.

He studies.

They study.

I will study.

I am going to study.

You will study.

You are going to study.

He will study.

He is going to study.

They will study.

They are going to study.

PROGRESSIVE

I was studying.

You were studying.

He was studying.

They were studying.

I am studying.

You are studying

He is studying.

They are studying.

I will be studying.

I am going to be studying.

You will study.

You are going to study.

He will be studying.

He is going to be studying.

They will be studying.

They are going to be studying.

PERFECT

I had studied.

You had studied.

He had studied.

They had studied.

I have studied.

You have studied.

He has studied.

They have studied.

I will have studied.

You will have studied.

He will have studied.

They will have studied.

PERFECT PROGRESSIVE

I had been studying.

You had been studying.

He had been studying.

They had been studying.

I have been studying.

You have been studying.

He has been studying.

They have been studying.

I will have been studying.

You will have been studying.

He will have been studying.

They will have been studying.

 

In this course, you will be focusing on using eight of the above tenses in writing: simple present, present progressive, present perfect, present perfect progressive, simple past, past progressive, past perfect, and simple future tenses. You will learn the rest of the tenses in future courses.

 

VIII. Five Basic Verb Forms

In the above chart, the verb “study” appears in different forms – study, studies, am studying, had been studying, will be studying, and some others. These are called verb forms. Verbs have five basic forms:

 

BASE

PRESENT

PRESENT PARTICIPLE

PAST

PAST PARTICIPLE

 

Be

am, is, are

being

was, were

been

Do

do, does

doing

did

 

done

Have

 

have, has

having

had

had

Study

 

study, studies

studying

studied

studied

Move

 

move, moves

moving

moved

moved

 

Speak

 

speak, speaks

speaking

spoke

spoken

 

Always remember that a verb tense and its verb forms must match each other. There are detailed explanations and practice in verb tenses and forms from Unit 11 through Unit 14  in this book.  (Open Unit 11 Present Tenses, Unit 12 Past Tenses, Unit 13 Future Tenses, Unit 14 Mixed Tenses here.)

 

IX. Unit Review Practice

Exercise 5. The following sentences describe what is going on in a class. Highlight “action” for action verbs and “non-action” for non-action verbs. The first one is an example. When you finish the exercise, you can retry or see all the answers. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

 

Exercise 6. The following paragraph about leashing the dog is from a previous unit. Highlight “HV” for helping verbs and “MV” for main verbs. The first one is an example. When you finish the exercise, you can retry or see all the answers. (To highlight, you position your computer curser on the verbs and right click.)

two dogs on leash
two dogs on leash

 

 

Exercise 7. The following is a story about two puppies in love. Some verbs are bold-faced. Select what the type of verb each one is. You will get instant feedback after each sentence.  If you make a mistake, you may also retry or see the answer.

a dog swimming
a dog swimming

 

Exercise 8. Take a paragraph you have written in this course. Exchange it with your partner’s.

In your partner’s paragraph, single underline the main verbs and double underline the helping verbs.  For each main verb, identify if it is an action verb or a non-action verb. When you finish, return the paragraph to your partner. Discuss with your partner if you agree with each other on all the verbs.

 

 NSNT Practice

a pen writing in a notebook
a pen writing in a notebook

Go to The NSNT Free Writing Approach and Additional Weekly Prompts for Writing in Appendix A. (Open Appendix A here.) Choose two topics to write a paragraph each. You may start with the NSNT approach and then rewrite it. Pay attention to the use of verbs. Be mindful of the verbs you are using: Are they main verbs or helping verbs? Action verbs or non-action verbs? “Be” verbs or “do” verbs? You are encouraged to share your writing with your partner and help each other improve.

 

Vocabulary Review

a page in a dictionary
a page in a dictionary

The words here have appeared in this unit.  The best way to learn them is to guess the meaning of each word from the context.  Then hover your computer mouse over the number beside each word to check its meaning and part of speech. These words are also listed in the footnote area at the end of each unit.

Here, you can use the flashcards below to review these words.

 

 

 

Summary

  1. A verb shows an action or a state of being and usually comes after the subject in a sentence.
  2. The two main categories of the verbs are main verbs and helping verbs.
  3. A main verb can be an action or a non-action verb. Each sentence must have a main verb.
  4. A helping verb is a form of “be”, “do”, “have”, “will”, and modal verbs. A helping verb must be accompanied by a main verb in a sentence.
  5. A “be” verb is NEVER followed by the base form of a “do” verb.
  6. A form of “be”, “do”, and “have” can be used as a main verb in one sentence and a helping verb in another. If there is not another verb showing the action or state of the subject, these verbs become main verbs. Otherwise, they are helping verbs in most cases.
  7. There are twelve verb tenses and five basic verb forms. Each verb tense has its own verb forms. Verb tenses and verb forms must match each other in sentences.

 

 

Media Attributions


  1. existence: noun, being there, being this way
  2. misunderstanding: noun, understand something in the wrong way
  3. festive: adjective, joyful, about holidays or festivals
  4. outfit: noun, clothing
  5. length: noun, the noun form of the adjective "long"
  6. content: adjective, happy and satisfied
  7. restless: adjective, upset, not calm
  8. color-blindness: noun, not able to see the differences in colors
  9. rushed: adjective, in a hurry
  10. expand: verb, get larger

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