VERB – Meaning, form, types and examples


VERB – Meaning, form, types and examples

The verb is the most important of all the eight parts of speech. A sentence is not a sentence if the verb is missing.

The verb, therefore, can be defined from the point of view of its functions. From this standpoint, it may be proper to describe the verb as only part of speech that tells what happens in a sentence, hence it is called “telling word”.
It also tells us:

A. What a person or thing does. Therefore, a verb is a doing word.
• “ The hunter killed the lion.”
In the above sentence, the only word that tells us exactly what happened between the hunter and the lion is “killed”. “killed” is the verb.
B. What is done to a person or a thing.
For example:
• He is punished.

C. What a person or thing is, or it tells about a state of being or existence.
For example:
• The novel is interesting.
• I am wise.
• We are tired.

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In the sentence above, the words- is, am and are, do not portray actions but indicate the state of the novel (is), I (am) and we (are).
D. It may also tell us about possession.

• She has blue eyes.
• I have a good memory.
The verb also expresses action
For example:
The headmaster shouted at the latecomers.
When a verb expresses action, it is called “action verb”. An action verb can express physical actions such as “shout”. They can also express mental activities, such as memorize and forget.

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Verbs have different forms; such as:
1. The simple form or infinitive. Eg (to) obey, (to) drink, (to) choose.
For example:
• We drink water every day.
• I want to sleep.

2. The “ing” or continuous form. E.g obeying, drinking, choosing.
for example:
• Chindindu is playing football.

3. The “s” or third-person singular form. E.g obeys, drinks, chooses.
For example:
• Favour does her homework always.
• The dog always wags its tail.

4. The ‘ed’ or simple past form. E.g observed.
For example:
Ifeanyi killed the snake.

5. The ‘en’ or past participle/perfect forms. E.g chosen, obeyed, drink.
for example:
• The tree has fallen.
• We have eaten the food.
• We have drunk the wine.


Verbs are divided into two main types known as finite and non-finite verbs. Other categories of verbs from the finite verb are lexical, auxiliary, transitive, intransitive, modal and primary verbs. From the non-finite verbs are : infinite, participle and gerund.



Finite verbs are the simple present tense and simple past tense forms of verbs. In other words, they are verb form that shows present tense or past tense.
• Emeka writes letters.(“writes” is a finite verb which shows present tense)
• He wrote a letter yesterday.( wrote is a finite verb which shows past tense)


A verb which does not show present or past tense in a sentence is k nown as non-finite verb. They are the “ing”,infinitve and the past participle forms of the verb.
For example:
• Emeka is writing a letter. (“Writing” is a non-finite verb, while ‘is’ is a finite verb.
• To write an essay is easy. (“To write” is a non-finite verb, while ‘is’ is a finite verb.
• The tree has fallen down, (“Fallen” is the non-finite verb, while ‘has’ is the finite verb)


A lexical or main verb is the major or main important verb in a verb phrase. It is the verb that carries the message of the subject. It can stand in a given sentence without the help of another verb and effectively convey a complete meaning.
For example:
• He can go to Lagos.
• I did eat my supper.
• I may travel home.
“Go”, “eat”, “and”, “travel” are lexical verbs.


The word auxi comes from the Latin word “help”. Therefore, auxiliary verbs mean helping verb.
Auxiliary verb performs the function of helping other verbs. They help the main or lexical verb convey the extra information about tense (present or past); they are used to ask a question and have no independent existence of their own; that is they cannot stand on their own.

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They appear before the main verb.
For example:
• Samuel “is” reading his book.
• Kings “must” do the work today.
• The bus “should have” departed by now.
• Blessing “may have been” reading when I came in.
Auxiliary verbs are further classified into two:
I. Primary and
II. Modal auxiliary verbs.


A primary auxiliary verb helps the main verb to express tense and aspect in a verb phrase. The aspect of the tense can be “continuous” or “perfect”. It is also the primary auxiliary verb that indicates whether the tense is “present” or “past”.

The aspect is continuous when the action expressed by the verb is not completed. The aspect is perfect when the action expressed by the verb is completed. (I have eaten) the action is completed.

Examples are:

• Emmanuel is reading in the classroom. (present continuous tense)
• Ikenna has done the work. (present perfect)
• Mr Smart did not attend the function. (simple past)
• Our teacher had talked to her before she left. (past perfect).


Modal auxiliaries are verbs that are used with a main verb to show whether the action expressed by the main verb is possible, certain, necessary, permissible, predictable or obligatory. They also express other wide meanings including obligation, suggestion, request, invitation, offers, promises, etc.

The main modal auxiliary verbs are: can, could, may, might, will, shall, would, should, must and ought to.
Unlike primary auxiliary verbs, modal auxiliary verbs cannot be used as main verbs, having only one form.

For example
I. The child can ride a bike.
II. She could stay there if she wanted.
III. You may borrow the car for two hours.
IV. He might still have the reciept for the book.
V. We should get there before nightfall.
VI. Those who make fraudulent claims shall be prosecuted.
VII. Will you have some more tea?
VIII. Would you take a seat over there?
IX. You must leave at once.
X. They ought to pay for the damage.


Can express or indicates present ability.
 I can swim now. (present ability)
To express future ability use “ will be able”
 I will be able to swim perfectly if I practice for one week.
Can is not usually used to express the idea of “perhaps” (uncertainty). Instead, use may, might, or (less commonly) could.

 The road may/might/could be blocked.
Can is used to ask questions about the possibility.
 Can this be true?
Can is often used with verbs that concern the mind and the senses, such as: “believe”, “feel”, “hear” and “see”.

 I am looking at this photograph, I can see some famous people in it.
Can is used to express permission.
 Can I speak to you?
Please note that it is wrong to use “can” and “be able to” at the same time. They mean the same thing: it is better to use one at a time.
 I cannot be able to perform the task. (wrong)
 I cannot perform the task. (right)
 I am unable to perform the task. (right)
(1) Could describes can in the past.

 I could run very fast when I was a small boy. (not can).
 I could not buy books yesterday. (not can).
 She could not attend the function due to heavy rain.

(2) Could is used instead of “can” to describe what someone has said, asked, etc.
For example:
 (You can smoke). He said he could smoke.
 She asked whether she could go home.

(3) Could is used (in clauses expressing purpose).
For example:
I. She brought charcoal so that she could darken the board.(not can).

(4) Could is (used to make a polite request).
For example:
i. Could you put this book on the table. (not can you).

(5) Could is (used to suggest a possible or desirable course of action):
If she is not at home, you could try phoning her at the office. (not you can).

(6) Could is used to (show annoyance).
For example:
i. You could have told me you were going to be late.

(7) Could is used to express possibility.
i. If I were you, I could do it easily. (not if I am you).
ii. If only she were here, I could ask her about it. (not if she was here).

1. May is (used to possibility) to be perhaps likely to:
i. He may come or he may not.
ii. He may have missed the car.
iii. He will do whatever may be necessary.

2. May is used to having permission to, be allowed to:
i. May I come in? Yes, you may.
ii. May I leave this with you?

3. May is used to expressing possibility.
i. Chidi may come tomorrow.
ii. You may pass the examination.
iii. He may be elected prefect of the class.

4. May is used to expressing a wish.
i. May God bless you.
ii. May you live long.

5. May is used in subordinate clauses to express purpose.
i. Learn that you may teach others.
ii. Eat that you may live.

1. Might is (used to show very slight possibility)
i. He might come, but it’s very unlikely. (not may)
ii. That car nearly hit me, I might have been hurt. (not may)

2. Might describes ‘may’ in the past and used in indirect speech.
i. I taught it might rain. (not may)
ii. (may we go home?) she asked if we might go home (not may)
iii. (you may go if you wish). He said I might go if I wished.

3. Might is used to make a gentle approach.
i. You might spend the money.
ii. You might go a little early.

1. Will is used for expressing the simple future tense.
i. The wedding will take place in July.
ii. We will see you next week.

2. Used when asking someone to do something.
i. Will you call me later, please?

3. Used to show what always happens.
i. Boys will be boys.
ii. He will ask nice questions
iii. He will go to church on Sunday.

4. Will is used to expressing determination.
i. I will train her ( I am determined to train her).
ii. We will not see her again (we are determined not to see her again)

5. Used to express promise.
i. We will help you solve the problem.
ii. We will consider your request.

6. Threat.
i. I will sue you.
ii. I will dismiss you from service.

7. Willingness.
i. We will tell you the address.
ii. We will teach you today (willing to teach)

8. Will is used to talking about probability.
i. I think she will be an expert in computers.
ii. I suppose he will be the director of the firm.

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1. Would is used instead of will to describe what someone has said, asked etc.
i. (We will meet you at 10:30). They said they would/they’d meet us at 10:30. (not will)
ii. I knew she would be annoyed. (not will)

2. Is used instead of will with a past tense verb or when showing what is likely or possible.
i. I would be surprised if you came. (not will).
ii. Any increase in school fees would have serious consequences for academics.
iii. What would you do if you won the prize?

3. Used to show what always happened.
i. We used to attend the same meeting and we would often go together.

4. Used to show that one is annoyed at something that always happens or is typical.
(a) That’s exactly like him, he would lose the key.
5. “Would” and “would like to” are used to express a wish.
(a) I would know her opinion about it (wish to know)
(b) I would like to talk about it (wish to talk)

6. “Would rather” is used to express a choice or preference.
(a) I would rather die than steal.

7. Would is used in the main clause when preceded by a subordinate clause expressing an improbable condition.
(a) If I were rich, I would go to America.

8. Wish+ would is used to express intention.
(a) I wish I would know her address.
(b) She wishes she would visit Jos.

9. Would you mind + gerund may be used to make a request in a natural way.
(a) Would you mind lending me your book?
(b) Would you mind getting me a taxi?

1. Should is the past tense of shall and it is used in indirect speech.
For example:
 My friend said that he should stay at my house for a week.

2. Should is used to express duty or obligation in all persons.
For example:
 Duty: Ngozi should bring up the child. (as a mother, it is her duty to bring up the child)
 Obligation: you should help the poor (moral obligation)
 You should respect others. (social obligation)

3. Should is used after “lest” in a clause expressing purpose.
For example:
 Come early lest we should be late.
 They worked hard lest they should fail in their attempt.

4. Should + perfect infinitive is used to indicate a past obligation which was unfulfilled.
For example:
 I should have spoken to her about it. (means: but I did not speak to her about it)
 He should have sent a mail to his brother. ( means: but he did not send a mail to his brother)

Ought to + perfect infinitive is used to express a past obligation which was not fulfilled.
For example:
 You ought to have spent the money more wisely. (means: but you did not spend wisely.)
 We ought not to have wasted our time. (means: but we wasted the time.)
 You ought to have told me earlier about it. (means: but you did not tell me about.)

Do/does/did + need + to infinitive is different from need + perfect infinitive.
For example:
 She didn’t need to spend the money. (means: it was not necessary for her to spend and she didn’t spend).
 She need not spend the money. (means: it was not necessary for her to spend but she spent the money).
 I didn’t need to help her. (means: it was not necessary to help her and I did not help her

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At the introduction of this topic ¬-“verb”, I told you that the verb is divided into two main types known as finite and non-finite with other categories of verbs from the two main verbs.
I also told you that the other categories of verbs from the finite verb are: lexical, transitive and intransitive, modal and auxiliary verbs.
Non –finite verbs are verb forms that show neither the present nor the past tense in the sentence. They are the infinite, participle and gerund. We have earlier on discussed finite verb with other categories of the verb from it. We shall discuss the non-finite verb with other categories of verbs from it now.

A verb which does not show present or past tense in a sentence is known as a non-finite verb. They are the “ing”, infinitive and the past participle forms of the verb.
There are two forms of the infinitive. One is “infinitive form as in
 They wished to leave.
 The child has nothing to do.

The other form is the infinitive without “to”, sometimes called the “base infinitive”.

This infinitive sometimes does not take “to”; the “to” can be implied, but not expressed; if it is expressed, it will be wrong.
Examples of the unexpressed “to” in the infinite are:
 We made the student-run round the field. (Not to run around the field).
 Ike, did you see Emeka return the pen? ( Not returned the pen).
 I heard Emeka say this. Didn’t you hear him? ( Not I heard Emeka said this).
 Who made Nonso spoil the clock? (Not who made Nonso spoil the clock).
 Did the girl wash her cloth? Yes, I saw her wash it. (not I saw her washed it).

In the sentence above, the verbs are in the infinite mode without “to”. It is the invisible “to” that puts each verb in the present tense form.
Let us now take a look at the use and functions of the infinitive.
 To advise others is easy.
 To learn English is easy.
Please note that these sentences must be written with the preparatory subject “it”.
For example:
 It is easy to advise others.
 It is easy to learn English.

For example:
 We heard him speak to his father.
 I noticed Nkechi smile at us.

For example: After had better, had rather, and would rather; use the present tense; after I would rather you, we would rather she, I would rather they, use the past tense.
For example:
 You had better consult a doctor; and not you had better consult a doctor.
 You had rather speak to her; and not you had rather spoke or spoken to her.
 I would rather work hard than rest.
 I would rather you went away from that place.
 I suppose we had better go.

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For example: except, but, than

For example:
 Amaka does nothing except blame others; and not Amaka does nothing except to blame others.
 I can do everything but understand her nature.
 I would win rather than accept defeat; not I would rather win than accept defeat.

5. After looking forward to, look forward to, or accustomed to, use a continuous tense.
For example:
 We look forward to seeing you.
 I am not accustomed to eating in public.

Please note that the verb “prevent” is never followed by an infinitive. The correct patterns are: prevent someone\something doing something or prevent someone/something from doing something.
For example:
 They tried to prevent me to escape.(wrong)
 They tried to prevent me from escaping.

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“when the word “to” is placed before a finite verb such a verb becomes infinite and is used as an infinitive”. For example, we say: To eat, to run, to play, to write, e.t.c.
Notice that the verbs are placed immediately after “to”, and not adverb or any other parts of speech. Therefore, the “to” and the verb should go together and not split.

It is also wrong to split an infinitive in the middle.
For example:
 I expect Victoria to carefully read the letter, is wrong because carefully is an adverb; not a verb.
 I expect Victoria to read the letter carefully, is correct.
 She tried to clearly explain the situation, is wrong.
 She tried to explain the situation clearly.


The second type of non-finite verb is the participle. It is the type of verb that has the features of an adjective and verb and so on. It is called an adjective or verbal adjective. It may also have a verbal function.


There are three types of participles in English, namely:
 Present participle
 Past participle and
 Perfect participle


A present participle is formed by adding –“ing” to a verb to indicate an action going on, incomplete or imperfect.
The present participle functions as an adjective when the participle is positioned next to the noun which it modifies.
For example:
 I saw a group of weeping women. (adjective)
 The students are writing. (verbal function)
 The protesting crowd.


Past participles end with “ed”, “d”, “t”, or “en” added to the verb and is used to indicate action as completed.
For example:
 His talent has impressed his teacher.
 The students have just taken their exams.


A perfect participle is formed with “having” + verb to indicate action as completed in the past.
For example:
 Having written.
 Having been written.

Note that participle is a verbal adjective and so it should be connected with a noun or pronoun. It must have a proper subject of the reference.
For example:
 Being a rainy day, we stayed indoors. (Wrong).
 As it was a rainy day, we stayed indoors. (Correct).
 Waiting for a bus, I saw him pass. (Wrong).
 When I was waiting for a bus, I saw him pass. (Correct).


A gerund is a combination of a verb and a noun. It is also a verbal noun. It is a verb form that ends in –“ing” and it is used as a noun.
Like other nouns, a gerund may be used as a subject, a predicate noun, a direct object, or the object of the preposition.
For example:
 Exercising builds strength and good health. (Subject).
 My favourite activity is exercising. (Predicate noun).
 They have begun repairing the car. (Direct object).
 What are the benefits of exercising? (Object of preposition).
(6) The possessive case of the noun and pronoun should be used and not an indefinite pronoun, personal pronoun or noun should be used before a gerund.

For example:
 She insisted on me paying the money. (Wrong).
 She insisted on my paying the money. (Right).
 Amaka objected to Emeka talking like that. (Wrong).
 Amaka objected to Emeka’s talking like that. (Right).
 I am sorry for him having spent his life uselessly. (Wrong).
 I am sorry for his having spent his life uselessly. (Right).

Igbaji Ugabi Chinwendu, from Cross River State, Nigeria. As a Business Educator, he is profoundly interested in teaching and managing business. Started blogging 2010 and officially 2013. He holds the esteemed positions of Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and Director at Freemanbiz Communication and Writers King LTD, demonstrating his leadership and expertise in the field.


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