Generally, the only inflected forms of an English verb are a third person singular present tense
form ending in -s
, a past tense
(also called preterite
), a past participle
(which may be the same as the past tense), and a form ending in -ing
that serves as a present participle
. Most verbs inflect in a simple regular
fashion, although there are about 200 irregular verbs
; the irregularity in nearly all cases concerns the past tense and past participle forms. The copula
has a larger number of different inflected forms, and is highly irregular.
For details of the uses of particular verb tenses and other forms, see the article Uses of English verb forms
. For certain other specific topics, see the articles listed in the adjacent box.
Conjugation of have
English verb has only one principal part
, from which all the forms of the verb can be derived. This is the base form or dictionary form
. For example, from the base form exist
, all the inflected forms of the verb (exist
) can be predictably derived. The base form is also called the bare infinitive
; that is, the infinitive without the to
Most irregular verbs
have three principal parts, since the simple past
and past participle
are unpredictable. For example, the verb write
has the principal parts write
(base form), wrote
(past), and written
(past participle); the remaining inflected forms (writes
) are derived regularly from the base form. Note that some irregular verbs have identical past tense and past participle forms (as the regular verbs do), as with send–sent–sent
The infinitive, simple past and past participle are sometimes referred to as First (V1), Second (V2) and Third (V3) form of a verb, respectively. This naming convention has all but disappeared from American and British usage, but still can be found in textbooks and teaching materials used in other countries.
Many speakers have only two forms, collapsing the distinction between V2 and V3, though this is considered non-standard. For most verbs the forms are V1 and V2 (have they went yet?, with 'gone' never being used, or a corporate-ran company rather than corporate-run), but for a few verbs they are V1 and V3 (I seen it, he done it, with 'saw' and 'did' not being used).
The verbs do
additionally have irregular third person singular present tense forms (see below
). The copular
is highly irregular, with the forms be
. On the other hand, modal verbs
(such as can
) are defective verbs
, being used only in a limited number of forms. For details on the forms of verbs of these types, see § Copular, auxiliary and defective verbs
The base form or plain form
of an English verb is not marked by any inflectional ending. There are certain derivational suffixes
that are frequently used to form verbs, such as -en
), and -ise/ize
), but these are considered to create distinct verbs. Many verbs also contain prefixes
, such un-
), and under-
Some verbs are formed from nouns and adjectives by conversion
, as with the verbs snare
, and calm
The base form is used in the following ways:
- It serves as the bare infinitive, and is used in the to-infinitive (e.g. to write); for uses see § Non-finite forms below.
- It serves as the simple present tense, except in the third person singular: I/you/we/they write regularly (and except for the copula).
- It is used as an imperative: Write these words.
- It is used as a subjunctive: I suggested that he write a novel.
For the verb be
, which uses different forms for the simple present, and modal verbs, which are not used in the infinitive, imperative or subjunctive, see § Copular, auxiliary and defective verbs
Third person singular present
Almost all verbs have a third person singular present indicative form with the suffix -[e]s
. In terms of spelling
, it is formed in most cases by adding -s
to the verb's base form: run
. However if the base form ends in one of the sibilant
/) and its spelling does not end in a silent e
, then -es
is added: buzz
. Verbs ending in a consonant plus o
also typically add -es
. Verbs ending in a consonant plus y
after changing the y
to an i
(as in lurches
), as /s/
after voiceless consonants
other than sibilants (as in makes
), and as /z/
otherwise (as in adds
). These are the same rules that apply to the pronunciation of the regular noun plural suffix-[e]s
and the possessive -'s
. The spelling rules given above are also very similar to those for the plural of nouns.
The third person singular present of have
is irregular: has
/hæz/ (with the weak form
/həz/ when used as an auxiliary, also contractable
). The verbs do
also have irregular forms, does
/dʌz/ and says
/sɛz/, which however look like regular forms in writing.
The form described in this section is used with third person singular subjects as the simple present
tense (in the indicative mood
): He writes novels all the time.
(This tense has other uses besides referring to present time; for example, in I'll be glad if he writes
, it refers to future time.)
The past tense, or preterite
, may be formed regularly or irregularly.
With regular verbs, the past tense is formed (in terms of spelling) by adding -ed
to the base form (play
). Normal rules for adding suffixes beginning with a vowel apply: If the base form ends in e
then only d
is added (like
); if the base form ends in a consonant followed by y
then the y
is changed to i
before adding the ending (try
; an exception is the verb sky
(a ball), which can form skied
Various rules apply for doubling final consonants
. If the base form ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant (except h
, silent t
, w
), then unless the final syllable is completely unstressed
the consonant is doubled before adding the -ed
, but fathom
). In general this is considered something to keep the vowel before the final consonant short (i.e. if the word were spelled shiped
it would have a long i.) However, there are 2 words, control
, which follow this rule even though the vowel before the final consonant is long. For most base forms ending in c
, the doubled form used is ck
, used regardless of stress (panic
; exceptions include zinc
→ usually arced
→ sometimes synched
). In British English
, the doubling of l
occurs regardless of stress (travel
; but paralleled
is an exception), and when two separately pronounced vowels precede the l
). If the final syllable has some partial stress, especially for compound words, the consonant is usually doubled: backflip
etc. In some cases both alternatives are acceptable, e.g. dialog
† or programmed
. Note however catalog
). Other variations not entirely consistent with these rules include bus
† or bussed
† and focus
. (The forms marked † are not used in British English, and the doubled consonant is not used for many words of non-Anglo-Saxon origin.)
The pronunciation of the past tense ending follows similar rules to those for the third person present tense ending described above: if the base form ends in /t/ or /d/ then a new syllable /ɪd/ or /əd/ is added (as in drifted
); if the base form ends in an unvoiced consonant
sound other than /t/ then the ending is pronounced /t/ (as in capped
); otherwise the ending is pronounced /d/ (as in buzzed
). Consequently, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the latter two pronunciations were routinely spelled -'d
, but -ed
was later restored.
For the past tense of irregular verbs, see English irregular verbs
. Some of these can be classed as Germanic strong verbs
, such as sing
), while others are weak verbs with irregularly pronounced or irregularly spelt past forms, such as say
(past tense said
The verb be has two past tense forms: was (first and third person singular) and were (plural and second person).
The past tense (preterite) form is used in what is called the simple past
, in sentences such as We lit the fire
and He liked to dance
. One of the uses of this tense is to refer not to a past situation, but to a hypothetical (present or future) situation in a dependent clause
: If I knew that, I wouldn't have to ask.
This is sometimes called the "past subjunctive", particularly in the case of were
, which can replace was
in such sentences; see English subjunctive
The past participle
of regular verbs is identical to the preterite (past tense) form, described in the previous section.
For irregular verbs, see English irregular verbs
. Some of these have different past tense and past participle forms (like sing–sang–sung
); others have the same form for both (like make–made–made
). In some cases the past tense is regular but the past participle is not, as with show–showed–shown
The present participle
form, which is also used for the gerund
, is formed by adding the suffix -ing
to the base form: go
. A final silent e
is dropped (believe
); final ie
changes to y
), and consonant doubling applies as for the past tense (see above
Some exceptions include forms such as singeing
, where the e
may be retained to avoid confusion with otherwise identical words (e.g. singing
), to clarify pronunciation (for example to show that a word has a soft g
), or for aesthetic reasons.
In standard English the ending is pronounced /ɪŋ/, although in many regional dialects the final consonant sound is pronounced /n/, sometimes represented in eye dialect
by spellings such as huntin'
Copular, auxiliary and defective verbs
The copular verb be
has multiple irregular forms in the present tense: am
for first person singular (which together with the subject pronoun is often contracted
for third person singular (often contracted to 's
), and are
for plural and second person (often contracted to 're
chiefly after the pronouns you
). It also has two past tense forms: was
for first and third person singular, and were
for plural and second person (also used as a past subjunctive with all persons; see English subjunctive
). The past participle is been
, and the present participle and gerund is the regular being
. The base form be
is used regularly as an infinitive, imperative and (present) subjunctive. For archaic forms, see the next section.
English has a number of modal verbs
which generally do not inflect (most of them are surviving preterite-present verbs
), and so have only a single form, used as a finite verb
with subjects of all persons and numbers. These verbs are can
, as well as must
, ought (to)
(when used with a bare infinitive), and in some analyses used (to)
and had better
. (The modals could
are historically the past tense forms of can
respectively, though they are not always used as such.) These verbs do not have infinitive, imperative or participle forms, although in some cases there exists a synonymous phrase that can be used to produce such forms, such as be able to
in the case of can
. The negation of can
is spelled as a single word, cannot
. There are contracted forms 'll
(in some cases possibly from shall
Other verbs used as auxiliaries
, chiefly in perfect constructions (the forms has
can contract to 's
), and do
) in emphatic, inverted and negated constructions (see do-support
Another example of a defective verb
, which is used only in those forms in which be
remains unchanged, namely the infinitive, subjunctive and imperative.
Archaic conjugation of have
One such form was the third person singular form with the suffix -eth
[əθ], pronounced as a full syllable. This was used in some dialects rather than the modern -s
, e.g. he maketh
("he makes"), he runneth
("he runs"), he goeth
("he goes"). In some verbs, a shortened form -th
appears: he hath
("he has"), he doth
("he does"; pronounced as if written duth
), he saith
or he sayeth
("he says"). The forms hath
are found in some proverbs ("Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned
", "The lady doth protest too much
Another set of forms are associated with the archaic second person singular pronoun thou
, which often have the ending -est
, pronounced as a full syllable, e.g. thou makest
("you make"), thou leadest
("you lead"). In some verbs, a shortened form -st
appears: thou hast
("you have"), thou dost
("you do"; rhymes with must
). In the case of the verb be
, such forms included art
(present tense), wast
(past subjunctive) and beest
(present subjunctive; pronounced as two syllables). In all other verbs, the past tense is formed by the base past tense form of the word (e.g. had
, not pronounced as a full syllable, e.g. thou had'st
("you had"), thou did'st
("you did"), thou listened'st
("you listened"). Modal verbs except must
also have -t
added to their form, e.g. thou canst
("you can"), thou wilt
("you will"), thou wouldst
("you would"), thou mightst
("you might"), except may
, which is thou mayest
For example, several such forms (as well as other archaic forms such as yea
for "yes", thy
for "your", and mine enemies
for "my enemies") appear in Psalm 23
from the King James Bible
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Expressing tenses, aspects and moods
Apart from the simple past tense described above, English verbs do not have synthetic (inflected
) forms for particular tenses
. However, there are a number of periphrastic
(multi-word) constructions with verb forms that serve to express tense-like or aspect-like meanings; these constructions are commonly described as representing certain verb tenses or aspects (in English language teaching
they are often simply called tenses). For the usage of these forms, see § Use of verb forms
below. More detail can be found in the article Uses of English verb forms
Simple and progressive
(or continuous) aspect is expressed with a form of be
together with the present participle of the verb. Thus present progressive
(present continuous) constructions take forms like am writing
, is writing
, are writing
, while the past progressive
(past continuous, also called imperfect
) is was writing
, were writing
. There is a progressive infinitive (to) be writing
and a progressive subjunctive be writing
. Other progressive forms, made with compound forms of be
, are described below.
The basic present and past tenses of the verb are called simple present
(present simple) and simple past
(past simple), to distinguish them from progressive or other compound forms. Thus the simple present of the above verb is write
, and the simple past (also called preterite
) is wrote
The perfect aspect
is expressed with a form of the auxiliary have
together with the past participle of the verb. Thus the present perfect
is have written
or has written
, and the past perfect
(pluperfect) is had written
. The perfect can combine with the progressive aspect (see above) to produce the present perfect progressive
(continuous) have/has been writing
and the past perfect progressive
(continuous) had been writing
. There is a perfect infinitive (to) have written
and a perfect progressive infinitive (to) have been writing
, and corresponding present participle/gerund forms having written
and having been writing
. A perfect subjunctive
) is also sometimes used. Future and conditional perfect forms are given below.
Future and conditional
What is often called the future tense
of English is formed using the auxiliary will
. The simple future is will write
, the future progressive (continuous) is will be writing
, the future perfect
is will have written
, and the future perfect progressive (continuous) is will have been writing
. Traditionally (though now usually in formal English only) shall
is used rather than will
in the first person singular and plural; see shall and will
, or "future-in-the-past
", forms are made analogously to these future forms, using would
) in place of will
Expressing passive voice
The passive voice
in English is normally expressed with a form of the copula verb be
(or sometimes get
) together with the past participle of the main verb. In this context be
is not a stative verb, so it may occur in progressive forms. Examples:
- The house was built last year.
- The house is being built at the moment.
- The house will be built by our firm. (a prepositional phrase with by expresses the performer of the action)
- I was given a blueprint. (here the subject of the passive corresponds to the indirect object of the active)
- He was said to know the house's dimensions. (special construction related to indirect speech)
are expressed with the base form of the verb, normally with no subject: Take this outside! Be good!
It is possible to add the second person pronoun you
for emphasis: You be good!
Questions, negation, inversion and emphasis
Questions are formed by subject–auxiliary inversion
(unless the interrogative word is part of the subject). If there is otherwise no auxiliary, the verb do
) is used as an auxiliary, enabling the inversion. This also applies to negation: the negating word not
must follow an auxiliary, so do
is used if there is no other auxiliary.
Inversion is also required in certain other types of sentences, mainly after negative adverbial phrases; here too do is used if there is no other auxiliary.
The construction with do as auxiliary is also used to enable emphasis to be added to a sentence.
For details of the above constructions, see do-support
Use of verb forms
This section describes how the verb forms introduced in the preceding sections are used. More detail can be found in the article Uses of English verb forms
and in the articles on the individual tenses and aspects.
In referring to an action taking place regularly (and not limited to the future or to the past), the simple present
is used: He brushes his teeth every morning
. For an action taking place at the present time, the present progressive
construction is used: He is brushing his teeth now
. With some verbs expressing a present state
, particularly the copula be
and verbs expressing a mental state, the present simple is generally used: They are here
; I know that
. However other state verbs use the present progressive or present simple depending on whether the state is considered temporary or permanent: The pen is lying on the table
; Paris lies on the Seine
For past actions or states, the simple past
is generally used: He went out an hour ago
; Columbus knew the shape of the world
. However, for completed actions for which no past time frame is implied or expressed, the present perfect
is normally used: I have made the dinner
(i.e. the dinner is now ready). For an action in the course of taking place, or a temporary state existing, at the past time being referred to (compare uses of the present progressive above), the past progressive
is used: We were sitting on the beach when...
For an action that was completed before the past time being referred to, the past perfect
is used: We had sat down on the blanket when...
For actions or events expected to take place in the future, the construction with will
can be used: The president will arrive tomorrow.
Future events are also often expressed using the be going to
construction: She is going to arrive tomorrow.
Planned events can also be referred to using the present progressive (She is arriving tomorrow
) or, if precisely scheduled, the simple present (She arrives tomorrow
). The future progressive and future perfect can be used analogously to the past equivalents: We will be sitting on the beach this afternoon
; We will have left the house by 4 o'clock
. However, in subordinate clauses expressing a condition or a time reference, present forms are used rather than the forms with will
: If/When you get
(not will get
When expressing actions or events lasting up to a specified time, the appropriate perfect construction is used (with the progressive if expressing a temporary state that would generally be expressed with a progressive form): We have been having some problems lately; I have lived here for six years; We had been working since the previous evening; We will have been working for twelve hours by the time you arrive.
The bare infinitive
, identical to the base form of the verb, is used as a complement of most modal verbs and certain other verbs (I can write
; They made him write
; I saw you write
), including in negated and inverted sentences formed using do-support
(He doesn't write
; Did you write?
Preceded by to
, it forms the to
-infinitive, which has a variety of uses, including as a noun phrase
(To write is to learn
) and as the complement of many verbs (I want to write
), as well as with certain adjectives and nouns (easy to ride
; his decision to leave
), and in expressions of purpose (You did it to spite me).
The past participle has the following uses:
- It is used with the auxiliary have in perfect constructions: They have written; We had written before we heard the news. (With verbs of motion, an archaic form with be may be found in older texts: he is come.)
- It is used as a passive participle, with be or get, to form the passive voice: This book was written last year; Trees sometimes get gnawed down by beavers.
- It is used to form passive participial phrases, which can be used adjectivally or adverbially (a letter written on his computer; Beaten to a pulp, he was carried away) and as complements of certain verbs (I got my car mended; They had me placed on a list).
- It may be used as a simple adjective: as a passive participle in the case of transitive verbs (the written word, i.e. "the word that is written"), and as a perfect active participle in the case of some intransitive ones (a fallen tree, i.e. "a tree that has fallen").
The present participle has the following uses:
- It is used with forms of be, in progressive (continuous) constructions: He is writing another book; I intend to be sitting on the beach.
- It can form participial phrases, which can be used adjectivally or adverbially: The man sitting over there is drunk; Being a lawyer, I can understand this; I saw her sitting by the tree.
- It can serve as a simple adjective: It is a thrilling book.
The same form used as a gerund has the following uses:
- It forms verbal phrases that are then used as nouns: Lying in bed is my favorite hobby.
- It forms similar phrases used as a complement of certain verbs: He tried writing novels.
The logical subject of a phrase formed with a gerund can be expressed by a possessive
, as in I do not like your/Jim's drinking wine
, although a non-possessive noun or pronoun is often used instead, especially in informal English: I do not like you/Jim drinking wine
. The latter usage, though common, is sometimes considered ungrammatical or stylistically poor; it is given names like fused participle
since it is seen to confuse a participle with a gerund. For more information see fused participle
Gerund forms are often used as plain verbal nouns
, which function grammatically like common nouns (in particular, by being qualified by adjectives rather than adverbs): He did some excellent writing
(compare the gerund: He is known for writing excellently
). Such verbal nouns can function, for instance, as noun adjuncts
, as in a writing desk
Objects and complements
Verbs are used in certain patterns which require the presence of specific arguments
in the form of objects
and other complements
of particular types. (A given verb may be usable in one or more of these patterns.)
A verb with a direct object is called a transitive verb
. Some transitive verbs have an indirect object in addition to the direct object. Verbs used without objects are called intransitive
. Both transitive and intransitive verbs may also have additional complements that are not considered objects.
A single (direct) object generally follows the verb: I love you
. If there is an indirect object, it precedes the direct object (I gave him the book
), although an indirect object can also be expressed with a prepositional phrase
following the direct object (and this method is usual when the direct object is a personal pronoun): I gave the book to John
; I bought them for you.
Other complements may include prepositional phrases, non-finite clauses
and content clauses
, depending on the applicable verb pattern. These complements normally follow any objects. For example:
- I insist on coming. (this use of the verb insist involves a prepositional phrase with on)
- I expect to arrive tomorrow. (this use of expect involves a to-infinitive phrase)
- I asked him whether he was coming. (this use of ask involves a direct object (him) and an interrogative content clause)
English has a number of ergative verbs
: verbs which can be used either intransitively or transitively, where in the intransitive use it is the subject that is receiving the action, and in the transitive use the direct object is receiving the action while the subject is causing it. An example is sink
: The ship sank
(intransitive use); The explosion sank the ship
(transitive use). Other common examples include open, sink, wake, melt, boil, collapse, explode, freeze, start, sell
Many English verbs are used in particular combinations with adverbial modifiers such as on
, etc. Often these combinations take on independent meanings. They are referred to as phrasal verbs
. (This term may also include verbs used with a complement introduced by a particular preposition that gives it a special meaning, as in take to (someone)
The adverbial particle in a phrasal verb generally appears close after the verb, though it may follow the object, particularly when the object is a pronoun: Hand over the money or Hand the money over, but Hand it over.
- ^ "English irregular verbs" (PDF).
- ^ "1000 Forms of Verbs – 1st form, 2nd form, 3rd form".
- ^ "How to Change a Verb Into 2nd and 3rd Form?".
- ^ "Verb Forms".
- ^ Carter & McCarthy 2006, p. 301
- ^ H.W. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 1926
- ^ Penguin guide to plain English, Harry Blamires (Penguin Books Ltd., 2000) ISBN 978-0-14-051430-8 pp.144-146
Last edited on 2 May 2021, at 16:21
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