The Grammar Guardian Presents – Verbs

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Note: The examples used in this article are a continuation of the Story of Millie Black.  To read Millie’s entire story, go back and start with Nouns.  If you are just here to learn about Verbs, and not Millie, read on.

Note 2: All images are courtesy of Quanta Ignis Photography

What is a verb

A verb is an action word. It expresses “doing”.

Millie often walked in the fields in the evening.

In this sentence walked is telling us what Millie does. Millie completes the action in this sentence. This by itself is a simple concept that I have known since long before I met Mrs. Ramsey in 5th grade and long before I met Millie. However to properly use verbs to their full advantage there is so much more we need to know about them.   Let’s discover some things about verbs as we discover some things about Millie.

Verbs can express a physical action.

She strolled along listening to the rhythm of nature around her.

In this sentence the word strolled expressed a physical action that Millie was doing,

Verbs can express a mental action.

As she walked, she would contemplate her day.

Contemplation is an activity performed with the mind. Therefore the verb would contemplate expresses a mental action.

Verbs can express a state of being.

She was at peace with the world during these moments.

The verb in this sentence is was. Was is a conjugation of a verb called “to be”. Other “to be” verbs include is, am, were, and been.

Types of verbs

Defining a verb as a physical action, mental action, or state of being is only the top-level classification possible for this versatile word types. Verbs can be further categorized into several types.

Action vs. Stative verbs

Action verbs express an activity that the person or thing can do.

On the night of the full moon, Millie strolled through the fields like normal.

Strolled is the activity that Millie is doing in this sentence. But what is she thinking about while she is strolling? To know that we need a stative verb

Stative Verbs express a state of being, thought or emotion.

She imagined herself far away from her life as a simple English teacher.

Ah, imagining! This is the thought Millie is expressing in this sentence.

Transitive vs. Auxiliary verbs

Transitive Verbs are verbs that act on something else. To have a transitive verb you must have an Object (the thing being acted upon)

Millie picked a flower and stroked its soft petals.

As you see picked is the verb acting upon the flower. Millie could not have picked if there were not something to pick. In the same vein, stroked refers to the petals.

Auxiliary Verbs are also called helping verbs. They combine with a main verb to help express tenses, voice or mood. Here are some examples of the 3 most common auxiliary verbs: be, have and do.

When she looked up, Jake was standing across the field looking at her. Jake had a manila envelope clasped in his strong hands.

This passage has two auxiliary verbs in it. In the first sentence was is acting as a helper verb for the verb standing. In the second sentence had is actually the helper verb for clasped, even though the two words are separated by the object. Both of these auxiliary verbs are showing tense.

Modal Verbs

Modal Verbs are actually a subset of auxiliary verbs. They are used to express ideas. They can also be used to ask for permission or to give advice. The following chart lists the most common Modal verbs.

Can Could May
Might Must Shall
Should Will Would

Lets see some examples of how modal verbs are used to help express an idea.

Millie should have turned around then, but she didn’t. Instead she walked to him and plucked the envelope from his hands.

Shall I open this now?” she asked. Jake looked at her from beneath hooded lashes.

“If you would.” He replied.

This passage had several modal verbs in it. Should is linked to turned; shall is linked to open. Would is actually a linking verb for the understood verb “to do”. What did the words should, shall, and would signify in each sentence? Consider how the use of modal verbs here enhance the meaning of the actions.

Linking Verbs

Linking verbs connect or show a relationship between two nouns or between a noun and an adjective. Back in Mrs. Ramsey’s class we learned that the most common linking verbs were conjugations of the verb to be. However there are so many better verbs that simple to be verbs can be replaced with to enhance your sentence. For example take the following sentence:

Millie’s heart was beating fast as she undid the clasp on the envelope.

The verb was here is a linking verb attached to beating. However its use required the use of an additional adverb to truly understand the message. Look at how the sentence changes if we replace the linking verb section with an action verb.

Millie’s heart raced as she undid the clasp on the envelope.

Phrasal verb

A phrasal verb is a verb made up of more than one word. The verb usually consists of a main verb and a different type of word such as a preposition. The combination of the two words usually changes the definition from what the main verb would have standing alone. These verbs are also sometimes called idiomatic verbs.

She read over the letter the envelope contained and then stared at the pictures. Should she make up an excuse, she wondered.

“As you see, I have found out your secret.” Jake stated.

Consider the phrasal verbs in the above passage. Think about the meaning of each individual word that makes up the phrasal verb versus the meaning of the verb itself.

Phrasal Verb

Meaning

Read over Peruse
Make up Invent a story or lie
Found out Discovered

 

Verb Tenses

Verb tenses tell us when something happened. The types of verb tenses can be defined two ways. Verbs can be past, present and future tense. They can also be simple, perfect, progressive and perfect progressive. Take a look at the following table of the word lie to see how these tense types relate to each other.

  Simple Perfect Progressive Perfect progressive
Past Lied Had lied Was lying Had been lying
Present Lie Have lied Am lying Have been lying
Future Will lie Will have lied Will be lying Will have been lying

Now let’s see verb tenses at work in Millie’s story. As you read the next passage, refer back to the table and try to pick out which verbs belong to which tense.

Millie looked up at Jake. She had been lying to everyone for so long. How ironic that Jake discovered her secret when no one else had. Around them night was falling.

“What do you want?” she asked, a little breathless, “It will be dark soon.”

“You have been lying to everyone for some time. “ Jake’s voice was low. “But I also live a double life. If you want me to keep your secret, you will help me. The full moon will give us enough light, but we must go now.” Millie closed her eyes, trembling with fear and anticipation. “Tell me,” she whispered.

Summing it up

Verbs are one of the key building blocks of a sentence. They give meaning and action to the subject. There are many forms and types of verbs to choose from as you build your sentences. Choosing the right verb and the right type of verb can take your writing from good to great. Read again the part of Millie’s story we’ve learned today.  As you do, think back over everything we have learned about verbs and how they help shape our sentences.

The Story of Millie Black – Chapter 2

Millie often walked in the fields in the evening. She strolled along listening to the rhythm of nature around her. As she walked, she would contemplate her day. She was at peace with the world during these moments.

On the night of the full moon, Millie strolled through the fields like normal. She imagined herself far away from her life as a simple English teacher. Millie picked a flower and stroked its soft petals. When she looked up, Jake was standing across the field looking at her. Jake had a manila envelope clasped in his strong hands.

Millie should have turned around then, but she didn’t. Instead she walked to him and plucked the envelope from his hands.

“Shall I open this now?” she asked. Jake looked at her from beneath hooded lashes.

“If you would.” He replied. Millie’s heart raced as she undid the clasp on the envelope. She read over the letter the envelope contained and then stared at the pictures. Should she make up an excuse, she wondered.

“As you see, I have found out your secret.” Jake stated. Millie looked up at Jake. She had been lying to everyone for so long. How ironic that Jake discovered her secret when no one else had. Around them night was falling.

“What do you want?” she asked, a little breathless, “It will be dark soon.”

“You have been lying to everyone for some time. “ Jake’s voice was low. “But I also live a double life. If you want me to keep your secret, you will help me. The full moon will give us enough light, but we must go now.” Millie closed her eyes, trembling with fear and anticipation. “Tell me,” she whispered.

 Brandy

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