Verbs, moods and tenses: Chapter 1

Verbs, moods and tenses: Chapter 1

Verbs are perhaps the most important component of a question or sentence written or spoken in English. A Verb signals an occurrence, an action( and unfortunately that’s how most people understand it) or a state of being in the sentence or question


  • Children play in the park.
  • The picture was painted.
  • He likes a glass of sherry after dinner.

Here, the words “like”, “play” and “ was painted”, indicate the state of the person or thing or the actions performed by them, are verbs.


A verb has various functions. It says

1. What the subject (of the sentence) does.

E.g. A juggler juggles.

2. What the subject is

E.g. Quasim is happy.

3. What is done to the subject

E.g.  Stuart was punched by Bob

4. What the subject has(owns)

E.g. Kevin has a car.

The next thing we need to learn about verbs is if they are used transitively or intransitively in a sentence. Of course, that’s not tested directly on the exams but when we understand their usage it helps us to-A) Understand sentences better(RCs and Sentence Corrections)

B) Help us write better( Writing Ability Tests)

Verbs are used either transitively or intransitively. (Note: “Transitive and intransitive verbs” , in and of themselves, are misnomers)

When we use a verb transitively the action carries over from the subject (Nouns/Pronouns) to the object (Nouns/Pronouns).

Example: I eat bananas for breakfast.

To make it even easier to understand, a subject is the doer of an action

Obviously the next question is “how do I know what is the subject?”

The answer is “identify the verb first”
Now one may ask “how do I know what the verb is?”

The answer is “check for a word or words that can change its/their tense/tenses”

For instance in the example above the verb is “eat”

I ate bananas for breakfast.(Past tense)

I eat bananas for breakfast. (Present tense )

will eat bananas for breakfast tomorrow. (Future tense)

Now, ask yourself “who eats those bananas?”

The answer is “I”. Therefore you now know that the subject of the sentences above is “I”

That’s how you determine the subject BUT

if you need to decide whether  the verb used is being used transitively or intransitively ask “what/whom?” of the verb. Not the subject, mind you, ask the verb! If you get an answer, the verb is being used transitively!

The answer is “bananas!”

An object is the recipient of an action, in this case “bananas” is the object.


How do you recognize a verb used intransitively?

Consider the following sentences:

The sun rises in the east.

The sun rose in the east.

The sun will rise in the east.

By now , you, the reader, know how to find the verbs used. Now ask the verb “what?”

Do you get an answer that’s a noun, a noun phrase, a gerund (just another form of noun)? Of course not!. The verb “rise” is used intransitively! The verb won’t carry on to an object when it’s used intransitively

**Note: Adding prepositional phrases ,such as “in the east”, has no bearing on the how the verb is used


A word of caution!

Many verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively. Here are a few examples

Cathy sings a song. (Sings what? A song) Transitive

Cathy sings well. (Sings what?) Intransitive

Farmers grow wheat in summers (Grow what? Wheat.)Transitive

Wheat grows in summers (Grows what?) Intransitive

Confusion resulting from whether a verb is used transitively is most apparent when it comes to using the word “say”. Many a time I have shuddered at D.U graduates saying “So I said her”!!



Types of verbs

Action Verbs

As the names suggest, action verbs express mainly actions. For instance, sit, eat, cycle, etc. Typically this is the type that should take the ‘ing’ form.

Stative Verbs

What are Stative Verbs?

Stative verbs express a condition rather than an action. They usually relate to thoughts, emotions, relationships, senses, states of being and measurements. These verbs are not usually used with ing in progressive (continuous) tenses even though they may take on time expressions such as now and at the moment. We must use the simple tenses for them. Among the stative verbs are: be, believe, belong, contain, exist, feel, forget, have, hear, hope, know, lack, like, love, mean, own, prefer, reach, realise, remember, resemble, see, seem, smell, taste, understand and want.

Paul feels sad today. His wife scolded him.

Do you recognize him? He is an infamous politician.

However, there are some verbs that look like they should be stative, but may appear in the “ing” form. These verbs differ in meaning to the stative verbs. And that leads to sometimes hilarious situations, especially if a verb has both stative and action forms, primarily because each form takes on a distinct meaning.


Incorrect: I’m smelling your wife’s spaghetti (could imply that you are in the process of sniffing another man’s wife’s article of clothing.)

Correct: I smell your wife’s spaghetti (perceive or detect the odor or scent of spaghetti, a pasta preparation cooked by the said man’s wife)

“Our  boss appreciates our efforts” NOT “Our  boss is appreciatING our efforts”

Incorrect: I’m loving it.

This picture is in very poor taste, so is “I’m loving it”

Correct: I  love it.

(You are STUPID…if you think advertisers’ primary objective is to correct your English! Your fault and yours alone!)

Auxiliary (or Helping) Verbs)

Auxiliary (or Helping) verbs are used together with a main verb to show the verb’s tense or to form a negative or question. The three commonest auxiliary verbs are:

be (am, are, is, was, were, being),

have (had, has, having),

do (did, does, doing),

Examples: Did Sameer write all his own essays?

haven’t eaten my dinner yet.

Tasneem  is writing a story for a children’s publication.

These verbs   add functional or grammatical meaning to the sentences or parts of sentences in which they appear. They perform two very  important functions:

  1. Express tenses ( providing a time reference, i.e. past, present, or future)
  1. Express Grammatical aspect (expresses how verb relates to the flow of time or, in other words, sequencing)

How to Identify an Auxiliary Verb

To distinguish a full verb from an auxiliary verb, carry out the following test:

If the verb

  1. A) allows subject-auxiliary inversion and
  2. B) can take can take not in the negative form,

then it is an auxiliary verb.


She(subject) is(auxiliary) sleeping(full verb).
Is she(subject-auxiliary inversion) sleeping?
You(subject) are(auxiliary) lying to me.

Aren’t (“Not” in negative) you(subject-auxiliary inversion)  lying to me?
Here “is” and “are” an auxiliary verb.

You see what I mean?
*See you(subject-auxiliary inversion) what I mean. INCORRECT
*You see not (“Not” in negative...doesn’t work ) what I mean. INCORRECT
Therefore, “see” is not an auxiliary verb; it is a full verb.
Auxiliary Verb II: Modals

Modals are auxiliary verbs that are used to express abilities, possibilities, permissions, and obligations.


‘Can’ is used for permission and ability while ‘Could' is used to make polite requests. We can also use 'can' for these but 'could' is more polite.


  • Can you dance? (ability)
  • You can leave at 5 p.m. today. (permission)
  • Could I come in? (request)

 Questions and answers:

Could you take me to the hospital, please?

Could you loan me some money?

Could I have a lift?

Could I bother you for a moment?


If we use 'could' in reply to these requests, it suggests that we do not really want to do it. If you agree to a request, it is best to use 'can'.

Of course I can.

I could lend you some money but I'd need it back within a week .

I could give you drive you as far as Rohini if you make it worth my while.

I could help you in an hour but I'm very busy at the moment.

a. “Could” is used to speak about the past.


  • I could speak   German when I was younger because I spent my childhood in
  • On winter nights I could hear her singing as she finished the household chores .

 b. However “Could” is not always used to denote the past form of “can”. “Could” can be used to indicate possibilities      and is similar in meaning to 'might'.


  • There’s no point to searching for the scoundrel now, with any luck he could be in Timbuktu by now
  • She could get better opportunities is she weren’t this lazy.


a. May and might are used to speak about probabilities and permission.


  • I may come tomorrow.
  • Rita might If she does, speech it turns to might indirect speech.

b. If may is used in a direct speech, it turns to might indirect speech.


  • I may go to India. (Direct)
  • He said he might go to India. (Indirect)

 c. May and might are used to make suggestions and requests.


  • You might observe the liquid in the test-tube for another day.
  • You might try asking him for a loan.

3. Must

a. Must is used to indicate certainty or a high degree of probability.


  • If I is bigger than O, and O is bigger than E, than I must be bigger than E
  • The result are finally declared. You must be relieved

b. Must is used to express necessity, give orders and to advise.


  • Student must be encouraged to learn beyond their curricula.
  • One really must work out daily.

 c. Must is used in indirect speech after a past reporting verb. Must in this case acts like a past tense.


  • The people said that he must forgive his children.


a. Should is used to indicate an obligation and probability.


  • Everybody in the class should speak
  • She should be back by 8:00 or 8:30 PM.

b. If should is used in direct speech, it does not change form in indirect speech.


  • I should speak the truth. (Direct)
  • He said he should speak the truth. (Indirect)


Will used to indicate certainty about event that take place in the present or future.


  • As you will received the consignment tomorrow, let us finalise the payment.
  • Don’t disturb her. She will be in her study room at this time.

b. Will is used to indicate willingness or declare something.


  • I will come with you to the store.
  • I will pick up the phone.

 c. Will is used to indicate an intention, a threat or a promise.


  • I will definitely speak to her.
  • I will sue him!

d. Will is used to speak about typical behaviour.


  • She will watch the TV and entire afternoon.
  • When you throw a stone in the water, it will create ripples on the surface.


 a. Would is used as past tense of ‘will’ in some instances.


  • I would go to park often in summer.

 b. If “will” is used in a direct speech, it turns to”would” in indirect speech.


  • I will inviteRai to the party. (Direct)
  • She said she would inviteRai to the party. (Indirect)


c. Would in direct speech does not change its form in indirect speech.


  • Would you come with me? (Direct)
  • She asked whether I would go with her. (Indirect)

Irregular verbs

This is a list of some irregular verbs in English. Of course, there are many others, but these are the more common irregular verbs.

Irregular Verbs List          
V1 V2 V3 V1 V2 V3
Base Form Past Simple Past Participle Base Form Past Simple Past Participle
Awake awoke awoken grow grew grown
Be was, were been hang hung hung
Beat beat beaten have had had
Become became become hear heard heard
Begin began begun hide hid hidden
Bend bent bent hit hit hit
Bet bet bet take took taken
Bid bid bid hurt hurt hurt
Bite bit bitten keep kept kept
Blow blew blown know knew known
Break broke broken lay laid laid
Bring brought brought lead led led
Broadcast broadcast broadcast learn learned or learnt learned or learnt
Build built built leave left left
Burn burned or burnt burned or burnt lend lent lent
Buy bought bought let let let
Catch caught caught lie lay lain
Choose chose chosen lose lost lost
Come came come wear wore worn
Cost cost cost mean meant meant
Cut cut cut meet met met
Write wrote written pay paid paid
Do did done put put put
Draw drew drawn read read read
Dream dreamed or dreamt dreamed or dreamt ride rode ridden
Drive drove driven ring rang rung
Drink drank drunk rise rose risen
Eat ate eaten run ran run
Fall fell fallen say said said
Feel felt felt see saw seen
Fight fought fought wake woke woken
Throw threw thrown send sent sent
Fly flew flown show showed showed or shown
Forget forgot forgotten shut shut shut
Forgive forgave forgiven sing sang sung
Freeze froze frozen swim swam swum
Get got got (sometimes gotten) tear tore torn
Give gave given speak spoke spoken
Go went gone spend spent spent
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