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Verbs: types

from English Grammar Today

Main verbs

Main verbs have meanings related to actions, events and states. Most verbs in English are main verbs:

We went home straight after the show.

It snowed a lot that winter.

Several different types of volcano exist.

Linking verbs

Some main verbs are called linking verbs (or copular verbs). These verbs are not followed by objects. Instead, they are followed by phrases which give extra information about the subject (e.g. noun phrases, adjective phrases, adverb phrases or prepositional phrases). Linking verbs include:












A face appeared at the window. It was Pauline. (prepositional phrase)

He’s a cousin of mine. (noun phrase)

This coat feels good. (adjective phrase)

She remained outside while her sister went into the hospital. (adverb phrase)

Auxiliary verbs

There are three auxiliary verbs in English: be, do and have. Auxiliary verbs come before main verbs.

Auxiliary be

Auxiliary be is used to indicate the continuous and the passive voice:

I’m waiting for Sally to come home. (continuous)

Her car was stolen from outside her house. (passive)

Auxiliary do

Auxiliary do is used in interrogative, negative and emphatic structures:

Does she live locally? (interrogative)

They didn’t know which house it was. (negative)

I do like your new laptop! (emphatic, with spoken stress on do)

Auxiliary have

Auxiliary have is used to indicate the perfect:

I’ve lost my memory stick. Have you seen it anywhere? (present perfect)

She had seen my car outside the shop. (past perfect)

Auxiliary verb with no main verb

An auxiliary verb can only appear alone when a main verb (or a clause containing a main verb) is understood in the context:


Does she play the clarinet?


Yes, She does. (Yes, she plays the clarinet.)


It hasn’t snowed at all this year, has it?


No, it hasn’t. (No, it hasn’t snowed.)

Be, do and have as main verbs

Be, do and have can be used as auxiliary verbs or as main verbs.


as a main verb

as an auxiliary verb


She’s a professional photographer.

He’s thinking of moving to New Zealand.


I need to do some work this evening.

Do you like Thai food, Jim?


The children have lunch at twelve o’clock.

We haven’t been to the cinema for ages.


Remember, when do and have are main verbs, we must use auxiliary do to make questions and negatives:


What does Janet do?


She’s a teacher.

Not: What does Janet?

I don’t have a car. I only have a bike.

Modal verbs

The main modal verbs are:










Modal verbs have meanings connected with degrees of certainty and necessity:

We’ll be there around 7.30. (speaker is quite certain)

A new window could cost around £500. (speaker is less certain)

I must ring the tax office. (speaker considers this very necessary)

Semi-modal verbs have some meanings related to the main modal verbs. The semi-modal verbs are dare, need, ought to, used to.

State and action verbs

A verb refers to an action, event or state.


We can use the simple or continuous form of action verbs:

I cleaned the room as quickly as possible.

She’s watching television at the moment.


We can use the simple or continuous form of event verbs:

Four people died in the crash.

It’s raining again.


We usually use the simple form rather than the continuous form of state verbs:

I don’t know the name of the street.

Who owns this house?

Some verbs can be used to talk about both states and actions, but with different meanings:

state (usually simple form)

action (simple or continuous)

I come from France. (This is where my home is.)

She is coming from France on Wednesday.

He came from Italy yesterday. (travel from)

She is very friendly. (permanent quality or state)

She is being very unfriendly. (temporary behaviour)

We have two dogs. (own)

We’re having a meeting to discuss it. (hold a meeting)

We had mussels for starter and prawns for main course. (eat)

Do you see what I mean? (understand)

Jane is seeing her boss today and she’s going to tell him she’s leaving.

I don’t see Rebecca at work any more since I moved office. (meet)

Your dress looks nice. (appear)

What are you looking at?

I never look at the price on the menu. (see with your eyes)

Spoken English:

In very informal speaking you will sometimes hear state verbs used as action verbs when they refer to actions over short periods. These uses are not usually found in traditional grammar books.


I like reading.

Like used as a state verb describing a permanent fact about me.

I’m not liking this book.

Like used as an action verb referring to the book I am reading but not enjoying at the moment.


She loves classical music.

Love used as a state verb to refer to a permanent fact about her.

She’s loving the CD you gave her.

Love used as an action verb referring to the CD which she is listening to and liking very much at the moment.

(“Verbs: types” from English Grammar Today © Cambridge University Press.)
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