What is a verb? Definition, Examples, and Explanation

The verb is one of the essential building blocks of language (the other being the noun); you can’t make a sentence without one.

Verbs often show action, like the verbs run or make. However, not all verbs show action per se; many verbs are used to express a state of being, like the most common verb be.

People running.

Definition of Verb

A verb is a word that is used to show action or state, like eat or buy (for actions) or are or exist (for states).

The verb can be thought of as the heart of a sentence in that it expresses what the subject is doing or what it is.

In standard English grammar, all clauses require at least a verb. (Compare this with adjectives, which are optional in clauses.)

Verbs in many languages can be tricky to learn sometimes because the form of the verb changes (we call these changes inflections) depending on the number of the subject (for example, is instead of are) or the tense (or time) of the action or state (for example, is vs. was).

Examples of Verbs

These words are verbs:

  • keeps
  • has
  • were
  • became
  • remembered
  • dreamt
  • defenestrated

Examples of Words that are NOT Verbs

I also think it's helpful to see words that aren't verbs.

  • of
  • the
  • happy
  • quickly
  • button

Rules for verbs

In English, verbs can be somewhat complex, though not nearly as complicated as  those in such Romance languages as French and Portuguese.

There are too many rules for verbs to explain in this article; I will explain only the most important aspects of verbs here.

Verb tense: Past, present, and future

Verb tense refers to the form a verb takes to indicate when the action or state occurs. English has three main tenses: past, present, and future. Each main tense is divided into simple, progressive, perfect, and perfect progressive tenses. This means there are twelve total, but about six of them represent the majority of the tenses that are used in everyday English language.

Again, verb tenses can get complicated, so here I just want to give an overview.

Here are three examples of verb tenses:

  1. Past tense: Indicates an action that has already happened. For example, "I walked to the store yesterday."
  2. Present tense: Indicates an action that is happening right now or in general state. For example, "I walk to the store every day" (this can be thought of as a habit) or "The Earth is round" (and this is a fact). Note: We frequently use the present continuous (or present progressive) to indicate an action in progress. For example, we would say I am walking right now, but not *I walk now.
  3. Future tense: Is used for an action that will happen in the future (or is planned/expected to happen). For example, "I will walk to the store tomorrow."

Subject-verb agreement: Verbs must agree in number with their subjects

In grammar, number refers to the distinction between singular (one) and plural (more than one) forms of nouns and pronouns.

Verbs in English "agree" (or match) with nouns (their subjects) in their number. Singular subjects require singular verbs; plural subjects require plural verbs.


  • The dog barks loudly. (singular subject and singular verb)
  • The dogs bark loudly. (plural subject and plural verb)
  • She runs every day (singular subject and singular verb), but they run every weekend (plural subject and plural verb).

Irregular verbs

Irregular verbs are verbs that do not follow the regular conjugation patterns in the past tense or past participle forms.

In English, regular verbs form their past tense and past participle by adding -ed or -d to the base form of the verb (like talk, talked, laugh, laughed, face, faced).

However, irregular verbs change in other ways, often altering their spelling entirely. For example, the past tense of catch isn't *catched, but caught.

Important! English has a very high number of irregular verbs (around 280). Around 200 of these are the ones we tend to use a lot, like go/went and be/was.

Examples of irregular verbs

1. Go is an irregular verb because its past tense is went and its past participle is gone, not *goed.
- I go to the gym every day.

- Yesterday, I went to the gym.
- I have gone to the gym every day this week.

2. See is another irregular verb, with saw as the past tense and seen as the past participle.
- I see a bird in the tree.
- Yesterday, I saw a bird in the tree.
- I have seen that bird in the tree before.

3. Eat is also an irregular verb, with ate as the past tense and eaten as the past participle.
- I eat an apple every day.
- Yesterday, I ate an apple.
- I have eaten an apple every day this week.

We will be adding more information in the future. Please check back!

Updated: 2024-04-04