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One of the basic word classes is verbs. (When Verb is written with a capital, we mean the functional element which forms part of the structure of a clause; written with a lowercase we mean verb the word class.)

Verbs are one of the semantic group which carry most of the meaning of the sentence. There are several ways of looking at them.

  • Native speakers of English probably remember the Primary School definition of a verb as ‘a doing word’.
  • In Secondary School, this may have been expanded to ‘a word that expresses an action or a state’.
  • A more modern way of looking at a verb is as a word that can have tense - i.e. a word that can change, or be changed, to express past, present or future (etc). If you can say ‘I do it today’ (or ‘I am doing it today’) and then change it to ‘I will do it tomorrow’ or ‘I did it yesterday’, then it is probably a verb. This covers the case of verbs that express a state (e.g. to be and to become) as well as verbs of action (e.g. to fight, to play, to run.)

(It is sometimes useful to be able to classify verbs into such groups as verbs of utterance (e.g. 'to say', 'to argue', 'to define' etc), verbs of motion ('to go', 'to come' etc) or verbs of thought ('to think', 'to consider', 'to agree' etc). These can be useful ways of thinking about verbs, particularly for foreign speakers learning some of the patterns of English; but they are not necessary as part of understanding grammar. Such groupings are more often useful as a semantic concept: they link words that deal with very similar ideas, but varied usage.)