English Parts of Speech: Verbs

Series index: English Parts of Speech Overview


Verbs express actions and states of existence, like “I eat” and “I am hungry.” Know Your Verb Tenses offers grammatical information about any verb.


English verbs have only a few basic forms:

  • Infinitive - write
  • Singular third person - writes
  • Preterite (simple past tense) - wrote
  • Present participle - writing
  • Past participle - written

They can be categorized based on their conjugations:

Verb Agreement: Number and Person

In English, a verb must agree with the number and person of its subject: I write, you write, he/she/it writes, we write, you (y’all) write, they write. See Making Subjects and Verbs Agree for basic guidelines. These conjugated verbs, called finite verbs, are required to form a complete sentence; on the other hand, non-finite verbs can’t function as verbs without helping verbs (see Types of Verbs below).

Tense and Aspect

English has three distinct tenses (past, present, and future) and three distinct aspects (simple, perfect, and progressive). Whereas tense distinguishes between I write (present) and I wrote (past), aspect distinguishes between I write (present simple) and I am writing (present progressive). Traditional grammar generally uses the term “tense” for both – in fact, I had never heard of verb aspect until today.

Here’s a list of each tense and aspect in English:

  • Past (simple) - I wrote
  • Past progressive - I was writing
  • Past perfect - I had written
  • Past perfect progressive - I had been writing
  • Present (simple) - I write
  • Present progressive - I am writing
  • Present perfect - I have written
  • Present perfect progressive - I have been writing
  • Future (simple) - I will write
  • Future progressive - I will be writing
  • Future perfect - I will have written
  • Future perfect progressive - I will have been writing

Using Verb Tenses gives a complete overview of each tense and aspect with many examples. If you’re interested in linguistics, read Rick Harrison’s detailed article on Verb Aspect (definitely not light reading).


Verbs are either in the active voice (I threw the ball) or the passive voice (The ball was thrown). Read this article on Active and Passive Voice if you need to brush up a bit.


English has three (arguably four) moods: indicative, imperative, and subjunctive – some also include the conditional mood.

Types of Verbs

Linguists categorize other types of verbs based on their meaning and usage.

  • Modal Verbs - may, can, must, would, etc. Modal verbs are types of auxiliary verbs.
  • Compound Verbs - downsize, out-fox, sidestep, etc. Note: not to be confused with verb groups, which are also sometimes called compound verbs.

Some other types of verbs exist, but they aren’t particularly important unless you’re a linguist. If you are, see Wikipedia Category: Verb Types for more.

Verb Quizzes