Verbs carry the idea of being or action in the sentence.
- I am a student.
- The students passed all their courses.
Verbs are classified in many ways. First, some verbs require an object to complete their meaning: “She gave _____ ?” Gave what? She gave money to the church. These verbs are called transitive. Verbs that are intransitive do not require objects: “The building collapsed.” In English, you cannot tell the difference between a transitive and intransitive verb by its form; you have to see how the verb is functioning within the sentence. In fact, a verb can be both transitive and intransitive: “The monster collapsed the building by sitting on it.”
Helping verbs or auxiliary verbs such as will, shall, may, might, can, could, must, ought to, should, would, used to, need are used in conjunction with main verbs to express shades of time and mood. The combination of helping verbs with main verbs creates what are called verb phrases or verb strings. In the following sentence, “will have been” are helping or auxiliary verbs and “studying” is the main verb; the whole verb string is underlined:
- As of next August, I will have been studying chemistry for ten years.
A linking verb connects a subject and its complement. Sometimes called copulas, linking verbs are often forms of the verb to be, but are sometimes verbs related to the five senses (look, sound, smell, feel, taste) and sometimes verbs that somehow reflect a state of being (appear, seem, become, grow, turn, prove, remain). What follows the linking verb will be either a noun complement or an adjective complement:
- Those people are all professors.
- Those professors are brilliant.
- This room smells bad.
- I feel great.
- A victory today seems unlikely.
Passive and Active Voice
Verbs are also said to be either active (The executive committee approved the new policy) or passive (The new policy was approved by the executive committee) in voice. In the active voice, the subject and verb relationship is straightforward: the subject is a be-er or a do-er and the verb moves the sentence along. In the passive voice, the subject of the sentence is neither a do-er or a be-er, but is acted upon by some other agent or by something unnamed (The new policy was approved).
- Before the semester was over, the new nursing program had been approved by the Curriculum Committee and the Board of Trustees.
- Near the end of the game, an illegal time-out was called by one of the players.
- Later in the day, the employees were spoken to by the boss herself.