Verbs and Verb Tenses

Action Verbs

An action verb expresses action. It tells what a person or a thing does.

Muskrats swim in marshes.
We built a fantastic sandcastle.

Note, the name “action verb” is sometimes misleading. Many action verbs are not really actions, but the subject is still doing something. For instance:

My cousin likes applesauce.
His theory evolved over several months.

If you watched carefully, you still could not see someone liking something, or a theory evolving. Yet these are still action verbs, as the subjects are doing something.

Linking Verbs

A linking verb links the subject of the sentence with information about it. Sometimes linking verbs are called “state-of-being verbs.”

Jeremy is tired.
This apple tastes so sweet.
They seem stupid.

Notice how “tastes” could be an action verb (He tastes food for a living) but in this case, it is linking the subject (apple) to a description OF IT (sweet).

Helping Verbs

Helping verbs, also known as “auxiliary verbs,” clarify the tense or mood of the main verb.

Ms. Sothros is reading our stories.
We had looked for buried treasure.
She should have been studying instead. (this sentence has 3! – this is the most you can have attached to any one action or linking verb)

Transitive & Intransitive

A transitive verb requires a direct object – in other words, when the verb is mentioned, the thought isn’t yet complete.

He places the glass down.
The woman broke her favorite vase.
The wind moves the waves

You couldn’t very well say, “He places” or “The woman broke,” could you? No. Transitive verbs need a direct object to show what or who receives the action.

An intransitive verb cannot take a direct object.

The water boiled.
The rain fell all afternoon.
The wind moves between the trees

Most verbs can work as either a transitive or an intransitive verb, like with “moves” above. In the first sentence, ‘the waves’ is the direct object, whereas ‘between the trees’ is a prepositional phrase This is not uncommon. Context would determine which type it is in any given sentence. Some verbs, like resuscitate (trans.) and discriminate (intrans.) can only be used as one OR the other.


All verbs have two participles. The present participle is the ‘-ing’ form of a verb, used to show continuous action (a participial phrase is one that starts with a participle, like, “looking out the window, Mike saw a bird”). These are used in the progressive forms of verbs. The past participle is used with perfect verbs (“he has eaten” – past perfect (as opposed to “he ate” – past simple) … most of the time, these are the ‘-ed’ endings though, like in “he had completed his homework when the phone rang”). The easiest way of telling the difference between the past simple and the past participle is this: the past participle is what comes after HAD/HAS/HAVE


To Walk Walking Walked
To Go Going Gone (NOT ‘went’)

Dangling Participles – this is when it is unclear what a participle modifies in a sentence. For example: “Having finished my meal, the waitress brought me the check.” What dreadful service – a waitress who eats customers’ meals… Or: “Dressed in a caterpillar costume, Michael thought his daughter was adorable.” Who is wearing the costume here? In both cases, the participle is too far from the thing it modifies. Consider the confusion within the following sentences:

Coming out of the woodwork, Dale saw termites.

Born on April 3rd, 2014, Steven welcomed his first newborn son into the family.

At the age of seven, Carol’s grandfather passed away.

Floating face-down and bloated, Robert stared at the drowning victim.

Solution: Be careful any time you see a participle near the start of a sentence. In simpler (and less complete) terms, beware of –ing forms at the starts of sentences.

Verb Tenses

In English, there are three basic tenses: present, past, and future. Each has a simple form, which is … simple. Each has a perfect form, indicating completed action; each has a progressive form, indicating ongoing action; and each has a perfect progressive form, indicating ongoing action that will be completed at some definite time. Here is a list of examples of these tenses and their definitions:

Simple Forms Progressive Forms Perfect Forms Perfect Progressive Forms
Present walk/s am/is/are walking have/has walked have/has been walking
Past walked was/were walking had walked had been walking
Future will/shall walk will be walking will have walked will have been walking

The simple forms are pretty easy to keep track of. I ate, I eat, I will eat.

The progressive forms are: [simple form of ‘to be’ + present participle]

The Perfect Simple uses this construction: [simple form of ‘to have’+ past participle]

The Perfect Progressive is: [progressive form of ‘to be’ + present participle]


EVERY future tense starts with “will” – then…

  • The Simple tenses do not need helping verbs (I sleep, I slept)
  • Progressive tenses have “TO BE” in them (I am sleeping, I was sleeping.
  • Perfect tenses have “TO HAVE” in them (I have slept, I had slept)
  • Perfect Progressive tenses have TO BE and TO HAVE (I have been sleeping)

Identify the verb tense (e.g. “Future Simple” or “Present Perfect Progressive”:

The dog barks in the night  ___________________________________________

The guards were examining the doorway when they heard shots.

1st ___________________________

2nd ________________________________

By the time my parents get here, we will have eaten all of the chocolate

1st ___________________________

2nd ________________________________

Mike has been shooting films since his earliest years of childhood _____________


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