There are five different forms of verb: the base form, the –s form, the –ingparticiple, the past tense form, and the –ed participle.

Head Verbs and Auxiliary

Every full sentence of English must have at least one verb. This is called the ‘head verb’ or ‘main verb’ (Crystal, 1996 and Greenbaum and Quirk, 1990).

Sometimes the head verb is preceded by one or more auxiliary verbs. It is usually assumed that three auxiliaries is the maximum in English (e.g. I could have been speaking English). Only modal verbs and primary verbs can act as auxiliaries. Modal verbs always act as auxiliaries, but primary verbs sometimes act as auxiliaries and sometimes as head verbs.

The head verb together with any preceding auxiliaries is called a verb phrase. A verb phrase that consists of just the head verb and no auxiliaries is called simple. A verb phrase that contains one or more auxiliaries is called complex.

Sometimes a complex verb phrase may be discontinuous, as adverbs may intervene between the first auxiliary and the rest of the verb phrase. The verb phrase is also discontinuous in interrogative sentence.

When we combine the word class possibilities with the head/auxiliary possibilities, there are a total of four different kinds of verbs:

·           Modal auxiliary

·           Primary auxiliary

·           Primary head verb

·           Full head verb


1.     I could have been your teacher last year.

2.     I will be studying French next year.

Occurence of the Verb Forms

Within a complex verb phrase, each verb determines the form of the next verb. The rules for the occurence of the verb forms within a complex verb phrase are shown in the table below.

Auxiliary Followed by Example
modal base form I can swim.
do base form I do like you.
have -ed participle I have written the letter.
be (progressive) -ing participle I am sitting here.
be (passive) -ed participle It was broken.


We define tense as the way the first verb in the verb phrase uses inflectional suffixes to indicate the occurrence of an event in time. According to this definition, there are two tenses in English: present tense and past tense. The two tenses can occur in both simple verb phrases and complex verb phrases.

In accordance with our definition of tense, which only considers any inflectional suffix on the first word in the verb phrase, we have stated that there are two tenses in English. Many grammarians, however, say that there are three (or more) tenses in English –the difference lies in the definition of tense used. If we were to define tense as the way that English represents the occurrence of an event in time using grammatical expresssions (rather than inflections on the first verb), then there would be more than two tenses.

Future Tense

Many people consider the use of will to constitute a future tense. However, this is the use of a modal to represent future time. It is not a future tense, because we can also use may or might to represent future time.

The difference in meaning is not one of time reference, but rather in the degree of certainty of the prediction.

Subject-Verb Concord

Concord is the agreement between the subject and the verb. In English, all present tense verbs (except modals) take an –s suffix if the subject is the third person singular.

There are two complicating factors in considering subject-verb concord, both involving forms of be. First, in the present tense, be takes a special form if the subject is the first person singular. Second, unlike any other verb, the verb beexhibits subject-verb concord in the past tense. To determine concord correctly, it is essential to identify the head of the subject.


Use of the auxiliary do is called do-support. One common occurrence of do-support in English is with negative sentences. For example, in the sentence “I do not speak Malay”, do in this sentence carries no meaning, but is just used to enable us to create a negative sentence. It is called a dummy auxiliary.

The use of dummy auxiliary is also found when there is no other auxiliary and we want to create an interrogative sentence.

Progessive Aspect

The progessive aspect is used to indicate that the event is continuing. It sometimes emphasises the temporary nature of the event.

One important distinction in considering the progressive aspect is that between dynamic and stative verbs. Dynamic verbs, like jump, shout, and enter, describe an event that involves some kind of activity. Stative verbs, such as own, know, and like describe a situation rather an activity. Only dynamic verbs can occur with the progressive aspect. Some verbs can be both as dynamic verbs or as stative verbs.

Perfective Aspect

Perfective aspect is used to refer to an event in the past from the perspective of now. First we should compare between the use of present perfective and the use of past simple.

The simple past is used when the time of the event is specified. In contrast, with the use of the present perfective we do not know when the event occured, we just know it happened before the current moment in time. This is what we mean by saying the perspective is now.

The present perfective occurs when there is some influence from the event of the current state of affairs, which we call the resultative perfective, or when the situation described continues into the current time, which we call the continuative perfective.

The resultative perfective mostly occurs with dynamic verbs, and the continuative perfective mostly occurs with stative verbs.

Past Perfective

The basic usage of the past perfective is when the time reference is already in the past, and we wish to indicate that an event occured even further in the past.

There are two rather more common uses of the past perfective. The first involves indirect speech, as when the direct speech is converted into indirect speech. The second common occurrence of the past perfective is with hypothetical conditionals, where an imaginary situation is presented.


A conditional is introduced by the subordinating conjunction if. There are two kinds of conditional; a possible conditional and a hypothetical conditional.

Most conditional that refer to past time are hypothetical, as it is difficult to change something that has already taken place. In this case, the past perfective is used together with the past modal perfective.

The use of past tense or past perfect to represent a hypothetical situation is also found with verbs such as wish. But the verb wish always expresses imaginary desires. If it is possible for the desire to become true, hope should be used, without the past tense hypothetical usage.


A passive sentence involves use of the be auxiliary followed by the –edparticiple. In comparison, a sentence without the use of the passive can be termed active. With the passive, usually the subject is affected by the event, rather than initiating it

Watch these videos about VERBS in a simpler way.

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