Verbs have traditionally been defined
as "action" words or "doing" words. The verb in the following sentence
Here, the verb rides certainly denotes
an action which Paul performs - the action of riding a bicycle. However,
there are many verbs which do not denote an action at all. For example,
in Paul seems unhappy, we cannot say that the verb seems
denotes an action. We would hardly say that Paul is performing any action
when he seems unhappy. So the notion of verbs as "action" words is somewhat
We can achieve a more robust definition
of verbs by looking first at their formal features.
Here are some examples of verbs in sentences:
Notice that in  and , the verbs have
an -s ending, while in  and , they have an -ed ending.
These endings are known as INFLECTIONS, and they are added to the BASE
FORM of the verb. In , for instance, the -s inflection is added
to the base form travel.
She travels to work by train
 David sings in
 We walked five
miles to a garage
 I cooked a meal
for the family
Certain endings are characteristic of the
base forms of verbs:
When we refer to a verb in general terms,
we usually cite its base form, as in "the verb travel", "the verb
sing". We then add inflections to the base form as required.
and Present Forms
||to work by train
||in the choir
||five miles to a garage
||a meal for the whole family
These inflections indicate TENSE. The -s
inflection indicates the PRESENT TENSE, and the -ed inflection indicates
the PAST TENSE.
Verb endings also indicate
PERSON. Recall that when we looked at nouns and pronouns, we saw that
there are three persons, each with a singular and a plural form. These
are shown in the table below.
In sentence , She travels to work
by train, we have a third person singular pronoun she, and the
present tense ending -s. However, if we replace she with
a plural pronoun, then the verb will change:
The verb travel in [1a] is still in
the present tense, but it has changed because the pronoun in front of it
has changed. This correspondence between the pronoun (or noun) and the
verb is called AGREEMENT or CONCORD. Agreement applies only to verbs in
the present tense. In the past tense, there is no distinction between verb
forms: she travelled/they travelled.
 She travels to
work by train
[1a] They travel to
work by train
The Survey of English Usage 1996-1998
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