All writing begins with the verb. Our ideas can’t get moving without them. They provide force to our expression. Without the power of a verb, a sentence is a hollow, impotent shell that cannot deliver a complete thought. Putting it another way, without a verb you cannot have a sentence.
Verbs are so powerful that even a single verb, standing alone, can express a complete thought.
- is a complete sentence. The subject (you) is understood.
A stop sign.
- is not a complete sentence. There’s no verb, making this merely a label.
Verbs explain what happened:
Three people died last night when a four-alarm fire roared through a downtown factory recently cited for improper storage of flammable materials.
Try reading this sentence without the italicised verbs. Nothing happens. It makes no sense.
There are three main kinds of verbs: transitive, intransitive, and linking.
Transitive verbs are the “action” verbs and are the most powerful. They move the action directly from the sentence subject to the object (which is why the noun that receives the action is called a direct object.)
The tidal wave crushed the coastal village.
The action (transitive verb) is crushed, being performed by the tidal wave (the noun and sentence subject), onto the recipient, the coastal village (also a noun and a direct object). This alignment of subject/verb/direct object is a key to identifying transitive verb construction.
Intransitive verbs never take a direct object, but provide action and give a sense of location or being. The verb may be followed by a phrase that tells us where or how, but never what.
The suspect crouched in the alley as police arrived.
The intransitive verb is crouched. There is no direct object following crouched. In the alley provides helpful information as to location but does not complete an action.
Understanding the difference between transitive and intransitive verb forms can eliminate errors in selecting the correct verb from such troublesome pairs as lay/lie, set/sit, and raise/rise. The first verb in these combinations is transitive; it requires an object that answer the question what.
Lay the book on the table.
Please set your clocks back tonight.
The company will raise its insurance rates.
The italicised words are the direct objects.
Verbs such as lie, sit and rise are intransitive:
Lie down and get some rest
Sit in this chair.
I will rise early tomorrow.
See the difference? These sentences do not have a direct object.
Linking verbs imply a state of being rather than expressing any direct action. The main function of this verb form is to connect the sentence subject with a modifier of sorts to help describe that state of being.
The victim (subject) was (linking verb) comatose (adjective) when police found him.
Before collapsing, the judge said that he (subject) felt (linking verb) ill (adjective).
Clearly, these verbs transmit conditions, not actions.
I’ve only outlined the basics of verbs here. If you’d like a fuller understanding of this most important part of the sentence, try one of the following links:
Parts of Speech – the Verb
And for the easy way of learning about verbs, we have Grammar Rocks: