Verbs: 7 Confusions

Verbs. They seem so simple, yet they can cause so much head scratching. Here is my attempt to clear up some of the confusion:

Confusion #1: Linking Verbs
Many students don’t know that words like is, are, am, was, be, and been are verbs. These are worker-bee words, but what do they do? Here’s a simple explanation: a Linking Verb acts like an equals sign.

This soccer game is exciting!
This soccer game = exciting.

I am a huge fan.
I = a huge fan.

Linking Verbs are the only type of main verb that does not show action. Rather, they join the subject to a noun or an adjective that identifies or describes it. This is what is meant by “state of being.” And here’s some great news: There’s only about 20 of them in the English language. I say “about” because there are varying opinions on the exact list, but there seems to be consensus on these:

Forms of be: is, are, am, was, were, be, being, been
Sense words: feel, appear, look, smell, taste, sound
State of being: seem, become, grow, stay, turn, remain, prove

Watch the video: Linking Verbs

Confusion #2: “Be Verbs” that aren’t Linking Verbs
The second and third groups above can also be action verbs, but it’s common to hear that forms of be are always linking verbs. Hm. What about this sentence?

The lion is chasing the antelope.

Here we have is working as a helping verb with chasing to form the present continuous tense. Remember: to decide if a verb is linking, we must use the “equals sign” test. Here’s another example:

Harriet is home.

Saying Harriet = home is not quite right. Home does not identify her, nor does it describe her. It tells us where she is. This is what we call an adverbial noun. It doesn’t function as a direct object, so that makes is an intransitive-complete verb in this context. It expresses action, but it does not transfer the action to an object. Weird! A way to make sense of this is to substitute exists for is, so the subject and intransitive-complete verb together would be Harriet exists.

Confusion #3: Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs
It’s one thing to show action and another to transfer it. Transitive verbs work with a direct object that “receives” the action. If there is not a direct object, the verb is intransitive. To determine if a verb is transitive, insert what? or whom? into the sentence. For example:

Jeanne balanced her checkbook.
Jeanne balanced what?
checkbook (the direct object of the transitive verb balanced).

Lyle called Stephanie for the 14th time.
Lyle called whom?
Stephanie (the direct object of the transitive verb called).

The weather was hot, so I drank from the stream.

I drank what?
I drank whom?

The questions are not answered. The prepositional phrase from the stream answers the question where, but this is not the same thing. So in this case, the verb drank is intransitive complete because a prepositional phrase can never be a direct object–a good rule to know!

Side Note: Refer back to the sentence in the previous section: Harriet is home. Let’s change it to Harriet is at home. Now the verb is is followed by the prepositional phrase at home. Does this change the status of is? No, it remains intransitive complete because, again, prepositional phrases can never be direct objects.

Watch the video: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Confusion #4: Infinitives
Along with gerunds and participles (see below), infinitives are known as verbals, “words formed from verbs that don’t act as verbs.” Infinitives are almost always preceded by to, e.g. to swim, to sing, to read, etc. Since they can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, they can be quite confusing!

Infinitive as a noun:
Trevor loves to eat.
The infinitive is the direct object of the verb loves.

Infinitive as an adjective:
Trevor has a sandwich to eat.
The infinitive describes the noun sandwich.

Infinitive as an adverb:
Trevor must eat to survive.
The infinitive modifies the verb eat.

Watch the video: Infinitives

Confusion #5: Infinitives without “To”
To-less infinitives, also known as “bare infinitives” will often show up after the verbs feel, hear, help, let, make, see, and watch.

Trevor helped me make dinner.
To is not needed before make, but the infinitive phrase make dinner still functions as a noun and the direct object of the verb helped. This makes we the indirect object. Here’s a similar example:

He helped me understand the recipe.
To is not needed before understand.

Sometimes bare infinitives are hard to spot because adding to back in would be awkward:

He watched me stir the soup.
We would never say to stir the soup in this context, yet stir the soup is still an infinitive phrase functioning as a noun and direct object. Keep an eye out for feel, hear, help, let, make, see, and watch. They signal that a bare infinitive may follow!

Confusion #6: Gerunds
Another kind of verbal, gerunds are famous for always ending in ing and always functioning as nouns. Because nouns can do lots of jobs in a sentence, gerunds can show up all over the place.

A gerund as the subject of the sentence:
Eating will make Trevor very happy.

A gerund as a direct object:
Trevor loves eating.

A gerund as an indirect object:
Trevor gives eating all of his attention.

A gerund as the object of a preposition.
He is devoted to eating.

Watch the video: Gerunds

Confusion #7: Participles
The third and final verbal, participles function as adjectives and often end in ed, en, or ing.

The rising sun reminded Trevor it was time for breakfast.

Trevor would not eat the rotten fruit.

A participial phrase functioning as an adjective describing Trevor:
Removing his heavy coat, Trevor sat down to gorge himself.

Watch the video: Participles

What do you find confusing about verbs? Please register for the blog and leave comments!

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