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Types of verb


Techniques > Use of language > Parts of speech > Using verbs > Types of verb

Multi-word | Main and auxiliary | Modal | Transitive | Tense | Perfection and continuity | See also


Verbs are words of action. They are about doing. Used well, they action can be used for your purpose.

Multi-word verbs

Verbs need not be single words and there are a number of word groups that can be treated as single verbs, such as 'to put up with', 'to take off', 'to get by' and so on.

You can identify a verb by the ability to create an infinitive form, which starts with 'to'.

Main and auxiliary verbs

A sentence or phrase can have two interlocked verbs. The main verb gives the primary action, whilst the auxiliary verb adds subtle detail. Common auxiliary verbs include the verbs to be, to have, to do.

I had fun.

You will be happy.

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that add 'mood', most commonly imperative and probability. These can be very useful in persuasive situations, as they cause people to think.

You should think about this.

It may rain tomorrow.

Modal verbs often appear in the subjunctive mood:

I wouldn't do that if I were you.

Signals of the subjunctive include 'if' and, particularly, 'were' (as opposed to 'was').

Transitive verbs

A transitive verb acts on an object and hence connects the subject of a sentence with its object, and hence requires both to exist.

I hit the nail. (transitive)

An intransitive verb does not act on an object and hence acts on its own (you cannot 'sleep' something). It can connect the subject with the object, but needs a preposition to do so.

I was asleep. (intransitive)

I live in the house. ('in' is preposition connecting 'live' with 'house')

Intransitive verbs sometimes have a different meaning to transitive verbs, even though they have the same spelling. This can cause confusion, which may be used within a persuasion strategy.

She's expecting. So you must go to her.


Verbs put things into the past, present and future.


When you put things in the past, you evoke nostalgia. You give evidence to demonstrate truth and reality.


When you put things in the present, you create a sense of immediacy, making things real and difficult to avoid.


When you put things in the future, you create a sense of possibility. You create a pull towards what might be.

Perfection and continuity

Verbs can be perfect or imperfect, simple or continuous. Perfection indicates completion and uses the verb 'to have' to indicate this. Continuous forms of the verb typically use the -ing ending to show continuity, with the tense being shown with the verb to be.


  Imperfect Perfect
Simple Continuous Simple Continuous
Past I tried I was trying I had tried I had been trying
Present I try I am trying I have tried I have been trying
Future I will try I will be trying I will have tried I will have been trying


Thus the most complete form of the verb is the simple past perfect, whilst the most continuous form is the continuous imperfect present. Sometimes the 'imperfect' adjective is omitted, so we can just talk about the 'simple present'.

For changing minds, this give a wide range of possible forms and consequent subtlety in use. If you want someone to put something behind them, you may move the conversation towards completion. If you want them to feel confident about a planned action, you may use completion in the future.

Other terms used to describe perfection and continuity include:

  • Pluperfect or past perfect: an action that was completed in the past.
  • Future perfect: an action that will be completed in the future.
  • Imperfect or progressive: an action that is incomplete and on-going.

See also

Completion, Closure principle, Tension principle


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