Finite and non-finite verbs

Finite verbs express tense (past, present, future) and can stand alone in a clause.

He presented to the board.

Non-finite verbs don’t show tense. The non-finite verbs are participles, gerunds and infinitives.

English has two participles, traditionally known as present and past participles, and now often called the ‘-ing participle’ (present participle) and the ‘-ed participle’ (past participle). You can read more about present participles here.

working, celebrating, writing
worked, celebrated, wrote


Gerunds are nouns derived from verbs.

Writing is easy.


Infinitives are the base of a verb – with or without the word to. The form without to is known as the bare infinitive. The form with to is known as the full infinitive, the to-infinitive or the marked infinitive.

to write, (to) write

Auxiliary verbs 

Auxiliary verbs are helping verbs. There are two types of auxiliary verbs:

  • The primary auxiliary verbs are be, have and do.

She is leaving. (primary auxiliary verb)

  • The modal auxiliary verbs, often just called modal verbs, express possibility or necessity – can, could, may, might, must, ought, shall, should, will, would.

I might come to the meeting. (modal verb)

Lexical verbs 

Lexical verbs are all the other verbs, including action verbs (write, work) and linking verbs, which are also called copular verbs. Common linking verbs are be (is, am, are, was, were), appear, seem, look, sound, smell, taste, feel, become, get.

We wrote our report. (action)
The manager has a large office. (linking)

Transitive and intransitive verbs

Transitive verbs are followed by a direct object.  

She wrote a board paper. (direct object)

Intransitive verbs don’t take a direct object.

He sat quietly in the meeting.

Regular and irregular verbs

Another important distinction is regular and irregular verbs. Regular verbs have consistent endings (I work, I worked) and irregular verbs don’t (eat, ate). Some verbs have both regular and irregular endings (dreamed and dreamt).

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