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Grammar Bites | Verbs

Earlier, I mentioned that verb phrases are the powerhouse of the sentence. In this video, we’ll begin to take a closer look at verb phrases by seeing what they’re made of.

Believe it or not, verb phrases are composed primarily of verbs. Traditionally, verbs are thought of as action words, and, when you look at a verb like flip it’s easy to see why.

But if you’re just looking for action, you’re likely to miss a lot of verbs. Sleep isn’t exactly an action-packed verb. And you’re not really describing an action when you say something smells funny, much less when you say that something could have been.

Luckily, there is a more reliable way to identify verbs when you’re writing (especially when you’re writing in an academic setting where action is in desperately short supply). That’s because, whether they describe an action or not, verbs have some unique characteristics that set them apart from other kinds of words.

We could go on a pretty extensive voyage through the world of verbs if we wanted to, but, for our purposes (helping you to become a more knowledgeable writer), it’s enough to know that verbs are the only class of words in English that can travel through time.

That is to say, the past, present, and future are communicated through verb forms. If you have a sentence that describes something that occurs in the present but now you want it to describe something that happened in the past, you change the form of the verb to communicate the shift in timing.

Sometimes, the change in time is reflected in a change in the individual word. More commonly, though, time is reflected through the addition of words to the verb phrase. The ins and outs of time and verbs, commonly referred to as verb tense, is more complex than we need to address here. At this point, knowing that verbs change shape in response to time is more important than knowing how they do it (besides, you probably have good intuitive handle on all that already).

This is useful knowledge for recognizing verbs, but it’s also empowering knowledge for when you’re writing. Remember, it’s word order that tells you what a word is, not its classification in a dictionary. So, if you take a word that normally isn’t a verb, put it in a verb position, and then make it act like a verb in response to time, you’ll be able to pull off a useful trick every now and again.

And with that, you’re ready to start looking for verbs everywhere in the world around you, letting their power flow through your sentences. Up next, we’ll take a look at how single verbs can combine with each other as well as with other words to form more complex verb phrases.

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