Grade: all
Subject: Language

#2751. A Primer on Verbs

Language, level: all
Posted Sun Dec 8 11:18:13 PST 2002 by Richard Bloom (
Central HS, Prince George's County, MD, Capitol Heights, Maryland USA
Materials Required: Worksheet only--handout for study
Activity Time: To accompany posted5 day lesson plans
Concepts Taught: person, number, tense, voice, and mood of English verbs

This is the handout that is meant to accompany my 5 day lesson plan on the Five Properties of Verbs, posted elsewhere at Teachers.Net.


Every verb has 5 properties: person, number, tense, voice, and mood. Person and number only affect the verb in the present tense.

First, a note on vocabulary: participles are forms of verbs that have the characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. For example, in the sentence, "I have driven to the store many times for bread over the years," a sentence stated in the past perfect tense, "driven" is the past participle. In the past tense, the past participle is used and takes an "-ed" or "-en" ending; in the present and future tenses, the present participle is used, which ends in "-ing"--e.g., "I am driving to the store for bread in a minute," or "I'll be driving to the store for bread in a half hour."

Infinitives are simply the form by which verbs are named; they are a combination of the verb in the first-person, singular present, preceded by the marker word "to"--as in, "to go," "to study," "to run," "to drive," and--the exception to the first-person, singular rule--"to be".

Now, the five properties of verbs:


A sentence may be written in first, second, or third person. First person sentences are about oneself or one's group: "I" or "we". Second person sentences are about one's "other"--either singular ("you") or plural (also "you"). Third person sentences are written about a third party--that is, neither "me" or "we", nor "you", but a "he, she, it" or "they". The personal pronouns are as follows:

1st person singular--I 1st person plural--we
2nd person singular--you 2nd person plural--you
3rd person singular--he, she, it 3rd person plural--they


The words "singular" and "plural" refer to the verb's number, which either refers to a single person, place, or thing as the subject of the sentence ("singular"), or to more than one person, place, or thing as the sentence's subject ("plural"). Thus, a verb's number must be either singular or plural.


There are, altogether, twelve tenses in English--six standard tenses and six progressive tenses. The six standard tenses are past, present, and future, and past perfect, present perfect, and future perfect. The past tense denotes something that took place at some time prior to the present but did not continue into the present; present tense denotes something occurring now; and future tense denotes something that will occur at some point subsequent to the present; it takes the auxiliary verb "will" or "shall".

past: I ran to the store to get a loaf of bread for dinner tonight.
present: I run to the store whenever Mama runs out of bread.
future: I will run to the store for bread after I get home from school this afternoon.

The perfect tenses modify the standard and/or the progressive verb forms. The present perfect tense denotes something that happened at a time and continues into the present. Perfect tense verbs take some form of the verb "to have" and either the past participle (standard tenses) or the present participle (progressive tenses--see below):

present perfect (sometimes called "simple perfect"): I have run to the store every day this week because Mama always runs out of bread right before I get home from school. [He's still going to the store every day. "Run" is the past participle of "to run".]

The past perfect tense is usually used to denote something that happened earlier than something else, which is expressed in the past, rather than past perfect, tense:

past perfect (sometimes called "pluperfect"): I had run to the store for bread when I realized I had no money. [He ran to the store before he realized he had no money.]

Similarly, the future perfect tense is used to denote some event that will happen in the future before some other future occurence:

Future perfect: I will have run to the store for bread every day this week if I go this evening. [He's been going to the store all week, but will go again this evening.]

There are also six (6) progressive tenses in addition to the six standard tenses. The progressive tenses emphasize that the actions are still going on in the sentence's time frame. Progressive verbs take the auxiliary verb "to be" (in the correct tense), "will" for the future tense only, and the present participle (that is, the form of the verb with the "-ing" ending):

past progressive: I was running to the store for bread when I ran into Tony.
past progressive perfect: I had been running to the store for bread every day after school until Mama purchased her first car. ["Running" is the present participle of the verb "to run".]

present progressive: I am running to the store for bread when I get home from school.
present progressive perfect: I have been running to the store for bread every day since I first entered second grade.

future progressive: I will be running to the store after school for bread if Mama runs out.
future progressive perfect: I will have been running to the store for bread after school ten years straight once classes start this August.

The word "shall" is mainly archaic. However, it is still the form of the future tense verb "to be" when it is used in polite, first-person questions:

Shall we dance? Shall I invite Aunt Ruth? Shall we take your car or mine?


A verb may be expressed in active voice or passive voice, depending upon whether the subject is acting or being acted upon.

active voice: The audience applauded the speaker at the end of her speech.
passive voice: The speaker was applauded by her audience at the end of her speech.

active voice: The next batter hit a ball clear over the right field wall.
passive voice: The ball was hit clear over the right field wall by the next batter.


The mood of a verb reflects whether the action described is factual (the indicative mood), a possibility or supposition (the subjunctive mood), or is a command or exhortation (the imperative mood).

present indicative: I run to the store every day after school for bread for Mama.
present subjective: I would run to the store every day after school for bread if we ate a lot of bread, but, actually, we don't. (We don't even like bread.)
present imperative: Bobby! Run to the store and get some bread!

Each of the progressive and perfect forms of these and other verbs may be written/stated in the indicative, subjunctive, or imperative moods, as well.

In practice, every verb used in a given sentence may be expressed as the combination of one form each of its person, number, tense, voice, and mood. It was created because I realized there were few if any such summaries available in Maryland public libraries; this one is adapted from a UK text and literature textbooks in the field of secondary Language Arts.