Don't trip when you run with action words

We cannot speak or write without verbs.

Oops, I forgot about those one- or two-word grunts and, of course, texts. Let’s just say verbs are needed for a complete and clear sentence, and those are still in vogue, at least now and then.

We usually associate verbs with action (run, thrive, insult, reduce), but they can also be linking or being verbs (is, are, was, were, am, be, being, been).

In the dictionary (a few people still use them) you may find v.t. or v.i. beside a verb. The former indicates verb transitive, which means that the verb transfers action to an object (His advice helped others). If the verb is intransitive, v.i., this means it has action that is complete in itself, without an object (His advice helped). There may, however, be adjectives or adverbs modifying an intransitive verb (His advice helped only a little).

The action verb may also be in either active or passive voice. When the subject performs the action expressed by the verb, it is active (The termite riddled the plank). When the subject receives the action of the verb, it is considered passive (The planks were riddled by the termites).

The linking/being verbs are usually followed by adjectives and perhaps adverbs (The boys are often shy but always polite). In the old days of diagramming sentences, we might have drawn arrows back to boys from shy and polite. Some other linking verbs include: appear, seem, look, sound, grow, feel, smell, taste, remain, stay.

Verbs may have an indirect object, one that tells to or for whom or what something is done — "Rick made his sister (indirect object) a sandwich (direct object)."

The verb may also be compound, with more than one item joined by a conjunction (The plane climbed and dived as it created sky writing).

The verb is assisted at times by auxiliaries. We sometimes call these helpers that go along with the main verb (These weeds have been running wild; That district is being improved with landscaping).

The largest area of errors regarding verbs may be their agreement with the subject. They must both be singular (Each dog in the trio was chasing his tail) or both plural (Were Mary and Don seen on the dock?).

Tense is also a valuable concern with verbs, but to keep it simple, most are present, past, future; present perfect, with "has" or "have"; past perfect, with "had"; or future perfect, with "will have" or "shall have."

A sentence with only one verb should show the precise time. If there are two or more verbs in a sentence, they should be consistent in tense. Most important, remember that the tense in a subordinate clause depends on the tense in the main clause.

Did I say this was simple? Just don’t forget, we are dealing with the English language!

— Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at


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