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Common English Verbs

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Common English Verbs

The English verb system is often considered the most complex system of the English language. The following sections list the five conjugations — base, simple present, simple past, present participle, past participle — of the three auxiliary and twenty most common verbs in English and list the nine full modal verbs and five quasi-modal verbs.

Be, Have, and Do

As a periphrastic language, English largely relies on auxiliary verbs to express most tenses and aspects of verbs. The three auxiliary verbs of English are be, have, and do. The five conjugations of the three English auxiliary verbs are as follows:

BaseSimple PresentSimple PastPresent ParticiplePast Participle
beam, are, iswas, werebeingbeen
havehave, hashadhavinghad
dodo, doesdiddoingdone

As auxiliary verbs, the three verbs be, have, and do appear in many verb phrase constructions including the progressive aspect, perfect aspect, perfect-progressive aspect, passive voice, and interrogative sentences. For example:

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  • My daughter is reading her favorite books. (progressive aspect)
  • The woman has finally finished filling out the paperwork. (perfect aspect)
  • Your uncle has been moping around the house all day. (perfect-progressive aspect)
  • The pumpkins were stolen by some neighborhood hooligans (passive voice)
  • Did you leave the pickle jar on the counter again? (interrogative construction)
  • Poppy does love her Elmo pajamas! (emphatic construction)

The verbs be, have, and do also function as main verbs. For example:

  • My favorite pastime is learning more about English grammar
  • His grandfather had ten siblings.
  • Espen did the laundry last night.

All conjugations of be, have, and do are irregular in all forms except in the present participle.

Common English Verbs

Some English verbs occur more commonly than others. The five conjugations of twenty of the most common English verbs aside from the auxiliaries be, have, and do are as follows:

BaseSimple PresentSimple PastPresent ParticiplePast Participle
askask, asksaskedaskingasked
becomebecome, becomesbecamebecomingbecome
beginbegin, beginsbeganbeginningbegun
comecome, comescamecomingcome
drinkdrinks, drinksdrankdrinkingdrunk
eateat, eatsateeatingeaten
feelfeel, feelsfeltfeelingfelt
finishfinish, finishesfinishedfinishingfinished
getget, getsgotgettinggot, gotten
givegive, givesgavegivinggiven
gogo, goeswentgoinggone
knowknow, knowsknewknowingknown
learnlearn, learnslearnedlearninglearned
likelike, likeslikedlikingliked
makemake, makesmademakingmade
putput, putsputputtingput
saysay, sayssaidsayingsaid
seesee, seessawseeingseen
taketake, takestooktakingtaken
writewrite, writeswrotewritingwritten

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are a distinct verb form unique to Germanic languages including English that express modality. Modality is the grammaticalized expression of the subjective attitudes and opinions of the speaker such as possibility, probability, necessity, obligation, permissibility, ability, desire, and contingency. Modal verbs differ from prototypical verbs in form and function. The nine full modal verbs of English are as follows:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would

In addition to the nine full modal verbs, English also has five quasi-modal verbs, which are a subset of modal verbs that possess some but not all grammatical properties of prototypical modals. The five quasi-modal verbs of English are as follows:

  • ought (to)
  • had better (had best)
  • used to
  • dare
  • need

Unlike other verbs including the three prototypical auxiliary verbs, the nine full modal verbs and five quasi-modal verbs in English have only one form.

Learning the conjugation patterns of the three auxiliary verbs, twenty most common verbs, and nine modal verbs of English is essential for understanding the language.

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Written by Heather Johnson

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, and mother who loves her husband, children, dogs, and cat. She has a bachelor's degree in English with a minor in creative writing and master's degrees in library and information science and English studies with a concentration in linguistics.

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