In my previous article, I introduced you to a topic you might not have ever heard, so it is time to remember some basic grammar to complement our understanding of verbs. This will be a refresher for English students that have been learning for a long time, as well as an introduction to new students that are just starting out. Let’s talk about the main and auxiliary verbs.
What are they?
The main verb is also called the lexical verb or the principal verb. This term refers to the important verb in the sentence, the one that typically shows the action or state of being of the subject. Main verbs can be on their own, or they can be used with a helping verb, also called an auxiliary verb.
Helping verbs do just what they sound like they do, they help! Different helping verbs help or support the main verb in different ways. For instance, they can show tense (which indicates when an action happened), ability, intention, or possibility. The basic helping verbs are to be, to do, and to have. To better understand how helping verbs support main verbs, let’s see this word:
I am driving to the beach.
Here, the auxiliary verb “am” (a form of to be) lets the reader or listener know that the main verb in the sentence—in this case, “driving”—is happening continuously in the present. Different forms of to be could be used as a helping verb to explain when the driving is occurring (e.g., was driving, will drive, or had been driving).
I did empty the trash.
In this sentence, the helping verb “did” (a form of to do) emphasizes the main verb, which is “empty.” For instance, if your mother instructed you to take out the trash and you already did it, you wouldn’t likely say, “I emptied the trash.” Instead, you would say, “I did empty the trash!”
I had seen the movie before.
Here, the auxiliary verb “had” (a form of to have) is used to express the past perfect tense, which indicates that the action of the sentence occurred at an earlier time in the past. For example, if someone told you they “saw” a movie, you may think they just finished watching it. If they say they “had seen” it, however, you would know that they went to the movies at some earlier time.
Transitive or intransitive?
Remember the last article when we mentioned the action verbs? Well, they can be divided into two categories, transitive and intransitive verbs, and most action verbs are defined one of them. This means that some are used with a direct object (the person or thing that receives the action of the subject) and others don’t need a direct object. Some verbs can be both transitive and intransitive depending on their meaning.
Transitive verbs always receive a direct object. Ex.
Matthew annoys his boss so much we will never get a promotion
(His boss is the direct object of annoys and a promotion is the direct object of get)
Donald’s wife brings him lunch every day
(Donald is the direct object of brings. Donald’s wife is the subject)
Now let’s look at intransitive verbs. Intransitive verbs do not need a direct object in order to complete their meaning. Many are followed by an adjective, adverb, preposition or verb complement (gerund or infinitive). Some of them are: swim, run, laugh, come, lie, die, continue, go, cry, smile, and so on. For example:
If John continues to be late for work, the boss will fire him!
(Continues is followed by an infinitive (to be), with no direct object.)
The bomb exploded in the city hall
(Exploded is followed by a preposition of place with no direct object)
A verb can be both?
Now that you know this, you need to realize that many verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. An action verb with a direct object is transitive while an action verb with no direct object is intransitive. Some verbs, such as arrive, go, lie, sneeze, sit, and die, are always intransitive; it is impossible for a direct object to follow.
Other action verbs, however, can be transitive or intransitive, depending on what follows in the sentence. Look at these examples:
Because of blood sugar problems, Jack always eats before leaving for school.
Eats = Transitive verb
If there is no pizza, Carl usually eats cereal
Eats = Transitive verb; cereal = direct object
In winter, Joseph will compete in the Olympics
Will participate = Transitive verb; Olympics = Direct object