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Verb Classification

We divide verbs into two broad classifications:

Helping Verbs

Imagine that a stranger walks into your room and says:

  • can.
  • People must.
  • The Earth will.

Do you understand anything? Has this person communicated anything to you? Probably not! That's because these verbs are helping verbs and have no meaning on their own. They are necessary for the grammatical structure of the sentence, but they do not tell us very much alone. We usually use helping verbs with main verbs. They "help" the main verb. (The sentences in the above examples are therefore incomplete. They need at least a main verb to complete them.) There are only about 15 helping verbs.

Main Verbs

Now imagine that the same stranger walks into your room and says:

  • teach.
  • People eat.
  • The Earth rotates.

Do you understand something? Has this person communicated something to you? Probably yes! Not a lot, but something. That's because these verbs are main verbsand have meaning on their own. They tell us something. Of course, there are thousands of main verbs.

In the following table we see example sentences with helping verbs and main verbs. Notice that all of these sentences have a main verb. Only some of them have a helping verb.

  helping verb   main verb  
John     likes coffee.
You     lied to me.
They     are happy.
The children are   playing.  
We must   go now.
I do not want any.

Helping verbs and main verbs can be further sub-divided, as we shall see on the following pages.