Verbs and Adverbs

Verbs and Adverbs in English

English Verbs and Adverbs

Verbs and adverbs are integral parts of any language. Verbs are action words and these words often have the word ‘to’ in front of them.

For example, some common English verbs include: ‘to walk’, ‘to swim’, ‘to talk’, ‘to watch’, ‘to try’ and ‘to examine’.


Adverbs are the words which add detail and describe these verbs. Common English adverbs include ‘quickly’, ‘slowly’, ‘cleverly’, ‘carefully’, ‘greedily’.

English adverbs can often be identified by their ‘ly’ ending.

A sentence will usually contain verbs together with nouns, while adding adverbs makes writing more interesting and gives it character.

In this way, adverbs work in a similar way to adjectives, bringing more interest to the sentence.



Verbs are the action words of a sentence. The verbs of the English language can be used in a sentence in many different ways, depending on who or what they are referring to.

All verbs have an infinitive (a stem) and their endings change depending on their relation to the subject in the sentence.

For example, take the verb ‘to eat’:

Infinitive: to eat    Simple present: eat/eats    Present continuous: eating

Simple past: ate    Past participle: eaten

verb to eat

Examples of English tenses:

Simple Continuous
Simple present: I eat

Simple past: I ate

Simple future: I will eat

Present continuous: I am eating

Past continuous: I was eating

Future continuous: I will be eating

Perfect Perfect continuous
Present perfect: I have eaten

Past perfect: I had eaten

Future perfect: I will have eaten

Present perfect continuous: I have been eating

Past perfect continuous: I had been eating

Future perfect continuous:  I will have been eating

English Verbs List

Auxiliary Verbs

The lexical verb class is an open class of verbs that contains all verbs apart from the auxiliary verbs. The lexical verbs are the main verb vocabulary of a language, telling us the action that is happening in a sentence.

For example in the sentence, ‘I am working’, the lexical verb is the main verb ‘working’, whereas the ‘am’ is the auxiliary verb.

Ordinary auxiliary verbs: have, do, be

Modal auxiliary verbs: will, may, might, should, must.

For example: ‘I will drink a glass of water’, ‘I might drink a glass of water’, ‘I should drink a glass of water’.

Verb inflections

The inflection of verbs in English is called conjugation. English verb inflections include any endings added to the base form of the verb, including ‘s’, ‘ing’, and ‘ed’. The verb inflections of English are really quite simple.

Regular verbs

The paradigms of regular English verbs have only four different possible forms: the stem form itself, the stem ending in ‘s’, the stem ending in ‘ing’ and the stem ending in ‘ed’. Often, the inflectional endings are simply added to the base form of the verb.

Sometimes, however, the spelling changes. For example, often the ending ‘e’ is omitted when the inflection is added, as with the verb ‘to make’ and the inflected verb ‘making’.

Regular verbs have only one form the past tense, the stem plus the ‘ed’ ending. For example, the verb ‘to walk’ changes to ‘walked’ in the past.

verb to walk

Irregular verbs

Irregular verb paradigms use the endings of regular verbs, but they can also use a fifth form, the ‘en’ ending, as well as the irregular verb for the past tense.

For example, with the irregular verb ‘to take’, we can form the words ‘took’ and ‘taken’; with the English irregular verb ‘to shake’, we can form ‘shook’ and ‘shaken’.

Making verbs negative with n’t

In English, the use of the suffix ‘n’t’ creates a negation of the verb. The ‘n’t’ takes the place of the word ‘not’. The apostrophe is used instead of the letter ‘o’. The speech sound of this is a ‘nt’ sound and allows the speaker to speak more quickly and smoothly.


This contracted sound is often difficult for a non-native speaker to hear at first and takes some getting used to. With practice you will be able to hear this soft n’t sound. Sometimes it is easy to tell from the tone of voice and/or the context that the sentence is in the negative.

The auxiliary verbs such as ‘have’, ‘be’ and ‘do’ have their negative forms in ‘n’t’ as do many modal verbs, such as ‘should’, ‘could’ and ‘might’. However, the negative forms of these verbs when using contractions are not always created by simply adding ‘n’t’.

Some English verbs are irregular in their negation in the contracted form, such as the word ‘will’, which needs the irregular negative inflection, ‘won’t’, or the word ‘shall’ which needs ‘shan’t’.

English adverbs

English Adverbs

Adverbs describe verbs. Adverbs add more information about the action (the verb). The adverbs in a sentence are often obvious from their ‘ly’ ending.

For example, ‘The man eats the apple slowly’, ‘He drives dangerously’, ‘The students laughed loudly at the comedy show’, ‘We all read the article carefully’, ‘The girl cleverly completed the puzzle‘.

Notice that the construct of the adverb remains the same whether the sentence is written in the present tense or the past tense.

Adverbs are inflected for reasons of comparison, by adding ‘er’, ‘est’ and also when describing an action we often add ‘ly’. Usually, we add ‘ly’ to the adjective stem to create the adverb. For example: ‘clever’ becomes ‘cleverly’; ‘beautiful’ becomes ‘beautifully’ and ‘cool’ becomes ‘coolly’.

However, some English adjectives do not change in the adverb form. For example, ‘fast’ and ‘hard’ remain the same when used as an adverb.

We can say: ‘they drive fast’ and ‘she works hard at school’. Other words that remain the same as an adverb and an adjective include ‘straight’, ‘daily’, ‘wrong’ and ‘late’.

Some other English adjectives have an entirely new word altogether for their adverb counterpart. For example: the adverb form of the adjective ‘good’ is ‘well’. In context: ‘It was a good game of football’ and ‘both teams played well’.

In contrast, the adverb form of the adjective ‘bad’ follows the usual rule adding ‘ly’ to become ‘badly’. In context: ‘It was a bad game’ and ‘the players played very badly’. The adverb ‘poorly’ can also be used in this instance, for example ‘the players played poorly’.


Wise, Ways and Wards

Adverbs can also sometimes be derived from nouns by using the words ‘wise’ or ‘ways’ as suffixes, such as in ‘sideways’ or ‘clockwise’.

Another type of adverb  that has a noun derivation are words ending in the suffix ‘wards’, such as ‘homewards’. For example, ‘they headed homewards’, which means they headed towards home. The suffix ‘wards’ always indicates direction.


Bring your writing to life!

Verbs and adverbs are some of the most exciting parts of language because they relate to action. By using verbs and adverbs well we can create a sense of activity, movement and excitement in our writing, which helps to engage the reader and bring the text to life.

Click here to read about phrasal verbs and how you can use these expressions to sounds more like a native English speaker.

Students, have you had any interesting experiences or confusing moments with verbs and adverbs?

Teachers, how do you like to teach verbs and adverbs? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.


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2 thoughts on “Verbs and Adverbs

  1. Excellent! Explaining and making a distinction as to how these different verbs are used in our language and writing usage. Find it to be very helpful.

  2. Hi Carol
    Thanks for your comment – I’m really glad you found our Verbs and Adverbs article useful. I agree, including examples and distinctions makes explanations of grammar points much clearer 🙂 I hope you enjoy exploring the rest of the grammar section!
    Best wishes,

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