Verbs (an introduction)

Basic structure: 4 forms

  1. Present/infinitive (adding ‘s’ in 3rd person singular)
  2. Simple past (meaning of ‘simple’ analogous to French, meaning ‘single’)
  3. Past participle (in regular verbs, this is same as simple past)
  4. Present participle (-ing form)

Use of auxiliaries

1. tense-forming auxiliaries

to be to have to do will (‘to be going to’) or shall + not

2. modal-type (c.f. German)

want to ought to be able to (can) like to Whereas Japanese, for example, piles things on the end of verbs, English piles them on the beginning: e.g. have not been doing… will have been doing… etc.

Active, passive, interrogative, imperative

Active voice

This is used for a normal statement of fact: The dog bit the man.

Passive voice

The man was bitten (by the dog). This gives a shift of emphasis; the agent – in this case the dog – may be unknown or irrelevant. This form is often used in scientific writing: The liquid was stirred. (For the purposes of a scientific report, it should be irrelevant who stirred it.) There are many other uses including to shift/minimise blame: The vase was broken rather than I broke the vase (!)

Interrogative (question) form

This is the form used in asking a question. It is formed by reversing the personal pronoun and the verb, for certain auxiliary verbs: It is. -> Isn’t it? Otherwise it is formed by adding the corect form of ‘to do’: You do it. -> Do you do it? You like it. -> Do you like it? He likes it. -> Does he like it?

Imperative (command) form

This is the form for giving commands. It is formed by removing the personal pronoun. Have a nice day! Go to bed!

Subjunctive mood

This is somewhat difficult to recognise in English (compared to in French, German and other languages) but it does exist. It is used to represent desires, opinions and purposes rather than objective facts. For most verbs, the form of the subjunctive is the same as that of the indicative (usual) form. However, the second-person singular form loses the ‘s’ or ‘es’. I recommend that you study hard. I recommend that he study hard. The exception is the verb ‘to be’ where the subjunctive for all persons is ‘be’. I recommend that he be awarded the prize. He recommends that I be awarded the prize.


These are sentences describing a condition and a consequence, usually including the word ‘if’. There are different forms depending on how likely the event is. If the MP resigns, there will be an election. (Direct consequence) If the MP resigned, there would be an election. (Possible but less likely) If the MP had resigned, there would have been an election. (Counterfactual – did not happen)    

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