Verbs English Grammar

Main Verbs and Helping Verbs

What are Main and Helping Verbs?

Let us read the following sentences:

  • Anshul walks to school every day.
  • Manjunath is eating a red apple. 

The word which represents action in Sentence 1 is walks; however, in Sentence 2, one word alone does not represent the action. The phrase is eating functions as the verb. 

When we inspect this phrase, we see it is made of two elements. One word actually carries the main idea of the action, and the other word tells us more about the nature of the action. In the phrase, eating is the main verb. The word is tells us more about the nature of the main action; hence, it is a helping verb.

Main Verbs                                                                                  

Main verbs are words which represent the primary or main action of the subject.  They contain the main meaning.

Helping Verbs

  • Helping verbs are words which lend their support to main verbs.
  • They are important to the structure of sentences.
  • They also tell us about the nature of the main verb with respect to tense and form.
  • They have little or no meaning as compared to the main verb.
  • Mrs Noronah has been working as a matron for the last ten years.
  • Karishma is typing a memo to the boss.
  • Salim does remind me of my elder brother.

Types of Helping Verbs – Primary Helping Verbs

Primary helping verbs are helping verbs which can also function as main verbs. They can be divided into three categories.

  • Be forms (progressive helping verbs): Verbs like is, are, am, was, were are known as Be forms of helping verbs or progressive helping verbs. They tell us that the action expressed by the main verb is still in progression.
  • Present progressive: Rahul is travelling to Papua New Guinea as we speak. o Past progressive: Harsh was snoring loudly in the plane.
  • Future progressive: Ranjani will be working on a part-time basis.
  • Have forms or perfect forms: Verbs like has, have, had are known as perfect forms of helping verbs. They tell us that the action expressed by the main verb is finished, complete or perfected.
  • Present perfect: Tara has eaten the last biscuit in the plate. o Past perfect: The Marathas had clinched a great victory for themselves.
  • Future perfect: By this time tomorrow, Yayati would have paid us a visit.
  • Do forms: Helping verbs like do, does, did, done are known as do forms of helping verbs. They are used for
  • Emphasis: I do enjoy watching a good movie on weekends.
  • Negation: Neeta does not appreciate unsolicited advice from strangers.
  • Forming questions: Do we know each other?

Modal Auxiliaries

What are Modal Auxiliaries?

  • Modal auxiliaries or modal verbs are helping verbs which tell us about the modality or intent behind

the verb’s performance. 

Ritu must focus on Mathematics this semester. (Compulsion) Arun will go to the post office. (Future certainty)

  • These modalities include permission, suggestion, ability, probability or obligation
  • Without the main verb, the modals do not make any sense at all. 
  • The role of these auxiliaries is not fixed; they can have varied functions.
ModalNegative formTenseMeaningUsage
CanCan’t/ cannotPresentAbilityShe can speak five languages.
CouldCouldn’t / Could notPastAbilityNaresh could carry the luggage back home.
Can PresentPermissionCan I take another one?
Could PresentPermission (more polite)Could I ask you why?
WillWon’t, / will notFutureCertaintyWe will leave in 10 minutes.
WouldWouldn’t/ Would notFutureProbabilityRavi would be the inheritor of his father’s riches.
Shall (used with I and We)Shalln’t/ Shall notFutureCertaintyWe shall overcome all the obstacles.
ModalNegative formTenseMeaningUsage
Shall PermissionShall I accompany you?
ShouldShouldn’t/ Should notSuggestionYou should wear your pink sweater.
Should ObligationYou should complete your work before leaving.
MayMay notFuturePossibility (likely)It may rain today since the skies turned grey.
May PermissionMay I? Yes, you may.
MightMight notFuture Possibility (unlikely)Though the sky looks clear today, there is a possibility it might rain.
MustMustn’t/ Must notObligation/ CompulsionYou must complete the journal on time.
Must SpeculationWhere is Sneha? She must be in the kitchen.
Ought Moral ObligationOne ought to donate some money to the needy.
Ought ProbabilityThree cups of flour ought to be enough for this cake.

Subject-Verb Agreement and Finite and Non-finite Verbs What is Subject Verb Agreement? 

In Sentence 1, the subject The book agrees with the verb is. In Sentence 2, the subject The book agrees with the verb are. In Sentence 1, the subject is singular; hence, the verb is singular. In Sentence 2, the subject is plural; hence, the verb is also plural.

This agreement between the subject and the verb with respect to their number is known as subject-verb agreement or subject-verb concord. In simple words, we can say that when the subject is singular, the verb is singular; when the subject is plural, the verb is also plural.        


The bagsare packed.
Gayatriworks hard.
The bottleswere empty.
Denniscooks food.
The drainsare blocked.
The policewere called.

The subject of a sentence can be a noun, a pronoun or a gerund. The rules of agreement can be different for each. 

Rules for Nouns

Uncountable nouns will always agree with singular verbs.

Lightning  strikes
Teais brewing.

Material nouns will also agree with singular verbs.

Cottonis cultivated.
Goldis expensive.
Bakeliteis a type of plastic.

In a collective noun phrase, the headword will agree with the verb and not the noun which follows

the preposition ‘of’.

A bundle of paperswas burnt.
A band of musiciansis performing.
Bunches of grapeshang from the vines.

However, some collective nouns will always agree with plural verbs.

The policearrive at the scene.
The publicvote today.
The poultryare domesticated birds.
Verminspread infestation.

Sometimes, it is the actions of the nouns in the collective noun which decides whether it agrees with a singular verb or a plural verb.

If the actions are united, the collective noun will agree with a singular verb.

The possewas gathered by the sheriff.
The armyhas launched an attack.
The colony of antsgathers food.

If the actions are individualistic (each member in the group performs separately) or if there is a disagreement or discord within the group, the collective noun will agree with a plural verb.

The broodcause havoc.
The partyspar over trivial things.

If the noun is preceded by the phrase ‘a pair of’ or ‘pairs of’, the verb will agree with the headword ‘pair’ or ‘pairs’.

The  pair of trousersis tight.
A pair of glassesrests on the table.

Rules for Pronouns

When the subject of the sentence is a pronoun, the verb agrees with the pronoun not only in number but also in person.

First person pronouns always agree with plural verbs.


Second person pronouns also agree with plural verbs.

Youare called.
Youwere missed.
Youspeak now.

Singular third person pronouns agree with singular verbs.

Sheis confident.
Hewas upset.

Plural third person pronouns agree with plural verbs.

Subject Predicate
They are talking.
They have swum.
They do their best.

Indefinite pronouns take singular verbs.

Somethingsounds wrong.
Someonecalls me on this number.
Nothingis difficult for the hero.
Everythinglooks beautiful.
Either of youis the new CEO.
Muchwas needed.
None of youhas a choice.

Rules for Gerunds

Gerunds usually agree with singular verbs.

Drinking indiscriminatelyis dangerous.
Apologising for your misconductis what I expected from you.
Paintingis my hobby.

Miscellaneous Rules for Agreement


Two nouns joined by the conjunction ‘and’ agree with a plural verb.

Noun  Conjunction  Noun  Verb  
The neighbour  and  the secretary live upstairs.

If there is no article with the second noun, it means both the nouns function as a single subject. In that case, the verb is singular.

Noun  Conjunction  Noun  Verb  
  The neighbour  and  secretary lives upstairs.
  • In the above example, the subject is singular.
  • This is because there is no article with the second noun ‘secretary’.
  • It means the neighbour is also a secretary.

Along with, As well as, Together with

Phrases like ‘along with’, ‘as well as’ and ‘together with’ connect two nouns like the conjunction ‘and’.

But the verbs in these cases will agree with the first noun.

Rishabalong withhis brothersworksin Mumbai.
Rishabas well ashis brothers works
  Rishabtogether withhis brothersworks

Either…or, Neither…nor

When two nouns are connected by correlatives either…or and neither…nor, the verb agrees with the noun which is closest to it.

Co.rel  Noun  Co.rel  Noun  Verb  
Either  Rita  Or  her daughters  are the culprits  

What are Finite and Non-finite Verbs?

Read the following sentence.                        

Geeta wants to present her assignment.

The verb highlighted in green in the sentence is wanting; it is the main verb in the sentence. § Its tense is the present tense. 

  • It has a subject Geeta.
  • However, the highlighted phrase in red, to present, has no subject of its own. 
  • It is not the main verb of the sentence.

Verbs like wants are called finite verbs because they have a tense and a subject.

Verbs like to present are called nonfinite verbs because they have neither tense nor subject.

Examples of finite verbs:

  • They drink coffee in the morning. (Present tense)
  • Mrs Gupta left for work. (Past tense)
  • The planetary rover will land on Mars in 2015. (Future tense)

The highlighted verbs in the above examples have tenses.

Examples of infinite verbs:

  • Ruth love to Jump rope. 
  • The rolling pin is used to roll out dough.
  • Please stop shouting

The highlighted verbs in the above examples do not have tenses.


What are Verbals?

Verbals come under the category of nonfinite verbs.

These are words formed out of verbs but function differently from them.

They perform functions of other parts of speech.

There are three main types of verbals in English.

  • Gerunds Infinitives Participles
  • Present participle
  • Past participle


A gerund is a verbal which ends in –ing and functions like a noun.

It can play the role of a subject.

  • Worrying will not help.
  • Dieting is essential if you want to lose weight.  

It can also play the role of the object.

  • Don’t give up trying.
  • She likes writing letters.
  • He practises fencing.

Gerunds can be single words.

  • She kept thinking.
  • love swimming.


Infinitives are verbals which are formed when the preposition to is added to simple present tense of verbs. 

To writeTo helpTo findTo careTo love

Infinitives are used to express ideas such as purpose.

They can function like nouns as  replacements for gerunds.

  • He learnt to sing and to play the piano.
  • He learnt singing and playing the piano.

They sometimes have objects.

  • The player crouched down to throw the ball.
  • The milkman woke up early to milk the cow.

Or be objects of verbs themselves.

  • I wanted to leave.
  • The performer had begun to dance

They can be complements to the objects.

  • He ordered a scrumptious meal to eat.
  • They waited for the flower to bloom.

They can also complement adjectives.

  • This porridge is great to taste!
  • The convicts were willing to change

Sometimes, an infinitive does not take the preposition ‘to’. Such infinites are called bare infinitives.

  • Please help me open the door.
  • She let her children watch TV

Split Infinitives

When one or more markers come between the infinitive marker ‘to’ and the verb, split infinitives are formed.


Participles are words which are formed from verbs but have the qualities of adjectives.

Participles are of two types.

Present participle: Formed out of present tense verbs or ‘–ing’ verbs.

Past participle: Formed out of past tense verbs ending in ‘–ed’ or ‘–en’.

  • Noah saw a flying dove in the sky. 
  • I need a writing pad.

They can be used as complements for subjects.

They can also be used as complements for objects.

  • We heard the cat meowing.
  • I saw the guests leaving.

Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

What is an Object?

An object is the word which follows a verb.

It can be a noun, a pronoun or a gerund which gets affect by the action expressed by the verb.

It is a part of the predicate.

  • Amit chewed a bubblegum.
  • Supriya mended her shoes.
  • The dog found a bone.
  • The police arrested the thief. 

The words highlighted in red are the objects of the verbs which are highlighted in green.

Now let us read the following sentences.

  • The lion hunted the prey.
  • The lion roared in its den.

Observe the verbs in Sentence 1 and Sentence 2. 

  • The verb in Sentence 1 is hunted.
  • The verb in Sentence 2 is roared.

Add the interrogative pronoun ‘what’ to the verb (verb + what?)  o hunted what? – the prey o roared what? – ?

  • Verbs like hunted are called transitive verbs because they have objects.
  • Verbs like roared are called intransitive verbs because they do not have objects.

Some verbs have to depend on their objects for the completion of meaning, while some verbs can express meaning on their own. The verbs which need the support of their objects are known as transitive verbs and the ones which can stand on their own are called intransitive verbs. The actions expressed through transitive verbs affect their objects, whereas intransitive verbs do not have objects to affect. 


Read the following verbs and add the interrogative pronoun ‘what’ or ‘whom’ to them. Make two columns and write the transitive verbs in one and the intransitive ones in the other.

Transitive verbsbeat, hold, try, make, kick, help, pull, kill
Intransitive verbs  sleep, swim, cough, arrive, die, live, go, jump

Let us see how these verbs are used in sentences.

  •  Meena laughed nervously. (intransitive)
  • Arjun sighed in grief. (intransitive)
  • Mother fixed us a sandwich. (transitive)
  • The farmer ploughed his farm. (transitive)
  • She sneezed thrice. (intransitive)
  • We received a gift. (transitive)
  • I read the newspaper every day. (transitive)

However, some verbs can function transitively or intransitively depending on the context. Here are a few examples:

  • The Roman Emperors lived lavishly. (intransitive)
  • He lived his life honestly. (transitive)
  • The cuckoo sings in the summer. (intransitive)
  • They insisted that I sing a song. (transitive)
  • I read in my free time. (intransitive)
  • Mohan read a book in the library. (transitive)

Direct and Indirect Objects

When it comes to transitive verbs, there are two types of objects. 

  • Direct objects
  • Indirect objects

What are Direct Objects?

  • Direct objects are those that appear immediately after the verbs.
  • They are directly affected by the actions of the verbs. They answer the question ‘what?’ or ‘whom?’.
Subject   The boy+Verb   returned+What?/Whom (Direct Object) the book.
  • The maid broke an expensive piece of crockery.
  • The villagers reprimanded the dacoits.
  • I watched the show.

What are Indirect Objects?

  • Indirect objects are those that do not appear immediately after verbs, but they are separated from the verbs by direct objects
  • They are not immediately affected by the actions of the verbs.
  • They answer the question Preposition + what?/Preposition whom? (to what?/to whom?).
  • They are usually associated with verbs of giving or communicating like give, offer, show and ask.
  • Indirect objects are either nouns or pronouns and do not form a part of the main predicate unlike direct objects.
SubjectPredicate (verb + direct object)Indirect Object
Neethagifted a necklaceto Smitha
  • Shah Jahan built a tomb for his beloved wife Mumtaz.
  • Mitra borrowed a book from me.
  • The merchant presented a diamond to the King.

Sometimes, the prepositions before the indirect object may not be evident in the sentence. They may be implied. 

SubjectPredicateIndirect Object
Marytold her sona story
  • Meena gave Mahesh her keys.
  • Lovina offered her neighbour some tea.
  • I promised my father a car.


Sometimes, the word following the verb may not be an object even if it answers the question ‘What?’ and ‘Whom?’.

Instead of getting affected by the actions of the verbs like objects do, they tell us more about the subjects or the objects of the verbs. 

Subjective Complements

Subjective complements are those words which tell us more about the subject.

  • Ravi is a popular student.
  • Mr Sreenivas is the new Vice President.
  • Crystal is upset.
  • Yusuf looks relieved.

Objective Complements

Objective complements are those words which tell us more about the object of the verb.

  • Caligula considered himself God.
  • Meena made her parents happy.
  • His parents named him Emmanuel.
  • They found him napping.

 Ergative Verbs

As we have studied earlier, the actions expressed by the transitive verbs affect the object. There are certain verbs whose actions affect the subject instead of the object. These verbs can be transitive or intransitive. They are known as ergative verbs.

The baker baked the buns. (transitive verb)
The buns baked in the oven. (ergative verbs)
Richa dropped her bag. (transitive verb)
Richa’s bag dropped to the ground. (ergative verb)
They cooked food. (transitive verb)
The rice cooked in the open pot. (ergative verb)
The referee started the match. (transitive verb)
The match started. (ergative verb)