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Common English Verbs

The English verb system is often considered the most complex system of the English language. The following sections list the five conjugations — base, simple present, simple past, present participle, past participle — of the three auxiliary and twenty most common verbs in English and list the nine full modal verbs and five quasi-modal verbs.

Be, Have, and Do

As a periphrastic language, English largely relies on auxiliary verbs to express most tenses and aspects of verbs. The three auxiliary verbs of English are be, have, and do. The five conjugations of the three English auxiliary verbs are as follows:

Base Simple Present Simple Past Present Participle Past Participle
be am, are, is was, were being been
have have, has had having had
do do, does did doing done

As auxiliary verbs, the three verbs be, have, and do appear in many verb phrase constructions including the progressive aspect, perfect aspect, perfect-progressive aspect, passive voice, and interrogative sentences. For example:

  • My daughter is reading her favorite books. (progressive aspect)
  • The woman has finally finished filling out the paperwork. (perfect aspect)
  • Your uncle has been moping around the house all day. (perfect-progressive aspect)
  • The pumpkins were stolen by some neighborhood hooligans (passive voice)
  • Did you leave the pickle jar on the counter again? (interrogative construction)
  • Poppy does love her Elmo pajamas! (emphatic construction)

The verbs be, have, and do also function as main verbs. For example:

  • My favorite pastime is learning more about English grammar
  • His grandfather had ten siblings.
  • Espen did the laundry last night.

All conjugations of be, have, and do are irregular in all forms except in the present participle.

Common English Verbs

Some English verbs occur more commonly than others. The five conjugations of twenty of the most common English verbs aside from the auxiliaries be, have, and do are as follows:

Base Simple Present Simple Past Present Participle Past Participle
ask ask, asks asked asking asked
become become, becomes became becoming become
begin begin, begins began beginning begun
come come, comes came coming come
drink drinks, drinks drank drinking drunk
eat eat, eats ate eating eaten
feel feel, feels felt feeling felt
finish finish, finishes finished finishing finished
get get, gets got getting got, gotten
give give, gives gave giving given
go go, goes went going gone
know know, knows knew knowing known
learn learn, learns learned learning learned
like like, likes liked liking liked
make make, makes made making made
put put, puts put putting put
say say, says said saying said
see see, sees saw seeing seen
take take, takes took taking taken
write write, writes wrote writing written

Modal Verbs

Modal verbs are a distinct verb form unique to Germanic languages including English that express modality. Modality is the grammaticalized expression of the subjective attitudes and opinions of the speaker such as possibility, probability, necessity, obligation, permissibility, ability, desire, and contingency. Modal verbs differ from prototypical verbs in form and function. The nine full modal verbs of English are as follows:

  • can
  • could
  • may
  • might
  • must
  • shall
  • should
  • will
  • would

In addition to the nine full modal verbs, English also has five quasi-modal verbs, which are a subset of modal verbs that possess some but not all grammatical properties of prototypical modals. The five quasi-modal verbs of English are as follows:

  • ought (to)
  • had better (had best)
  • used to
  • dare
  • need

Unlike other verbs including the three prototypical auxiliary verbs, the nine full modal verbs and five quasi-modal verbs in English have only one form.

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