Get Your Premium Membership



A verb is a word which asserts or declares. In other words, it makes a noun or pronoun tell something. John paper tells nothing. John wastes paper tells something. Verbs are the most difficult of all the parts of speech to understand and to use properly. As a rule, an English verb has something more than fifty parts which, with their uses, should be thoroughly learned from a grammar. This is not so difficult a matter as it might appear, except to those whose native speech is not English. Nevertheless you should be on the guard against such blunders as I seen, I seed, for I saw, I runned for I ran, I et for I ate, I throwed for I threw, and the like. In most verbs these parts are regular. In some they are irregular. A list of irregular verbs will be found at the end of this volume.

<a name="Page_9">[Pg 9]While the plan of this book does not call for a systematic study of verbs any more than of any other words, it is desirable to call attention to some points as being the occasions of frequent mistakes.

A simple sentence consists of a verb, its subject, and its object. The verb indicates the action, the subject is the noun (name of a person or thing) which does the act, the object is the noun to which the thing is done. Verbs have forms denoting person and number, for example:

Singular Plural
1st I love 1st We love
2nd You love (thou lovest) formal and archaic. 2nd You love
3rd He loves 3rd They love
Singular Plural
1st I was 1st We were
2nd You were (thou wast) 2nd You were
3rd He was 3rd They were

Verbs agree with their subjects in person and number. We all know this but we do not always remember it. Unless you are very careful, you will find yourself using a singular subject with a plural verb or the reverse. Mistakes of this sort are particularly liable to happen in the case of collective nouns, in the use of personal pronouns as subjects, and in cases where the subject and the verb are far separated in the sentence.

Those forms of the verb which tell whether the subject is acting or is acted upon are called voices. When the subject is acting the verb is said to be in the active voice. When the subject is acted upon the verb is said to be in the passive voice. Verbs in the passive voice have no objects because the subject, being acted upon, is itself in the place of an object.

Those forms of the verb which tell whether the time of the action is past, present, or future, are called tenses. They are six, viz.

Present, I print (am printing) the book.
Past or imperfect, I printed the book.
<a name="Page_10">[Pg 10]Future, I shall print the book.
Perfect, or present perfect, I have printed the book.
Pluperfect or past perfect, I had printed the book before you wrote.
Future perfect, I will notify you when I shall have printed the book.


When adverbs denoting time are indicated care should be taken to see that the verb is consistent with the adverb. "I printed it yesterday," not "I have printed it yesterday;" "I have not yet printed it," not "I did not print it yet;" "I have printed it already," not "I printed it already."

Trouble is sometimes found in choosing the right forms of the verb to be used in subordinate clauses. The rule is:

Verbs in subordinate sentences and clauses must be governed by the tense of the principal verb.

This rule rests on the exact meaning of the forms and words used and its application can be checked by careful examination of these meanings. "He said he did it." "He said he would do it." "He says he will do it."

Note that when the statement in the subordinate clause is of universal application the present tense is always used whatever the tense of the principal verb. "The lecturer said that warm weather always softens rollers."

Those forms of the verb which tell whether the action is an actual fact, a possibility, a condition, or a command are called moods.

There are three moods, the indicative, subjunctive, and imperative.

The indicative mood indicates that the action is a fact. It is also used in asking questions.

The subjunctive mood is less used in modern than in old English. It is most commonly found in clauses beginning with if, though if is not to be regarded as the sign of the subjunctive in any such sense as to is the sign of the infinitive.

The subjunctive were should be used in purely hypothetical clauses such as "If I were in your place."

The subjunctive be should be used in the hypothesis or supposition of a scientific demonstration,

If the triangle A be placed on the triangle B.


The subjunctive without if is often used in wishes or prayers,

God forgive him.
O, that my brother were here.


The subjunctive is sometimes used to express condition,

Had you not been a coward, you would not have run away.


The imperative mood indicates a command,

Put that on the press.


The subject of the imperative mood is only expressed when it is emphatic,

Go thou and do likewise.


Older grammarians speak of a fourth mood called potential. The present tendency among grammarians is to treat these forms separately. They are verb phrases which express ability, possibility, obligation, or necessity. They are formed by the use of the auxiliary verbs may, can, must, might, could, would, and should, with the infinitive without to.

May is used (a) to show that the subject is permitted to do something, "You may go out," or (b) to indicate possibility or doubtful intention, "I may not go to work tomorrow."

Can is used to show that the subject is able to do something, "I can feed a press." These two forms are often confused, with results which would be ridiculous if they were not too common to attract attention. The confusion perhaps arises from the fact that the ability to do a thing often appears to depend on permission to do it. "May I see a proof?" means "Have I permission, or will you allow me, to see a proof?" and is the proper way to put the question. The common question, "Can I see a proof?" is absurd. Of course you can, if you have normal eyesight.

Must shows necessity or obligation.

You must obey the rules of the office.


<a name="Page_12">[Pg 12]Ought which is sometimes confounded with must in phrases of this sort expresses moral obligation as distinguished from necessity.

You ought to obey the rules of the office,

indicates that it is your duty to obey because it is the right thing to do even though no penalty is attached.

You must obey the rules of the office,

indicates that you will be punished if you do not obey.

Those forms of the verb which express the time of the action are called tenses. No particular difficulty attends the use of the tenses except in the case of shall and will and should and would.

Shall and will are used as follows: In simple statements to express mere futurity, use shall in the first person, will in the second and third; to express volition, promise, purpose, determination, or action which the speaker means to control use will in the first person, shall in the second and third.

The following tables should be learned and practiced in a large variety of combinations.

Futurity Volition, etc.
I shallWe shall I willWe will
You willYou will You shallYou shall
He willThey will He shallThey shall


A good example of the misuse of the words is found in the old story of the foreigner who fell into the water and cried out in terror and despair "I will drown, nobody shall help me."

In asking questions, for the first person always use shall, for the second and third use the auxiliary expected in the answer.

Shall I (I shall) Shall we (We shall)
Shall you (I shall) Shall you (We shall)
Will he (He will) Will they (They will)
  [Pg 13]
Volition, etc.
---- --- ---- ---
Will you (I will) Will you (We will)
Shall he (He shall) Shall he (He shall)

In all other cases, as in subordinate clauses shall is used in all persons to express mere futurity, will to express volition, etc.

In indirect discourse, when the subject of the principal clause is different from the noun clause, the usage is like that in direct statement, for example,

The teacher says that James will win the medal. (futurity),

but when the subject of the principal clause is the same as that of the noun clause, the usage is like that in subordinate clauses,

The teacher says that he shall soon resign. (futurity).


Exceptions. Will is often used in the second person to express an official command.

You will report to the superintendent at once.


Shall is sometimes used in the second and third persons in a prophetic sense.

Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.


The use of should and would is in general the same as that of shall and will in indirect statement.

Should I(I should) Should we(We should)
Should You(I should) Should You(We should)
Would he(He would) Would they(They would)
    [Pg 14]
Volition, etc.
Would I(I would) Would we(We would)
Would You(You would) Would You(We would)
Should he(He should) Should they(They should)


In subordinate clauses should is used in all persons to express futurity, would to express volition, etc.

In indirect discourse the usage is similar to that in direct statement.

The teacher said that John would win the medal.


Exceptions. Should is often used to express moral obligation.

You should be honest under all conditions.


Would is sometimes used to express frequentive action.

He would walk the floor night after night.


Mistakes are often made in the use of compound tenses on account of failure to grasp the meaning of the words used.

I should have liked to have seen you,

is correct grammar but probably not correct statement of fact, as it states a past desire to have done something at a period still further remote, that is to say, "I should have liked (yesterday) to have seen you (day before yesterday)." What is generally meant is either "I should have liked to see you," that is "I (then) wished to see you," or "I should like to have seen you," that is "I (now) wish I had seen you (then)."

Every word has its own value and nearly all our mistakes arise from lack of regard for the exact value of the words to be used.

Where a participial construction is used as the object of a verb, the noun or pronoun in the object should be in the possessive case and not in the objective. You should not say, "I object to him watching me," but "I object to his watching me."

Care should be taken not to give objects to passive verbs. The very common expression "The man was given a chance" is incorrect. It should be "A chance was given to the man."

Care should also be taken to avoid the omission of the prepositions which are needed with certain verbs, for example, "beware the dog," "What happened him" should be "beware of the dog," "What happened to him."

On the other hand superfluous prepositions are sometimes used in such phrases as consider of, accept of and the like.

Such errors are to be avoided by careful study of the meaning of words and careful observation of the best written and spoken speech.


Book: Shattered Sighs