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Forms of Main Verbs

Main verbs are also called "lexical verbs".

Main verbs (except the verb "be") have only 4, 5 or 6 forms. "Be" has 9 forms.

    V1 V2 V3    
  infinitive base past simple past participle present participle present simple, 3rd person singular
regular (to) work work worked worked working works
irregular (to) sing
(to) make
(to) cut
(to) do*
(to) have*
infinitive base past simple past participle present participle present simple
(to) be* be was, were been being am, are, is

In the above examples:

  • to cut has 4 forms: to cut, cut, cutting, cuts
  • to work has 5 forms: to work, work, worked, working, works
  • to sing has 6 forms: to sing, sing, sang, sung, singing, sings
  • to be has 9 forms: to be, be, was, were, been, being, am, is, are
The infinitive can be with or without to. For example, to sing and sing are both infinitives. We often call the infinitive without to the "bare infinitive".

At school, students usually learn by heart the base, past simple and past participle (sometimes called V1, V2, V3, meaning Verb 1, Verb 2, Verb 3) for the irregular verbs. They may spend many hours chanting: sing, sang, sung; go, went, gone; have, had, had; etc. They do not learn these for the regular verbs because the past simple and past participle are always the same: they are formed by adding "-ed" to the base. They do not learn the present participle and 3rd person singular present simple by heart - for another very simple reason: they never change. The present participle is always made by adding "-ing" to the base, and the 3rd person singular present simple is always made by adding "s" to the base (though there are some variations in spelling).

* Note that "do", "have" and "be" also function as helping or auxiliary verbs, with exactly the same forms (except that as helping verbs they are never in infinitive form).

Example Sentences

These example sentences use main verbs in different forms.


  • I want to work
  • He has to sing.
  • This exercise is easy to do.
  • Let him have one.
  • To be, or not to be, that is the question:

Base - Imperative

  • Work well!
  • Make this.
  • Have a nice day.
  • Be quiet!

Base - Present simple
(except 3rd person singular)

  • I work in London.
  • You sing well.
  • They have a lot of money.

Base - After modal auxiliary verbs

  • I can work tomorrow.
  • You must sing louder.
  • They might do it.
  • You could be right.

Past simple

  • I worked yesterday.
  • She cut his hair last week.
  • They had a good time.
  • They were surprised, but I was not.

Past participle

  • I have worked here for five years.
  • He needs a folder made of plastic.
  • It is done like this.
  • I have never been so happy.

Present participle

  • I am working.
  • Singing well is not easy.
  • Having finished, he went home.
  • You are being silly!

3rd person singular, present simple

  • He works in London.
  • She sings well.
  • She has a lot of money.
  • It is Vietnamese.

Forms of Helping Verbs »

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