Forms of Main Verbs

Main verbs (except the verb "be") have 3, 4 or 5 forms. The verb "be" has 8 forms. In the table below, the # column shows the actual number of forms for the given verb.

We use these forms to make all the tenses and other verb structures, in all moods, aspects and voices.

past simple
past participle
present participle 3rd person singular present simple #
reg. work worked working works 4
irreg. cut cutting cuts 3
make made making makes 4
sing sang sung singing sings 5
have had having has 4
do did done doing does 5
base past simple
(2 forms)
past participle present participle present simple
(3 forms)
be was
been being am

In the above examples:

Note that in dictionaries the headword for any given verb entry is always in the base form.

There are two possibilities for the infinitive:
  1. base form (the "bare infinitive")
  2. to + base form (the "to-infinitive")
For example, sing and to sing are both infinitives. As they are identical in form to the base form, and "to" is not part of the verb, we do not list the infinitive as a separate form.

Note that the "to" is NOT a preposition. It is an "infinity marker" or "particle".

At school, students often learn by heart the base, past simple and past participle (sometimes called V1, V2, V3, meaning Verb 1, Verb 2, Verb 3) for irregular verbs. They may spend many hours chanting: sing, sang, sung; go, went, gone; have, had, had; etc. They do not learn these for regular verbs for one very simple reason - 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 for regular or irregular verbs 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 "have", "do" and "be" also function as helping or auxiliary verbs, with exactly the same forms.

Example Sentences

These example sentences use main verbs in different forms.

Base - Infinitive

Base - Imperative

Base - Present simple
(except 3rd person singular)

Base - After modal auxiliary verbs

Past simple

Past participle

Present participle

3rd person singular present simple