English verbs come in several forms. For example, the verb sing can be: sing, sang, sung, singing or sings. This is a total of 5 forms. Not many, considering that some languages (French, for example) have more than 30 forms for an individual verb. English tenses may be quite complicated, but the forms that we use to make the tenses are actually very simple! With the exception of the verb be, English main verbs have only 3, 4 or 5 forms. Be has 8 forms. Helping verbs have even fewer forms as most of them never change.
In this lesson we look at the forms of main verbs and helping verbs followed by a quiz to check your understanding.
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.
|present participle||3rd person singular present simple||#|
|past participle||present participle||present simple
In the above examples:
- cut has 3 forms: cut, cutting, cuts
- work has 4 forms: work, worked, working, works
- sing has 5 forms: sing, sang, sung, singing, sings
- be has 8 forms: be, was, were, been, being, am, is, are
Note that in dictionaries the headword for any given verb entry is always in the base form.
There are two possibilities for the infinitive:
- base form (the "bare infinitive")
- to + base form (the "to-infinitive")
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.
These example sentences use main verbs in different forms.
Base - Infinitive
- She helped him work on his homework.
- We heard them sing their national anthem.
- I want to have a drink.
- 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.
- I worked yesterday.
- She cut his hair last week.
- They had a good time.
- They were surprised, but I was not.
- 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.
- 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
We use helping verbs (auxiliary verbs) with main verbs. The tables on this page show the forms of all helping verbs.
There are 2 groups of helping verbs:
1. Primary helping verbs
We use primary helping verbs to change the tense or voice of the main verb, and to make questions and negatives. There are only three primary helping verbs: do, have, be. These verbs can also function as main verbs. When we use them as helping verbs, here are the forms that we use:
|base||3rd person singular present simple||past simple|
|present participle||past participle|
- Do you like him?
- He does go home sometimes.
- I did not see her.
- They have finished their homework.
- Has he arrived yet?
- John had not called for three weeks.
- They will be eating when we arrive.
- I am feeling sick.
- Are you working at the moment?
- Jo is not watching TV.
- Tara was cooking when I phoned.
- Were you expecting me?
- My car is being repaired.
- I have been working all day.
2. Modal helping verbs
We use modal helping verbs to change the "mood" of the main verb. As you see, modal verbs have only one form each. They never change.