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Learning English: Main Verbs

To the English Learner: If you want to learn English, begin with the verbs. That is where the action is. This is true with any language, and very true with English because what makes English English are its helping verbs. But let’s look at the main verbs first.


Main Verbs

Main verbs in English have three principal parts:

the base form: eat

the ING: eating

and the participle: eaten.

principle parts copy 2

Principal Parts

Principal parts have meaning. We know what each principal part means, but we can’t speak or write a sentence with them because they don’t have the means, the arms or the legs or the wings, to go anywhere or to do or be anything. They are helpless.

To mean something in English, main verbs need two things. They need a subject and a helping verb. Subjects are nouns or pronouns that give main verbs their person and their number, a who or a what, and a how many. Helping verbs give main verbs their tense, their place in time, a when.

Rabbits can swim if they have to.

Turtles have lived on earth for millions of years.

She eats (does eat) breakfast.

We are learning English.

In English we read and write from left to right. The subject comes first, the helping verb comes second, and the main verb comes third. That is always the order in both yes and no sentences: subject, helping verb, and then the main verb.

Rabbits can’t swim if they have to.

Turtles haven’t lived on earth for millions of years.

She doesn’t eat breakfast.

We aren’t learning English.

In a Yes/No Question the order changes, and the helping verb comes first. That is always the order in a question: helping verb, subject, and then the main verb.

Can rabbits swim if they have to?

Have turtles lived on earth for millions of years?

Does she eat breakfast?

Are we learning English?


Helping Verbs

There are thousands of main verbs in English and every one of them has three principal parts. There are only twenty helping verbs in English. But without them, main verbs couldn’t do anything. They would be helpless. If you want to learn English quickly, become familiar with the helping verbs.

Do, Does, Did

Have, Has, Had

Am, Are, Is, Was, Were

May, Must, Might, Can, Could, Will, Would, Shall, Should

Helping verbs are divided into four families:

The Do Family. Do, does, and did help the base form: eat.

The Have Family. Have, has, and had help the participle: eaten.

The Be Family. Am, are, is, was, and were help the ING in the active and the participle in the passive: eating and eaten.

The Modals. May, must, might, can, could, will, would, should, and shall help the base form: eat.

We will look more closely at helpings verbs later. Let’s start by looking at main verbs and their principal parts.


The Base Form: eat

Many people think the base form is the present conjugation in English, but it isn’t. English verbs aren’t conjugated, they are helped.

A language like Spanish is conjugated. A Spanish verb contains both its subject and its tense. Spanish only needs one word where English needs three:

Cantaré. I will sing.

Spanish speaking learners of English have an easier time than English speaking learners of Spanish. For the simple future, the English speaker must learn six forms:

Cantaré cantarémos
cantarás cantaréis
cantará .…..cantarán.

The Spanish learner only needs to know one:

I will sing .we will sing
you will sing you will sing
she will sing they will sing.

In the sentence We will sing the helping verb will helps base form sing express the certainty that We will sing in the future.

Will is a modal. There are nine modals. Modals help the base form in conditional sentences. A conditional sentence gives us a mood, a possibility that might happen if the conditions suit it.

I will swim (that is for certain).

I can swim (but I’m not going to do that now).

I could swim (if I really wanted to).

I might swim (if it’s sunny).

Do (do, does, did)
helps the base form in the simple present and the simple past. Because English is mostly spoken and written in the simple past and the simple present, Do is used in almost every sentence.

To avoid repetition, do, does and did often stay hidden in yes sentences. When I say I eat breakfast I am really saying Yes, I do eat breakfast but the do is understood unless I want to emphasize the fact that:

I do love you

or

I did do it.

Do, does, and did always (do) appear in every negative sentence and every Yes/No question in English:

She doesn’t love you.

Do you love me?

For the English learner, do, does and did are the three most important words in the English language.


The ING: eating

Some people like to call the ING the present participle, but it isn’t the present. It is continuous. Only the Be Family (am, are, is, was, were) helps the ING. The ING can be in the past, the future or the present.

It was raining when I got there.”

I will be reading that book tomorrow.”

“I am eating. It is raining.”


The Participle: eaten

The Have family and the Be family help the participle. Some people like to call the participle the past participle, and although there is always a sense of the past about it, it isn’t the past.

The Have family

When it’s active, the participle can take place in the past, in the future, and in the past right up to the present.

Have, has, and had make the participle active.

“They had eaten the cake before we got there.”

“It will have rained by this time tomorrow.”

When I say I have eaten sushi that is the past right up to the present. Maybe I’ve eaten sushi once, maybe I’ve eaten it a thousand times, maybe it was last year or maybe just a second ago, but I have eaten sushi.

The Be family

Am, are, is, was and were help the participle in the passive in the present, the past, and the future.

Berries are eaten by turtles.

The celery was eaten by the rabbit.

Those apples will be eaten by the horse tomorrow.


Review:

Main verbs in English have three principal parts:

the base form: eat

the ING: eating

and the participle: eaten.

Every principal part is helped by a helping verb. There are twenty helping verbs that are divided into four families:

Do, does, and did help the base form: swim, eat, walk

Have, has, and had help the participle: swum, eaten, walked

Be: am, are, is, was, and were help the ING in the active and the participle in the passive: swimming, eating, walking, swum, eaten, walked

The Modals: would, should, could, can, will, shall, may, must, and might help the base form: swim, eat, walk.

The sooner the English learner learns how helping verbs help main verbs, the sooner the learner will speak, read and write English.

Next, we will look more closely at helping verbs.

2 Comments

  1. tonico
    Posted 10 Apr ’16 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    I love you. tonico

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