Grammar: Verbs

Grammar in EAP



Verbs are words such as “eat“, “singing” &”listened“. They are defined partly by their form and partly by their position or function.

Verbs usually change their form – that is they inflect. A typical verb such as “eat” has five main forms: “eat“, “eats“, “eating“, “ate” & “eaten“. Theses form as often referred to as base, -s, -ing, -ed, -en. Irregular verbs may have fewer forms. For example “walk” has only four forms: “walk“, “walks“, “walked“, “walking“.

With regard to their position, they often fit in the following patterns: “The boy … the fish“, “He … carefully“. “She … intelligent“.

Their main function is head of a verbal group. There are two main types of verb: lexical verbs and auxiliary verbs.


Try this exercise in identifying verbs: Grammar: Verbs Exercise

Many grammatical mistakes are avoided by proofreading.

1. Present tense.

The present tense is the most common tense in academic writing, with 70% of verbs being in this form. The simple aspect is most common. One very common, but easily corrected, mistake is the “s” in present tense verbs.


Read the following text and notice the present tense verbs:

During the past quarter-century this power has not only increased to one of disturbing magnitude but it has changed in character. The most alarming of all man’s assaults upon the environment is the contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials. This pollution is for the most part irrecoverable; the chain of evil it initiates not only in the world that must support life but in living tissues is for the most part irreversible. In this now universal contamination of the environment, chemicals are the sinister and little-recognized partners of radiation in changing the very nature of the world – the very nature of its life. Strontium 90, released through nuclear explosions into the air, comes to earth in rain or drifts down as fallout, lodges in soil, enters into the grass or corn or wheat grown there, and in time takes up its abode in the bones of a human being, there to remain until his death. Similarly, chemicals sprayed on croplands or forests or gardens lie long in soil, entering into living organisms, passing from one to another in a chain of poisoning and death. Or they pass mysteriously by underground streams until they emerge and, through the alchemy of air and sunlight, combine into new forms that kill vegetation, sicken cattle, and work unknown harm on those who drink from once-pure wells. As Albert Schweitzer has said, ‘Man can hardly even recognize the devils of his own creation.’

(Rachel Carson, Silent spring.)


Complete the following table:

this power has
it has


Try this exercise.

2. Progressive forms.

The progessive aspect is relatively rare in academic writing, with only about 5% of verbs being in this form. However, it is easy to make mistakes with the progressive form of the verbs. Read the following text and notice the verbs.

The photograph of the three bright, good-looking young people in the Army recruitment ad catches the eye. All three have a certain flair, and one knows just by looking at the picture that they are enjoying life and glad they joined up. They are typical Americans, symbols of the kind of people the modern Army is looking for. The one closest to the camera is a white male. His name, as can be seen from the neat identification tag pinned to the right pocket of his regulation blouse, is Spurgeon. Behind him and slightly to the left is a young black man. He is wearing a decoration of some kind, and his name is Sort-. Perhaps it is Sorter or Sortman – only the first four letters show. A young woman, who is also white, stands behind Spurgeon on the other side. She is smiling and her eyes shine; she looks capable. She is probably wearing a name tag too, but because Spurgeon is standing between her and the camera, her name is hidden. She is completely anonymous.

From Words and women by Casey Smith & Kate Swift.

3. Past tense.

The past  tense – usually in its simple form – is frequently used in academic writing, for two main purposes: to introduce a specific study with named authors, and to describe methods and findings of completed research. For that reason, use of the past tense is common in introduction sections. Read the following text and notice the verbs.

Until about a decade ago, theoretical and applied linguistics developed side by side, to their mutual benefit. Though relatively few language teachers were linguists, most linguists were also language teachers, and they set out with missionary zeal to prove that linguistics had a place in the language classroom. Applied linguistics has a long respectable history. It did not suddenly burst into existence on Pearl Harbor Day. Henry Sweet’s The Practical Study of Languagesappeared in 1899, Otto Jespersen’s How to Teach a Foreign Language in 1904. Leonard Bloomfield’s An Introduction to the Study of Language was published in 1914, nineteen years before his major theoretical book Language, and thirty-eight years before his Out-line Guide for the Practical Study of Foreign Languages, a work that still appears on all reading lists for language teachers. During the 1940’s and early 50’s nearly every major linguist authored at least one language text-book. Bloch, Hockett, Haas, Fries, Twaddell – the bibliography for those years reads like a roster of the Linguistic Society.


Try this exercise, or this one.

4. Passives

passive sentence has the basic form “The fish was eaten.” It includes a passive verb. According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 477) verbs in their passive form account for 25% of verb use in academic texts. The short passive (without “by ...” ) is much more common than the long passive with “by …”).

Passive verbs are very common in descriptions of methodology. Read the following text and notice the verb forms.

We followed the procedures for gathering think-aloud data suggested by Hosenfeld (1976). Two research assistants, both Asian female graduate students in TESL with near-native command of English, collected the data. After an initial training session, subjects were asked to do tasks as they normally would, except they were instructed to “think aloud.” The two research assistants remained as unobtrusive as possible except to probe subjects’ thoughts if they were not being expressed, and to answer any questions subjects had concerning task procedures or the meaning of vocabulary. The research assistants were instructed not to provide other assistance. All sessions were audiotaped and transcribed. In analyzing the data, we identified and classified subjects’ strategies using a taxonomy developed by Rubin (1981), which we modified to more accurately reflect strategies actually appearing in our data. The major categories are shown in Figure 1.

Since data were collected under experimental conditions, results do not necessarily reflect what students would do under ordinary circumstances; that is, experimental conditions may have degraded or enhanced the number of strategies they used. However, we assume that strategies were not created for the experiments.


See: Grammar: Passives

5. Verb complementation.

In English, verbs occur in different patterns. For example:

V -ing

The person is better able to starttackling his problems.


Women in both categories have wantedtoprotect traditional professionalism.


The computer can helpsolve the problem.

V(that) sentence

The professor agreed(that) the project had possibilities.

V n -ing

My supervisor hatesmeusing that computer.


The court orderedthe judgetoaccept the plea.

V n infinitive

Last month sawinflationrise to 8%.

V n (that)sentence

She toldme(that)he planned to be away all night.

V n -ed

He had to have the toothextracted.

Different verbs occur in different patterns. You need to learn which patterns the verbs in your subject occur in. Grammar books do not usually help. A good dictionary with example sentences will help.


Click here for some general examples.

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