Verb Forms: What Are Verb Forms? Definition and Examples

By Carly Forsaith, updated on July 27, 2023

Do you want to learn more about verb forms? Then you've come to the right place. This article will teach you everything you need to know about verb forms and how to use them correctly in your writing.

English grammar has six verb forms:

  • base
  • infinitive
  • present participle
  • past participle
  • past simple 
  • third-person singular

This article is part of our free online grammar book.

What Are Verb Forms?

So I guess the first place we should start is, what are verbs, and what are verb forms?

First of all, verbs are a part of speech that allows you to describe an action, a thought, a state of being, or a feeling. They tell the reader what the subject is doing, feeling, or being.

As for verb forms, they exist to give us more information about the verb. When did it take place? Is it still ongoing? Is it already over? As we'll learn in this article, the verb form can tell you a lot about what is happening. They're also the basis for creating other verb tenses and even other parts of speech.

There are six main verb forms:

  • base
  • infinitive
  • present participle
  • past participle
  • past simple
  • third-person singular

Let's look at these one by one.

Base Verb Forms

As the name indicates, the base form of a verb is the verb at its most basic, before it's been changed or conjugated in any way. It's the form of the verb you'll look up in the dictionary if you want to find out what it means. The base form is also known as the root form.

Here are some examples of base verb forms:






The base form also serves as the present indefinite tense for all pronouns except the third-person singular, which, as mentioned in the introduction, is a verb form in and of itself that we'll learn about in this article.

Look at the above examples used in a present indefinite tense sentence:

You can sit next to me.

I dance every day.

We eat dinner at 7 pm.

This semester they learn about verb forms.

Do you want to write that down?

The base form of the verb is also what we use for the imperative mood:

Look at me.

Keep quiet.

Stay here.

This also applies to the present subjunctive mood:

I insist that you sit next to me. 

They have asked that we listen carefully.

She recommends that you apply in writing. 

It's also what we use in order to create other verb tenses. You take the verb form and add words at the end to form a new tense. For example, you take the base verb form and add -ing for the present continuous. Well, this is true for regular verbs, at least.

Take a look:

  • talk → talking
  • eat → eating
  • learn → learning

You can even create other verbs by adding prefixes to the base forms of verbs. For example, 'throw' becomes 'overthrow' when you add the prefix 'over.'

Oh, and one last thing! You can also create gerunds with base verb forms. These basically just look like the present continuous tense and are made the same way, but they function as nouns.

Infinitive Form

The only difference in appearance between the base form of a verb and the infinitive is that to form the infinitive; you just add the word 'to' before the base form. So what differentiates it from a root verb form, and why does it warrant a separate verb form category?

The truth is that many sources put it in the same category as the root verb form, but I think it deserves its own category because it actually has many uses. The reason? It's a verbal. A verbal is a word derived as a verb that doesn't function as a verb. It can actually function as other parts of speech, too (a noun, an adjective, or an adverb) and other parts of sentence (subject, direct object, subject complement).

Take a look at the following example:

To win this game will mean a lot to the team. 

In this sentence, the infinitive 'to win' is the subject rather than the verb. 'Will mean' is the verb.

Here's another:

I love to watch TV.

Here, the infinitive phrase 'to watch TV' is the object of the verb 'love.'

She couldn't bring herself to tell him.

Here, the infinitive phrase 'to tell him' functions as an adjective modifying the rest of the sentence.

Present Participle

The present participle is also known as the present continuous and is formed by adding -ing to the end of the base form of a verb. It's used to show a certain continuity in events, either in the past, present or future tenses. Yes, that's right, this present tense can also be used to make up other tenses.

But let's start with the present. With the present participle, you can form the present continuous or the present perfect continuous.

Here are some examples of sentences in the present tense that use the present participle:

I am waiting for the pizza to be cooked.

They are talking on the phone right now.

He is explaning the rules of the escape room.

As you can see from the above examples, the verb's action is happening now and in an ongoing way. It isn't just something you 'do' once, and then it's over. It's a process that takes place overtime.

Present participle sentences that talk about a past or future event function the exact same way only it's implied from the context that it isn't taking place now, only they are taking place on different timelines. The past and future tenses you can create with the present participle include the past continuous, the past perfect continuous, the future continuous, and the future perfect continuous.

Here are some examples:

I'm chatting to her on Zoom tonight.

We've been walking for hours.

You will be driving your new car this time next week.

Present participles can also function as adjectives.

Take a look at the following examples:

She gets so much joy from working on her growing business.

We had a fleeting romance.

He awoke Sleeping Beauty with a passionate kiss.

A quick note on gerunds. Gerunds look like verbs in the present participle tense, but they don't function as a verb; they function as a noun. As we learned with infinitives, that makes them verbals.

To learn more about the present participle, check out this article.

Past Participle

Just like present participles, past participles are also used either to make a tense or as an adjective. For regular verbs, you just take the base form and add -ed. Irregular verbs are a little more complicated, though: you pretty much just need to remember them.

Let's take a look at some example sentences with past participles. They are used for creating the present, past and future perfect tenses:

I have always wanted a red car.

She had told him she was applying for the role.

The party will have already started when I arrive. 

Now here are some examples where the past participle is used as an adjective:

I returned home to a tired husband.

The lost keys suddenly turned up in my pocket.

She presented me with a basket of baked goods. 

And there's one more thing you can use past participles for: the passive tense.

My son asked me how babies get made yesterday.

All the necessary work has been carried out.

The topic has yet to be brought up.

To learn more about past participles, check out this article.

Past Simple

The past simple tense can easily be confused with the past participle since they look very similar. And often, in fact, they look the exact same. But the difference is that it's an actual verb tense, and we use it to talk about events that happened and finished in the past.

For example:

I spoke to my teacher about getting extra support.

The dolls looked very creepy on the shelf. 

Lola slept the whole night through. 

Just like with past participles, the past simple is sometimes formed by adding -ed, but for the pattern is very inconsistent for irregular verbs. Look at the following list, which shows the verb's base form, past simple and past participle. You'll see how sometimes the latter two are the same and sometimes they are different. Also notice how sometimes they're formed by adding -ed  and sometimes they are not.

Sit, sat, sat

Break, broke, broken

Dance, danced, danced

Think, thought, thought

Sing, sang, sung

Type, typed, typed

To learn more about the past simple verb form (also known as the past indefinite), check out this article.

Third-Person Singular

This might seem a little odd at first: why does the third-person singular pronoun have a verb form? What about the other pronouns? The simple fact is that in the present tense, the other pronouns are all conjugated the same way: using just the base verb form.

Take a look, for example, at the conjugation of the verb 'sing' and notice how all the pronouns are conjugated according to the base verb form, while the third-person singular appears different:

I sing
You sing
He/she/it sings
We sing
You sing
They sing

This is always the case: in the present tense, all the pronouns are conjugated the same way except for the third-person singular. There is only one exception to this: the verb 'be.'

I am
You are

She/he/it is
We are
You are 
They are

The third-person singular pronouns include 'he,' 'she,' and 'it.' To make this verb form, simply take the base verb and add -s, -es, or -ies (except for the verb 'have,' which becomes 'has').

Final Thoughts on Verb Forms

That concludes this article on verb forms. I hope you found it helpful. The main thing to remember is that the reason why it's both important and helpful to learn about verb forms is because all other verb forms are constructed around these. Any new tense or conjugation you encounter will use one of these six verb forms as its basis. So let's summarize what we've learned:

  • Verb forms give you more information about the verb's subject, tense, or whether it's ongoing or has already ended.
  • They can also be used to create verb tenses and be used as other parts of speech. 
  • There are six verb forms: base verb, infinitive, present participle, past participle, past simple, and third-person singular.

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Written By:
Carly Forsaith
Carly Forsaith is one of the lead freelance writers for Carly is a copywriter who has been writing about the English language for over 3 years. Before that, she was a teacher in Thailand, helping people learn English as a second language. She is a total grammar nerd and spends her time spotting language errors on signs and on the internet.

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