Main verbs

(Explanation and use of main/lexical verbs in English grammar)

Table of contents – full verbs

On this page you will find the following:

  1. Use of main verbs
  2. Particularities when using main verbs
  3. Further explanations and exercises

How are main verbs used in English? (Explanation)

Main verbs (sometimes also called lexical verbs or full verbs) represent the dominant group of verbs in the English language. So to speak, they are the ‘real’ verbs and can be used alone (as the only verb) in a sentence – unlike auxiliary verbs. Regarding this, an important point is that main verbs usually require an auxiliary verb in questions and negations. Now, compare some possible uses:

  • English main/full verbs occur in the following ways:
    • As a standalone verb in a single sentence:
      • “He goes to the swimming pool every Sunday.”
      • “Jane bought a jacket yesterday.”
    • In combination with an auxiliary verb to construct the compound tenses (perfect tenses), the continuous tenses (progressive forms), the future as well as passive sentences (passive voice):
      • “They have travelled a lot of countries.”
        • Here, the verb appears in the present perfect simple.
      • “Hugo and Jack are going to the cinema tonight.”
        • In this statement, the verb is in the present continuous.
      • “I think it will rain soon.”
        • Here, it stands in the future simple.
      • “The bridge was built five years ago.”
        • This statement is a passive voice sentence in the simple past.
    • Besides, they are also part of negations and questions (interrogatives), in which an auxiliary verb necessarily accompanies them:
      • “We don’t like the new street. It’s too loud.”
      • Do you know what’s on TV tonight?”

What are the particularities when using main verbs?

Three of the English main verbs can also be used as auxiliary verbs. This group includes ‘to be, to do’, and ‘to have’. For clarity, read the following comparisons:

  • The verb ‘to do’:
    • “Simon does his homework in the evening.”
      • It functions as a main verb here. It is also the only verb in this sentence.
    • “Lily doesn’t play the piano; she plays the bass.”
      • Here, the form of ‘to do’ (doesn’t) is an auxiliary verb, which assists ‘to play’ to form a negation.
  • The verb ‘to be’:
    • “My sister is a very kind person.”
      • main verb
    • “Sabrina is talking very fast.”
      • auxiliary verb
  • The verb ‘to have’:
    • “Jason has a green car.”
      • main verb
    • Have you got a computer?”
      • auxiliary verb

Further explanations related to the ‘Main verbs’

The following explanations relate to the topic ‘Explanation and use of full verbs (main verbs) in English grammar’ and could be helpful as well: