Verb Properties

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Understanding the Five Properties of Verb

A verbOpens in new window may change form to show five main properties, which are known as personOpens in new window, numberOpens in new window, voiceOpens in new window, moodOpens in new window, and tenseOpens in new window.

We’ll spend the remainder of this entry delving deeper into each.

  1. Person

    Person is a verb property that indicates whether the subject names the person(s) speaking, known as the first person, or the person(s) spoken to, known as the second person, or the person(s) or thing(s) spoken of, which is called the third person.

    1. The nominative case pronounsOpens in new window for the first person are I and we.
    2. The nominative case pronoun for the second person is you.
    3. In the third person, the nominative case pronouns are they, it, she, and he.
  2. Number

    Number is a property of verb that indicates whether the subject is singular (one) or plural (more than one).

    In English, we tend to depend more on the noun to show singular or plural (number). Although some of the variations in verb formsOpens in new window showing number have been dropped in recent times, many variations remain in irregular verbs.

    Specifically, the verb to be, is a good example.

    First PersonI amWe are
    Second Personyou areyou are
    Third Personshe, he, or it isthey are

    Notice that all the plural forms are the same. Also note that the second person singular has taken on the form that was once reserved for the plural.

  3. Voice

    The voiceOpens in new window is a form of a verb indicating the relation between the participants (subjectOpens in new window and objectOpens in new window) in a narrated event and the event itself. The two types of voice are the active voiceOpens in new window and the passive voiceOpens in new window.

    The subject has always been the noun that assumes the do-er of the action or the be-er of the state of being.

    This will normally be true. However, it is possible for the noun that is the subject to become the receiver of the action.

    In the active voice, the subject is the active do-er of the action. Traditionally, effective quality writing uses the active voice.

    The passive voice verb has no direct object, but nevertheless, it does have a receiver of the action. Since a verb having a receiver of the action is transitive, all passive voice verbs are transitive verbs Opens in new window. The primary helping verbOpens in new window of the passive voice is the verb, to be.

  4. Compare the following:
    1. Active Voice
      • The IT expert programmed the computer.
      Passive Voice
      • The computer was programmed by the IT expert
    2. Active Voice
      • Gretchen will take the children to the party.
      Passive Voice
      • The children will be taken to the party by Gretchen
    3. Active Voice
      • The monkey eats the banana.
      Passive Voice
      • The banana is eaten by the monkey.

    The passive voice is formed by the use of the helping verb, to be, with that form of the main verb generally used to indicate the simple past (past participle).


    There may be occasions when the passive voice is right for use. However, beware that frequent use of the passive voice dwindles the strength of any written work. The use of the passive voice is poor style. Even poorer style is the use of the word, get, instead of the helping verb, to be, in the formation of the passive voice.

  5. Mood

    In English Mood (sometimes referred to as Mode) is a verb property that shows emphasis and indicate whether a sentence is a statement of fact (indicative moodOpens in new window), a command (imperative moodOpens in new window), or a statement of possibility or supposition (subjunctive moodOpens in new window).

    1. The Indicative Mood

      The indicative mood is the most wildly used in English.

      With the use of verb tense, the indicative mood brings about expression of fact, emphasize certainty of what has happened, presently happening or will happen, and is also used to make concrete denials, as well as putting up questions.

      Usually, most of the verbs we use in our normal speech are in the indicative mood.

    2. The Imperative mood

      The imperative mood expresses a command or request, or strong emotions.

      To form the imperative mood, we must first find the infinitive form, the name of the verb.

      The infinitive rootOpens in new window is that part of the infinitive form without the word, to. When this is used directly in a sentence, it typically provides the form of the verb that expresses the imperative mood.

      In the examples below, notice that the imperative mood of to be is the same word as the infinitive root, be. The subject of the verb in the imperative mood is usually the understood “you” that is a trait of an imperative sentence.

      Observe the following expressions:

      Indicative Mood
      • She is here on time.
      • Is she here on time?
      • The rain lasted through the night
      • Are we yet there?
      Imperative Mood
      • Take the kids to school.
      • Be here on time.
      • Keep on enjoying your lunch.
      • Let me attend to the guest.
    3. Subjunctive Mood

      Although minimally used, the subjunctive mood serves a great purpose. It brings about expressions of imaginary things, it tells a proposed, supposed, wished or uncertain action or state of being.

      The subjunctive mood essentially exists in the regular form, active voice (although with many exceptions).

      An odd trait of the subjunctive mood is that it does not use any real future tense.

      The subjunctive mood only exists in four tenses, such as, the simple pastOpens in new window, simple presentOpens in new window, past perfectOpens in new window, and present perfectOpens in new window tensesOpens in new window.

      In the subjunctive mood, each tense has a fairly specific purpose, in addition to the normal uses of each tense. These include the following:

      1. The simple past tense, subjunctive mood is often used to express when something is:
        • not certain, or
        • contrary to fact, or
        • possibly even impossible.

        The word, if, is usually used to introduce the clause containing the verb form in the subjunctive mood, simple past tense.

        Examples include:
        • If he deceived you, he would be dishonest.
        • If she were queen, she would rule well.
        • If all the nations were at peace, what a pleasant place this world might be.
      2. The present tense, subjunctive mood usually works in one of two ways:

        The first use is in the main clauseOpens in new window shortly after an introductory clause that contains a verb in the simple past tense, subjunctive mood.

        The verb in the main clause in each of the preceding examples is in the present tense, subjunctive mood. All of those main verbs are concerned with ideas presented in the first clause.

        The second use for the present subjunctive is mainly concerned with possibilities or ideas, and notfacts. It is normally introduced by the word, that,or a clause in the past tense, subjunctive mood.

        Examples include:
        • He advised that everyone should study for the test.
        • She hoped that she would be president.
      3. The past perfect tense, subjunctive mood is the only one really concerned with expressing time.

        It deals essentially with an action or state of being that is contrary to fact. This involves an event that did not happen. Words that indicate certain condition, such as if and unless, often precede this verb form.

        Examples include:
        • If I had only known, things might have been different.
        • If we had known, we might have done something else.
      4. The present perfect tense, subjunctive mood

        This form may be used with the past perfect tense in much the same way that the simple present tense is used with the simple past tense, in the subjunctive mood.

        The present perfect tense subjunctive mood may also be used to make conditional statements using one of the modals and/or following some word indicating condition, such as if or although.

  6. Tense

    Tense is a verb property that shows the time of the action or state of being expressed by the verb. Generally, tenses tell the actual time of actions or states of being, relative to the present moment.

    There are six basic tenses in the English language, these are, the simple past, simple presentOpens in new window, and simple futureOpens in new window tenses; and the past perfectOpens in new window, present perfectOpens in new window, and future perfectOpens in new window tenses.


    Generally, the present tenseOpens in new window simply indicates that an action has occurred at that moment that we call “Now.”

    The simple past tenseOpens in new window indicates that an action or state of being occurred at one fairly specific moment before “Now” in the past.

    Likewise, the simple future tenseOpens in new window signifies that an action or state of being will occur at a farily precise moment in the future.

    There are a lot more beyond these on tenses. Learn more hereOpens in new window

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