Verbs, subjects and objects

Every sentence must have a verb. If there is no verb then it is not a grammatically correct sentence.

I mentioned in an earlier post (Nouns and verbs) that verbs are ‘doing’ words. There are two types of ‘doing’ and thus two types of verb. Let me illustrate with examples.

If I say I am swimming, then the verb is intransitive. I (the doer) am called the subject, the person who is doing the swimming, but there is no object. I’m not swimming someone or something, I’m simply swimming.

If I were to say I am driving a car, however, there is clearly an object (the car) so the verb is transitive. I (the doer) am driving a car (the object).

Things get tricky, though, because some verbs can be either transitive or intransitive depending on how they are used. Take eating, for example. I am eating is a good sentence: it tells you what I’m doing. In this context the verb is being used intransitively. But what if I said I am eating an apple? There is a subject (me) and an object (the apple) – the thing which I’m eating. In this case the verb is therefore transitive.

This idea of a subject and an object is fundamental to understanding how verbs work. Whoever is doing the doing, so to speak, is the subject and whoever is having it done to them is the object.

In each of the following examples the word ‘I’ is the subject, the action word is the verb and the recipient of the action is the object. Each example follows the same format: subject – verb – object.

I drive the car. I hit the ball. I ring the bell. I eat the meal. I write the article.

A further complication is the ‘active’ versus ‘passive’ form of the verb. Where we say ‘I ring the bell’, I (the subject) am ringing the bell (the object). This is using the verb in its active form. Another way to express this would be ‘the bell (object) is rung by me’ (subject) and in this instance the verb is being used in its passive sense.

Where the verb is intransitive, it does not have an object.

Examples are: I run. I walk. I eat. I sleep. I read. I swim.

In the next post I’ll start to look at verbs and their tenses. In this area English is much simpler than many other languages.

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