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Types of verbs and clause structures


This is an overview.  For more detail on any of this, follow the links in the table at the end.
Verb types in English are complicated.  In her book, English Verb Classes and Alternations: A Preliminary Investigation, Beth Levin considers some 3000 English verbs and classifies them in a bewilderingly complex way, identifying over 80 types based on their functions in sentences.  Note, too, that this is subtitled A Preliminary Investigation.
This is a site for language teachers, not theoretical linguists, so the following will not be quite so comprehensive.  In fact, we'll focus on just six types to begin with and then we'll look at some alternative classifications.

This guide considers lexical or main verbs only.  There is a separate guide to primary auxiliary verbs and modal auxiliary verbs get a whole section to themselves (both links open in a new tab).
So, what is considered below are verbs which are not:

  1. acting to form a tense, voice structure or aspect (the role of primary auxiliary verbs), for example:
        John was reading
        She has finished
        I got the house painted
        They have been arrested
  2. signalling the speaker's view of an event or state is in terms of its likelihood, necessity, ability, desirability etc. (the role of modal auxiliary verbs), for example:
        She dared to complain
        They should be here soon
        We must go
        I wouldn't be able to help

This guide is quite long so here is a menu of its contents to use if you are looking for something in particular.

Six types of verbs Subjects and predicates Clause types and codes Intensive verbs Extensive verbs
Monotransitive verbs Ditransitive verbs The dative shift Reflexive and reciprocal verbs Parsing and tree diagrams
Verbs with two natures Passive and ergative forms Stative and dynamic uses Teaching verb and clause types Irregular verbs

At the end of each section, you can click on -top- to return to this menu, simply read on, scroll back or bookmark the page for another time.


Website warning and types of analysis

If you put something like verb types into a search engine, you will be confronted with a confusing variety of sites which claim to know what verb types there are.  Some will define three types, some four, some five and so on up to 12.  Within those classifications we will find modal auxiliary verbs, primary auxiliary verbs and lexical or main verbs of one type or another mixed with promiscuous carelessness.  That way, madness lies.
This guide, as we said, is not concerned with all verb types and excludes auxiliary verbs of either type.  It is also not concerned with gross levels of analysis which distinguish between transitive and intransitive verbs and leave it at that.
What we are concerned with here is how we can classify verbs by their grammatical functions and their structural characteristics and that means avoiding crude descriptions such as action verbs and so on.

An alternative analysis, to which there is a guide on this site, linked at the end, is to classify verbs into what processes they encode.  Briefly, that will include

That is a perfectly legitimate, some might say, superior analysis of verb types and considering the processes that verbs encode explains a good deal about traditional categories concerning transitivity and dynamic or stative uses.
It is not the approach taken here because this guide is mostly concerned with the grammatical rather than semantic characteristics of verbs.  Meaning, however, plays an important part in the alternative structures that are available.


6 types of verb

There are, by some estimates, over 25,000 verbs in English (not including derivatives) so we need a way to make sense of the data.
This guide does not lay claim to what follows being the only way.

Here are six examples of verbs performing various functions in English.

  1. The police officer became angry.
  2. She is a doctor.
  3. They gave the man some money.
  4. I cooked the dinner competently.
  5. Peter arrived late at the party.
  6. They elected her president.

These six types have been chosen because distinguishing between them is one of the most difficult things for learners of English to do.  Partly, this is because languages vary a lot in how verbs can be characterised and what they do.



Subjects and predicates

The six examples above represent six of the most common clause forms in English.  We can analyse them like this:

However, the predicates are more complicated.  There are six different sorts.  Here are the example sentences again with the predicates in red.  Your task, should you accept it, is to identify what makes up the predicates (type of verb, word class, types of phrase etc.)
When you have done that, click here.

  1. The police officer became angry.
  2. She is a doctor.
  3. They gave the man some money.
  4. I cooked the dinner competently.
  5. Peter arrived late at the party.
  6. They elected her president.

It's important that you are sure about these clause structures so try this short matching test before we go on.


Six things to notice

  1. Nominalised object clauses
    Direct objects of verbs can also be clauses acting as nouns, introduced with that, which is why they are called nominalised that-clauses.  For example:
        He told me a lie
    has the direct object a lie and the indirect object me but:
        He told me that he was hungry
    Has the structure
        Subject–Verb–Indirect Object–Direct Object
    but here the Direct object is the nominalised clause that he was hungry.
    Nominalised that-clauses cannot act as indirect objects.  Indirect objects are mainly noun clauses or pronouns, never that-clauses.
    Nominalised that-clauses cannot be moved as indirect noun-phrase or pronoun objects can, so, while we allow:
        He told a lie to me
    we do not allow:
        *He told that he was hungry to me
  2. Object complements
    There is a variant of the
        Subject–Verb–Direct Object–Adverbial
    structure which deploys a complement (usually an adjective or a non-finite verb form).  For example:
    He kept the people happy
        She left her mother wondering what happened

    We could make this the seventh structure but in fact, it follows the structure of the final category above.  It is, functionally
        Subject–Verb–Object–Object Complement or SVOC
  3. Optional and obligatory adverbial complements
    Adverbial complements are usually considered optional elements of sentences so we can have:
        I made the beds
    which is
        Subject–Verb–Direct Objector SVO
        I made the beds immediately
    which is
        Subject–Verb–Direct Object–Adverbial or SVO
    However, a few transitive verbs (notably, put, place, stand and treat) insist on an adverbial complement so while we can have
        I put it down
        He treated her badly
        I placed the table in the corner
        I stood the lamp over there

    we do not allow simply SVOD, in these meanings of the verbs:
        *I put it
        *He treated her
    (except in a medical sense)
        *I placed the table
        *I stood the lamp
    The normally intransitive verbs lie and live (the latter in the sense of abide rather than exist) also demand an adverbial complement so do not allow the pattern of simple Subject–Verb or SV as most intransitive verbs do.  So, for example, we can accept
        He lay on the bed
        She lived in London
    but not:
        *He lay
        *She lived (except in the meaning of survived)
    What this all means is that some verbs require adverbials which are not adjuncts, for adjuncts may be omitted, but these compulsory adverbials may not.
    There is a little more on this in the guide to adverbials, linked below, under the heading of PP complement verbs.
  4. Ellipsis of the object or conversion
    Some transitive verbs which would normally demand the structure
        Subject–Verb–Direct Object–Adverbial or SVO
    allow us to suppress or make implicit the object and can appear in
        Subject–Verb–Adverbial or SVA
    structures (or simply SV, of course):
        She's reading at the moment
    implies an object, as does
        They are smoking outside
        They washed before lunch
        She drank
    In other words, the SVODA exists by implication but not in the overt structure of the sentence.  In the example above the implied objects are:
        a text of some sort
        cigarettes, pipes or cigars
        their hands
        some liquid
    Many other transitive verbs do not allow this object ellipsis so we do not permit:
        *He used
        *They made
        *The children liked

    There are two views of this:
    1. That the object is implicit and suppressed so, e.g.:
          He is eating
      implies an object (some kind of food).
    2. That the verb has been converted from a transitive to an intransitive version so, e.g.:
          He is eating breakfast
      is SVOD
          He is eating
      is SV
  5. Postponement of the object
    Slightly unusually, the normal word ordering of either SVODA or SVOCO can be disturbed when we wish to lay some emphasis on the direct object of the verb.  We can change, therefore, e.g.:
        She made all the people at the meeting uneasy
    which follows the usual SVOCO ordering to
        She made uneasy all the people at the meeting
    in which the complement splits the subject and the direct object.
    We see this, too, in, for example:
        They explained how to fix the problem to the engineers
    which is the normal SVODA ordering changing to:
        They explained to the engineers how to fix the problem
    in which the adverbial splits the verb from its object.
    What is happening here is that the direct object of the verb is postpositioned because the speaker / writer wishes to mark it in some way and the conventional way to do that (or one of them) in English is to transpose the phrase or clause to the end of the sentence, giving it end focus and end weight.
  6. Split phrases
    The usual ordering of the elements of a clause can also be disturbed (and more difficult for people to follow) if a noun phrase is split from its modification by the adverbial(s).  We may have therefore, instead of the usual:
        We delayed the discussion of the new policy until the end of the meeting
    which has the usual ordering of SVODA, we can encounter:
        We delayed until the end of the meeting the discussion of the new policy
    in which the modifier of the noun phrase is split from the noun by the adverbials.
    We may also meet with:
        Everyone came to the party except the Smiths
    in which the subject noun phrase is everyone except the Smiths but it has been split by the verb phrase and the adverbial with the modifier of everyone (except the Smiths) postpositioned for emphasis.
    This also occurs frequently with comparative clauses and phrases so we get, for example:
        More people have come to the party than we expected
    in which the subject noun phrase (more people than we expected) is split by the verb phrase and the adverbial.
    It can, naturally, be rephrased as
        More people than we expected have come to the party
    in which the structure (SVA) is somewhat clearer.

The last two of the points above (5. and 6.) refer to unusual or slightly unexpected ordering of the elements but the elements themselves are unchanged.  However, any splitting or unusual positioning of phrases in clauses make the meaning less easy for non-native speakers to infer.



But all that is about clause structures.
I thought this guide was about verb types!

OK, and so it is.  Bear with us.
A moment's consideration will reveal that verbs can be classified according to the types of clauses they appear in.  In fact, certain classes of verbs require certain clause structures.
In the following some abbreviations have been used, as they have above.  Here they are explained:

Code Expands to ... Example
S Subject noun phrase Mary and her sister came home
Mary and her sister
is the subject
V Verb phrase They put her up for the night
put up
is the verb phrase with the object embedded
CS Subject complement John is a doctor
a doctor
is the subject complement co-referential with the subject, John.  It is not the object of the verb because it is the same as the subject.
CO Object complement They made her happy
the object complement is happy because it applies to her, the object of the verb make.
A Adverbial phrase She suddenly disappeared
the adverbial is suddenly.  Even though the adverbial comes before the verb, a sentence of this sort can be described as SVA because the adverbials can often follow the verb (She disappeared suddenly last night)
O Object noun phrase If only one object is present, we can use O to denote it.
In He broke the window, the object is the window.
When there is a possibility of two objects being present (even though one may not be) we use the following.
OD Direct object He paid the money
the direct object is the money.
OI Indirect object He paid her the money
the indirect object is her.

Now we have the mechanics of how clauses work, we can identify which kinds of verbs work with which kinds of clauses.



Intensive verbs

She seems happy  

Intensive verbs take subject complements rather than objects and appear in clause structure SVCS.  For example:

  1. I am a nurse
  2. Peter is running to fat
  3. She is getting aggressive
  4. He is growing old
  5. He seemed even more delighted
  6. John fell ill
  7. She turned aggressive

When they are used as copular verbs they cannot be used dynamically:
    *They are being doctors
    *He was appearing happy
etc.  Examples 1, 5, 6 and 7 are copular verbs taking the SVCS structure.

When such verbs are used dynamically, the sense is usually a change of state rather than a consistent attribute of the subject.  Examples of the SVCS structures with these verbs used dynamically are 2, (a change of state from thin to fat), 3, (a change of state from peaceable to aggressive) and 4. (a change of state from younger to older).
You can see that the example
    She turned aggressive
is copular rather than dynamic use because it represents the end point of the change of state, not the process.
    He fell ill
is a copular use for the same reason but
    He is falling ill
is a dynamic use describing the change of state.  Both uses differ from the more common intransitive use of the verb as in:
    He fell over
Although not a term with which to trouble your learners, verbs referring to changes in state are often called inchoative or inceptive.

Intensive verbs do not take objects – they take complements.

In the sentences above we have the following types of complement:

  1. a nurse (a noun complement co-referential with the subject)
  2. to fat (an adverbial complement, in this case a prepositional phrase)
  3. aggressive (an adjective subject complement)
  4. old (an adjective subject complement)
  5. even more delighted (an adjective phrase subject complement)
  6. aggressive (an adjective subject complement)



Extensive verbs

It extended for miles  

Extensive verbs form all the other sorts of clause structures we have looked at.  They are intransitive, monotransitive or ditransitive and they appear in different clause structures.
(If you aren't fully sure about these terms, check out the guide to subjects and objects (new tab)).



He waited  

Intransitive verbs include, e.g., appear, arrive, come, disappear, rain, snow, work etc.  Obviously, they can have no truck with any clause structure which contains an object.
Think about what sorts of clauses they can form and then click here.

Some verbs can be transitive and intransitive (sometimes with a change in meaning).  For example:
    She ate at one o'clock
is intransitive and SVA, but
    She ate lunch at one o'clock
is transitive and SVODA
    He worked in the same office
is intransitive and SVA, but
    He worked a miracle for us
is transitive and SVODA

An alternative way to analyse this is to suggest that the object in the first example has been ellipted but is implied (see Note 4 above).
An example of a verb which changes meaning when used in the two ways is:
    I can manage on $50 a week (intransitive and SVA)
    She manages two shops (transitive and SVO)
When they are transitive, these sorts of verbs follow one of the patterns below.
See also Note 3, above concerning the verbs lie and live which insist on the inclusion of an adverbial and cannot be merely SV.  More on this below.


Monotransitive only

They shared an umbrella  

Monotransitive verbs include, e.g., attend, believe, describe, enjoy, find, join, share, take, use, watch etc.
What kinds of clauses do they demand?  Click here when you have an answer.

Most transitive verbs do not allow the ellipsis of the object (see Note 4 above).
Some transitive verbs allow the use of a nominalised that-clause as the direct object.  None allows that-clauses as indirect objects (see Note 1 above).

There is a class of verbs, sometimes called PP complement verbs, which require complementation with an adverbial.  The adverbial in this case is not an adjunct because it cannot be omitted and leave a well-formed sentence.
These verbs usually refer to placing something somewhere and are, necessarily, nearly always transitive and follow the SVODA format with the difference that A is obligatorily present.
The verbs include at least: keep, lay, place, plonk, position, put, rest, set, site, situate, stick, stuff
For example, we cannot have:
    *John laid the book
    *I placed the vase
    *I stuck the suitcase
and so on although, of course, the verbs can be used in other senses without the adverbial.
For more, see the guide to adverbials, linked below.
The verbs stay and venture are intransitive but can be included when the former means live temporarily and the latter means move oneself into danger, so
    I stayed in a hotel
is possible but, in the same sense of the verb,
    *I stayed
is not.
    We ventured into the castle
is acceptable, but in the same sense of the verb
    *We ventured
is not.
These two verbs, therefore, follow the SVA patterns when used in these senses.
There is an argument that many so-called prepositional verbs such as account, acquaint, adhere, allude, amount, conceive [as in imagine], consist, count, long, rely and vouch also fall into the category because they are intransitive in use but require a prepositional phrase complement.
They are often categorised as verbs with dependent prepositions and may be considered transitive if taken with the preposition or intransitive and followed by a compulsory complement.
For more, see the guide to multi-word verbs, linked below.

A further class of monotransitive verbs are called reflexive verbs (see below).



She asked the man a question  

Ditransitive verbs include, e.g., ask, bring, find, give, offer, pay, save, teach etc.  What clause structures do ditransitive verbs demand?  Click here when you have an answer.

By their semantic nature, most indirect objects are animate or represent a corporate body so we get, for example:
    He left the charity his money
    She gave her mother some flowers

That is not a universal rule because we can also have:
    I gave the house a good clean
    I gave it a thump with a hammer and it started working again
    I found the car a servicing agent



The dative shift or alternation

An alternative ordering is to introduce the indirect object with either to or for.  This phenomenon is called a dative shift or sometimes dative alternation, dative being the case in those languages for which this matters used to signal the indirect object.

to + the indirect object
suggests the object is affected by the action so, for example:
    She sent her father the money
shifts to:
    She sent the money to her father
    I threw her the ball
shifts to:
    I threw the ball to her
for + the indirect object
suggests that the object is the beneficiary of the action so, for example:
    She baked me a cake
shifts to:
    She baked a cake for me
    She saved me a bit
shifts to:
    he saved a bit for me

Occasionally, a verb may take either to or for depending on its meaning so we allow both:
    She taught the class for me (i.e., instead of me)
    She taught chemistry to me (i.e., instructed)
    They left the money for me (i.e., allowed to remain)
    His father left the money to him (i.e., bequeathed)
    He paid the money to her (i.e., gave)
    He paid the money for her (i.e., instead of her)
The verb ask is also slightly irregular because it can be formed using of in the dative shift with:
    I asked the man a question
shifting to:
    I asked a question of the man.

A few verbs for stylistic reasons will only appear with or without this dative shift.  This is a purely idiomatic effect with no rule to follow so we allow, e.g.:
    She introduced me to the teacher
but not
    *She introduced the teacher me
    Give me a break
but not
    *Give a break to me
    They bet me five dollars
    *They bet five dollars to me

Other verbs which cannot be used with the to or for dative shift are:
allow, call, charge, consider, cost, fine, name, permit, refuse, spare and wish.
So, while we allow, for example:
    He allowed the audience three questions
    They cost us too much money
    She spared me some time
etc., we do not allow:
    *He allowed three questions to / for the audience
    *They charged $400 to / for him
    *They wished Happy Christmas to / for me


Target or beneficiary?

The distinction between the use of to or for as the choice in the prepositional phrase is mostly a semantic issue:

Some verbs which signify that the indirect object is the beneficiary can only be used with for + the indirect object dative shift and they include:
allocate, bake, build, buy, catch, cause, cook, construct, cut, design, dig, draw, earn find, get, make, order, pour, prepare, print, save, set, wash and win.  So, while we allow, for example:
    They allocated some seats for us
    They caused some trouble for us
    She designed a house for me
    They ordered lunch for us

and so on, we cannot have:
    *They built a house to me
    *She poured a drink to me
    *He printed the letter to me
    *The hotel washed a shirt to me


Other ditransitive verbs are slightly more forgiving but one form is often strongly preferred.  For example:
    They asked her a question
not usually
    They asked a question to her
    I owed her the money
not usually
    I owed the money to her
If the less preferred option is the dative shift, it is often a case of marking the indirect object for emphasis.

We saw above that the dative shift cannot be used when the direct object is a nominalised that-clause and the same applies to nominalised wh-clauses so we allow:
    She told him that she would be late
but not
    *She told that she would be late to him
and we allow:
    She taught the class what they needed
but not
    *She taught what they needed to the class

The dative shift or alternation is often the preferred way of marking the rheme of the sentence in a way that makes it the natural theme of the following clause so, for example:
    She read the children a story ...
is naturally followed by:
    ... which they loved
    She a read a story to the children ...
is more naturally followed by:
    ... and they went to sleep happily.

A list of ditransitive verbs with the to / for distinction noted, along with the uncommon ones that can take neither structure, is available via a link in the related guides list at the end.


Omitting an object

Generally speaking, only the indirect object may be omitted in a ditransitive structure so, for example:
    She read the children a story
    She read a story
are both permissible but
    *She read the children
makes no sense.
This applies to the majority of ditransitive verbs.  Normally, in fact, a defining characteristic of the indirect object is that it can be omitted but omitting the direct object leaves a malformed clause.
However, there is a notable complication here:

The verbs ask, owe, pay, promise, show, teach and tell allow either object to be omitted and still leave an acceptable sentence.
All the following are, therefore, allowed:
We asked her a question
We asked her
We asked a question
I owed John $10
I owed John
I owed $10
They paid me the money
They paid me
They paid the money
I promised the man the money
I promised the man
I promised the money
She showed the meeting the figures
She showed the meeting
She showed the figures
He taught my son history
He taught my son
He taught history
Mary told her a lie
Mary told her
Mary told a lie
The list available via the link at the end notes this phenomenon.


Reciprocal and reflexive verbs

They were talking  

A distinction sometimes made between verbs is whether the word is functioning reciprocally or not.
For example, these are non-reciprocal uses:
    Mary was talking to us
    John and Peter fought in the war
    Mary and Ann shouted at me

and reciprocally, they may be expressed as:
    Mary and we were talking
    John and Peter were fighting over a toy
    Mary and Ann shouted at each other

When used reciprocally, such verbs often take a reciprocal pronoun as their objects, each other, one another etc. or an adverbial, together, with each other etc.

Reflexive verbs, on the other hand, are those in which the subject and the object are the same.  For example:
    She was washing
    The dog was scratching

in which, because the object is omitted, we assume it to be herself and itself respectively.
English makes little use of reflexive verbs.  They occur, for example, in:
    She asked herself a question
    He poured himself a drink

and so on.
In other languages, however, reflexive verbs are very extensively used and will include verbs such as: apologise, brag, call, change, complain, decide, hide, lie, prepare, shower, (un)dress, sit, swim, talk, worry and hundreds more.

Reflexive verb use in English is often signalled by the use of a reflexive pronoun if any ambiguity is to be avoided:
    She was talking to herself
    The dog was scratching itself

The rule: A potentially transitive verb used with no object will normally be understood to be operating reciprocally or reflexively.



Parsing the clauses

tree diagrams

For classroom presentation purposes, and to get the structures clear in your own head, parsing the clauses is a visual way of understanding the structures we have considered.
Here's a set of examples of all six clause structures:

sv sva svoco 
svod svoda svoiod 
And here is a diagram showing the six types of extensive verb structures as well as the intensive verb structures.
Adverbials are not shown in all cases but can be inserted so we can get, e.g.:
    He is old now
    She called me stupid immediately
    I liked the film a lot last night
    She read the children a story this morning after they woke up
In theory, at least, mastery of all the clause types allows one to handle most of the language, at least as far as clause structures are concerned.



Verbs which can have more than one nature

English is far laxer than many languages in allowing verbs to be used with and without an object.  The phenomenon is known as ambitransitivity and applies to a range of verbs.
In other languages, when such verbs are used with an object, they are often made reflexive so, for example, in English we can allow:
    I washed
    I washed the car
as well as
    I broke the cup
    The cup broke
In other languages, such as most Romance languages, that is not possible and the form without an object will translate as:
    I washed myself
    The cup broke itself
Many common verbs, such as break, drive, finish, manage, smoke, turn and write etc., are two-faced in this way and can be transitive or intransitive.
There are three sorts of these:

  1. Those in which the meaning remains whether transitive or intransitive.
    For example:
        He only smokes in the garden
        He smokes a pipe
        I drove for hours
        I drove my father's car
        I flew to Nice
        I flew the helicopter
        I ate at 6
        I ate dinner at 6
    The verb call is slightly anomalous because intransitively it means visit or telephone and transitively it only means telephone:
        I called at 5 but you were out
        I called at six but you didn't answer
        I called him repeatedly but he didn't answer

    The verb also has a transitive-only use with an object complement meaning name:
        We called the cat George
  2. Those in which there is a variably substantial difference in meaning depending on how they are used.
    For example:
        I shone the light on the desk
        The sun shone brightly
        The child grew quickly
        It grew dark
        I grow potatoes on my allotment

        She left early
        She left the keys on the table
        I walked to London
        I walked the dog
    (There is another pseudo-transitive use of the verb walk as in, e.g.:
        We walked six miles
        We walked a good hour

    but these are better seen as reduced prepositional phrases for for six miles and for a good hour respectively.
    The verb work as in:
        I worked an hour
    may be considered similarly as an intransitive use with a reduced prepositional phrase, for an hour.)
  3. Those in which the nature of the subject alters depending on how they are used (usually the choice is animate for transitive uses and inanimate in intransitive uses but it may also concern human vs. non-human entities).
    For example:
        The glass fell and broke
        I broke my glasses
        I dropped the subject
        The rain dropped on my head
        The bomb exploded
        I exploded the bomb
        I galloped the horse down the hill
        The horse galloped down the hill
    1. When they are transitive, they command one of the three transitive clause structures and when intransitive they need SV or SVA only.
    2. Some transitive verbs can be mono- or di-transitive and the same considerations apply: when they are ditransitive they require a different clause structure from when they are used monotransitively (see above).

Transitive / Intransitive pairings

There are a few verbs in English which derive from the same (or a closely connected) root but have transitive and intransitive variants.
For example, rise and raise derive from the same source (the Old English ræran, rear) but the first is intransitive and the second transitive.  There are others, for example:
    He rose early (intransitive)
    He raised the question (transitive)
    They are lying on the beach (intransitive)
    They are laying the foundations (transitive)
    He sat near the table (intransitive)
    He set it near the table (transitive)

Other pairs of verbs which are unrelated in terms of origin also form transitive-intransitive pairs.  In English, for example:

This sort of pairing is, unsurprisingly, not parallelled in most other languages and causes a good deal of inter-lingual error.

Some other verbs take on slightly different meaning when used transitively or intransitively. For example
    He ran across the garden (intransitive)
    He ran a good business (transitive)
    I can manage alone (intransitive)
    He managed the school (transitive)
    The plane flew (intransitive)
    He flew the plane (transitive)
    She called at 6 (intransitive)
    She called her friends (monotransitive)
    She called me an idiot (ditransitive)

Here's a list of some extensive common verbs categorised by transitive nature and the clause structures they demand.
If you would like this list as a PDF document, click here.

Intensive verbs Extensive verbs
Marked * = also inchoative generally transitive usually intransitive transitive and intransitive
can be ditransitive
* become
* come
end up
* get
* go
* grow
* prove
* turn
SVOD, SVODA or SVOCO SV or SVA ← as appropriate → SVOIOD


Some of these can be used with a reflexive pronoun object (behave, lie, sit, stand, walk + oneself),
some combine with adverbs to form inseparable transitive phrasal verbs.  For example: live on, stand for, come across etc.
and some take prepositions with the same effect:
snow on, wait for, happen to, work for etc.


These verbs often have a slightly different meaning in the two uses and take different sorts of subjects.  Compare, e.g.:
She broke the chair
The chair broke
He called at six
He called his mother

leave (bequeath)

Not all of the ditransitive verbs allow dative shifting and there are some other complications noted in the PDF list linked below.

† These four verbs are deeply confusing because they all mean roughly the same thing although some are used with increasing formality and rarity.  For example:
    I woke early today
    I woke Mary early today
    I wakened early today
    I wakened Mary early today
    I awoke early today
    I awoke Mary early today
    I awakened early today
    I awakened Mary early today

are all possible although some are rare and literary.
The verbs wake and awake are both irregular (although AmE usage is often to regularise them).  The a-adjective, awake, derives from the third of these.
Only wake is regularly used with the adverb particle up.
The verbs awaken and waken are often used metaphorically as in, e.g.:
    It awakened unhappy memories
    That's loud enough to waken the dead



Passive and ergative forms of verbs

It is sometimes suggested that all transitive verbs can form passive structures.  For example:

In these cases, the subject of the active clause is frequently omitted but is either understood or too obvious to warrant mention.  The erstwhile subject has become the agent and the erstwhile object becomes the patient in such constructions.

However, semantically, some verbs resist the passive even though they are transitive.  So, for example, we do not allow:
    *His father is resembled by him
    *She is fitted by that coat
    *A pint is held by this bottle

For more on these restrictions and a fuller list, see the guide to the passive, linked below.

A slightly peculiar set of verbs in English can be used in what is called the ergative case.  That simply means that what we normally understand to be the object of the verb is, grammatically, the subject of the verb.  Structurally, they appear intransitive but semantically we can disentangle the object and the subject.  So, for example, we find:
    The kettle boiled
    The window opened
    The shirts sold well

    The garden flooded
These are effectively transitive uses of the verb with the subject understood or implied which allows the object to be raised to the subject position.  In the terms of this guide, they are verbs whose normal clause structure is SVOD but which appear to take an intransitive SV(A) structure.  Grammatically, they do, semantically, they don't.

A limited set of verbs in English are conventionally used in the ergative case and they include:

Ergative verbs are common in English and sometimes referred to as labile or ambitransitive verbs.  On this site, they aren't and the term ambitransitive is reserved for verbs which can be intransitive or transitive, often with a change of meaning.



Stative and dynamic verbs (uses)

A search of the internet for stative verbs will provide you with plenty of lists of verbs which, it is averred, are stative in that they do not and cannot represent progressive events.  The upshot is that some websites, coursebooks and, alas, teachers, will tell learners that such and such a verb is stative and dynamic use in a progressive form is wrong.
The admonition is to say:
    I love fish and chips
rather than
    *I am loving fish and chips
and that is of course perfectly acceptable advice.
However, to assume from that that something like:
    Well, I don't know if he's happy but he's clearly loving the attention
is wrong, is perverse and misleading.

There is a guide in the initial plus section which sets out the basics of stative and dynamic verb uses and we won't repeat that here.  There is a link to the guide below for you, if you would like to refer to it.
The usual list of verbs is something like:

Verbs of possession or relations between things
This list will include verbs such as be, appear, consist, contain, cost, have, depend, fit, include, involve, matter, mean, measure, owe, own, possess, seem, weigh and so on.
Verbs of sensations
This list will include feel, hear, look, see, smell, sound, taste, touch
Verbs referring to emotional states
This list includes adore, appreciate, care, desire, dislike, hate, hope, like, love, mind, need, prefer, value, want, wish
Verbs referring to mental processes and states
This is a longer list and includes agree, astonish, believe, concern, deny, disagree, doubt, expect, flabbergast, forget, imagine, impress, know, please, promise, realise, recognise, remember, satisfy, suppose, surprise, think, understand

There is no denying that many of these verbs do occur much more frequently in simple tense forms than in progressive ones.  On the other hand, a few, such as measure, are actually more frequently used dynamically.  Of the others, most are used both statively and dynamically with, often, a shift in meaning.
To select just two from each category, here's what is meant:

Verbs of possession or relations between things
Stative use:
    She appears unhappy
    They have a small cottage in the country

Dynamic use:
    She is appearing in the play
    They are having trouble with their son
Verbs of sensations
Stative use:
    She felt sad about that
    They sound a little aggressive

Dynamic use:
    She is not feeling well
    The engine's sounding a bit rough
Verbs referring to emotional states
Stative use:
    She hoped he would be early
    They wished the rain would stop

Dynamic use:
    She was hoping for better weather
    They are wishing her happy birthday later
Verbs referring to mental processes and states
Stative use:
    She denied the theft
    They forgot the money

Dynamic use:
    She is denying all charges
    I was forgetting all about the need to book a table

It is, in other words, rare to discover a verb in the lists above which cannot be used dynamically and all of them form progressive forms in non-finite clauses so we routinely allow:
    Containing only four grams, the bottle is tiny
    Depending how he feels, he'll be here later, I expect
    Seeing everyone's already here, let's start
    Tasting the soup again, the chef pronounced it ready
    Caring little for long walks, I stayed at home
    Needing some supplies, we went to the supermarket
    Realising the danger, they backed away from the edge
    Understanding his difficulty, we didn't press the matter

It is probably clear by now why we said at the outset of this section that simply labelling verbs as stative or dynamic is an inadequate and potentially harmful approach to take.



So what?  Classroom implications

So quite a lot.
Think for a moment about how our awareness of the fundamental types of verbs and clause structures should inform our practice and then click here.



Irregular verbs

Most verbs in English are regular, taking the past tense and past participle ending with either -d or -ed.
There are over 650 irregular verbs in English, otherwise called strong verbs, but many are obsolete and some very rarely used.  Most of these verbs make a change internally to a vowel or consonant, a process known as vowel mutation or, sometimes, stem mutation.

Here, for pedagogical use, is a list in memorable groups which share characteristics rather than alphabetically (which is the way most commercial teaching materials do it).
The fact that some verbs form rhyming groups is a powerful memory aide.


This is not a complete list, of course, and excludes some rarer or obsolete words (such as stride and beget).  The list also does not include prefixed verbs whose irregularity can be surmised such as, e.g., forecast, misspend, unlearn, rebuild, withstand, underlie and so on.
You will see that the table includes some phonemic symbols.  You don't need to know them to use the chart (but you could learn them).
The verbs which do not fit into any categories must be learned as single items.

Click here to download a version of this list as a PDF document.


There are some oddities

A good many verbs are slightly odd.  Here's an alphabetical list:

There are some other oddities affecting certain verbs and varieties of English:


Related guides
the word-class map for links to guides to the other major word classes
copular verbs and complements for more on what are called linking verbs in some sources
causative for the guide to an important class of verbs and allied structures
multi-word verbs for the guide to a complex class of verb types
adverbials for a guide to how verbs are modified (i.e., the role and position of the A-element we have identified here)
stative and dynamic uses for the initial, much simpler guide
lexicogrammar for more on how the meaning of a verb controls its syntax
subjects and objects for more on case in English
the passive voice for more on verb patterns and restrictions on the use of the passive in English
primary auxiliary verbs for more on how verbs like these function to make tenses and signal aspects
modality for more on the range of uses of modal auxiliary verbs and other ways to signal modal meaning
verbal processes for an alternative view of what verbs do from a functional perspective
ditransitive verbs for a list in PDF format of the most common ditransitive verbs in English
irregular verb list for a PDF formatted list of the most common English irregular verbs

If you want to take a test on all this, click here.

Chalker, S, 1984, Current English Grammar, London: Macmillan
Levin, B, 1993, English Verb Classes and Alternations: A Preliminary Investigation, Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Quirk, R, Greenbaum, S, Leech, G & Svartvik, J, 1972, A Grammar of Contemporary English, Harlow: Longman