Verbs can be used in the active or passive form:

  • Active: I threw the keys on the floor
  • Passive: The keys were thrown on the floor
    [passive always includes some form of the verb ‘to be’ plus the perfective aspect of the main verb]

It can be useful to label verbs used passively in analytical work, because this often has a particular effect: to hide agency, i.e. who ‘did’ the verb. This is particularly noticeable in political and rhetorical discourse such as news articles, but you can see it in anything opinionated.


Verbs can also be described by their tense and aspect

  • Simple present tense: I run
  • Present tense + progressive aspect: I am running (present progressive)
  • Past tense + progressive aspect: We were running (past progressive)
  • Simple past tense: I ran
  • Present tense + perfective aspect: I have run (present perfective)
  • Past tense + perfective aspect: He had run (past perfective)
  • Future: We have no future tense as such in English – we use the auxiliary “will”
    [progressive conveys duration; perfective conveys completion]

These labels are less likely to be useful in analytical work, but will be helpful when trying to explain deviation from standard usage, such as in regional variation or child development of language.

Types of verb:

  • Main verb – describes an action [NB: there is always a main verb in any main clause]
  • Auxiliary verb – to have, to be, will, must etc {NB: auxiliary verbs are not always present – if there is more than one verb in a string, only one is the main verb]
  • Modal verbs: can, could, will, would, must, shall, should, ought, may, might
  • De-lexical verb – (without meaning) often do or get, e.g. it’ll get broken
  • Primary verb: to be, to have, to do [these can be used as both main and auxiliary verbs]
  • Phrasal – verb + another word: to get away

These labels are more useful for you to know in order to understand descriptions in textbooks/dictionaries and to be able to explain usage yourself. again, they are less helpful in analysis, as they are less likely to relate to meaning.

Frameworks ebook

All the frameworks material on this site will remain freely available here, but if you’d like to download most of it in one neat package*, to be read on a Kindle or in the Kindle app (which is free and works on PC, tablet or phone), it is available as an ebook for £2.50 on Amazon (or free on Kindle Unlimited) – see below. 

*all the pages are there, but a few of them have been updated a bit since I put the book together.