Verb categorisation

This page has information about the different ways that verbs can be categorised.


There are two main ways that verbs can be categorised: semantically and grammatically. The distinction between the categories is not always clear-cut, and there are various sub-categories. So things can get quite complicated. The intention here is simply to give a basic overview with some examples.

Semantic categories

Semantic categorisation groups verbs according to their meaning.

1. One way to do this is according to whether the verb describes a state (stative) or an action (dynamic).

expressing a (mental) state or condition
know, exist, remember, feel, like, wish

Generally, stative verbs cannot be using in the continuous forms. So, for example, I am knowing... and He was remembering... are ungrammatical.

describing an action
eat, fall, snow, stop, explode, run

Dynamic verbs can be used in both the simple and the continuous aspects: She eats... / she is eating.

2. A second semantic way to categorise verbs is by mood: indicative (facts), subjunctive (hypotheses), and imperative (commands). Here you can read more about verb mood.

3. A third semantic way to categorise verbs is by their aspect. To understand this, look at the following examples:

  • I ate all the cake.
  • I was eating all the cake (progressive aspect).
  • I have eaten all the cake (perfect aspect).

The first sentence above is a simple statement of a past completed action. The second sentence implies an action in progress that may or may not have resulted in eating all the cake. And the third sentence relates the past action to its present consequence. For example, that there is none left for you to eat.

Here you can read more about verb aspect.

Grammatical categories

There are many ways that verbs can be categorised grammatically. A first major sub-categorisation is:

primary auxiliary
be, have, do
modal auxiliary
must, can, will, could, should, might, etc.
all other verbs

Read more about auxiliary verbs.

Three other common ways of categorising verbs grammatically are:

1. By tense form

work, call, like, knock
eat, run, sleep, fall

The past and past participle forms of regular verbs end in -ed (worked, knocked). Irregular verb forms are highly variable: eat-ate-eaten / run-ran-run.

2. By transitivity

drink, kill, play, like
rain, run, sneeze, die

A transitive verb must have an object. You cannot say I like. Conversely, intransitive verbs cannot have an object. But note that many verbs can be used both transitively and intransitively according to the context.

3. By combinatory ability

The grammatical term for a verb that can combine with another verb is catenative. So, want and remember are catenative verbs, since they combine with a non-finite A non-finite verb form does not indicate tense. So, (to) eat and eating are non-finite forms. form of another verb. For example, She wants to go home or I don't remember saying that.

Catenative verbs are quite difficult for learners, since they can be followed by three different non-finite forms:

  • bare infinitive - You must go now.
  • 'to' infinitive - I want to go to bed.
  • -ing form - She doesn't enjoy cooking. [ More The -ing form is often called the gerund. However, some grammarians use other terms for this catenated verb form. ]

Wiktionary has a long list of catenative verbs. And there is more information about non-finite verbs on this site.


These are just some of the ways to categorise verbs. In general, it is desirable if learners are aware of these categories and their associated terminology. This will help them understand the grammar notes in their dictionaries and other learning resources