A blog for advanced learners – Considering Verbs


LANG - SURFERS - 7NOV - LOW-4Hello all. My name is Lincoln and I teach English at Langports Gold Coast campus. At the closed-course levels of grammar teaching, we obviously need to start understanding some of the more complicated functions and properties of verbs and which can mean introducing some of the intimidating-sounding terminology that is required to describe them.

We (both teachers and students,) have all seen the verb charts over and over again, whether on the web or in textbooks that list the “Irregular” verbs and their variable formations. They serve as more a mini-dictionary than a guide to how verbs behave in the English language.

From time to time, I hear others (and myself) throwing out the term “verb type”. We all know it must be a legit term, but it is simply too open. How are we arranging the verbs in our minds and on the whiteboard?

Recently while teaching TOEIC, I realised it was a little clumsy for me to arrive at those sections of the curriculum that refer to; auxiliary verbs, modal verbs, causative verbs, ergative verbs and stative verbs et cetera, and simply explain them away as ‘types’.

It creates a jargon-fest in the students’ minds. Of course, some students enjoy this method of writing down new grammatical terms and pouring over their applications but for the most part, it often seems to me that it serves as confusion.

So, I tried something like this. A three column chart that arranges them into some manageable order for my mind, and makes it clearer when teaching those fundamentals of verbs.

Is it groundbreaking and new?
Of course not.

But, here goes.

My first idea was to stop students from thinking that any base verb; its past simple and present/past participle variants should be thought of as ‘types’ but instead as forms.
Examples: Eat, Ate, Eating and Eaten are all the same action and this, of course, is the simple part that we all should know by now. Yes, it is true that ‘ate’ can do something in a sentence that ‘eaten’ cannot and vice-versa due to the first being a predicate and the other not. However, teaching that a finite and a participle as different ‘types’ is probably not wise, they are forms.
So, how to organise the other verbs?
What do we call ‘do’ ‘will’ and ‘must’ among others?
I settled on referring to main active verbs, primary auxiliaries and the modal verbs as ‘classes’.Why?
Because I needed another word that wasn’t ‘forms’ or ‘types’! Seriously! The auxiliaries need separating and they present a bit of a pain for the teacher and student. At Langports, I hear the term ‘finite’ a lot. The term is largely interchangeable with the term ‘predicate’ however, our modals are considered finite (ie. they are capable of completing sentences in some conditions.) but behave differently to the other auxiliaries in the respect that they don’t affect Subject Verb Agreement.
That said, they all do belong in their own category.
So, what are verb types?
I really had no choice but to place the good ol’ transitive, intransitive and copula/link verbs into that section.
They are just too important to the fundamentals portion of the curriculum and therefore have earned the ‘verb type’ mantle.So how do we deal with the ergatives and causatives? Further, the awesomely titled ‘verbs of perception’?
We must remember that these verbs are merely properties that some verbs possess. It does not make them a distinct type, as they still take their place in the aforementioned categories.

Could you swap the terms ‘classes’ and ‘types’ to suit your own method?

Hmmm. Not for me to say, this is advice, not a mandate!

Good Luck.