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Learn the Most Frequent Verbs in the English Language

written by: Heather Marie Kosur • edited by: Tricia Goss • updated: 1/5/2012

The following article lists the three auxiliary, twenty most common, and nine modal verbs that English language learners should memorize at the beginning of their English language studies. A printable list of common verbs is also available for download via a link at the end of the article.

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    Be, Have, and Do

    Three verbs that all English language learners must know are be, have, and do. The five conjugations of these three English verbs are as follows:

    • Base – Simple Present – Simple Past – Present Participle – Past Participle
    • be – am, are, is – was, were – being – been
    • have – have, has – had – having – had
    • do – do, does – did – doing – done

    As auxiliary verbs, the three verbs be, have, and do appear in many verb phrase constructions including the progressive aspect, perfect aspect, perfect-progressive aspect, passive voice, and interrogative sentences. For example:

    • Your mother is baking cookies for the sale. (progressive aspect)
    • Our supervisor has lived in France, Germany, and America. (perfect aspect)
    • The workers have been painting the hallways. (perfect-progressive aspect)
    • My garden was ravished by rabbits. (passive voice)
    • Do you like winter squash? (interrogative sentence)

    The verbs be, have, and do also function as main verbs. For example:

    • Your teacher is my neighbor.
    • She has two brothers.
    • He did the dishes last night.

    English language learners must also memorize the conjugations for be, have, and do because all three verbs are irregular in all forms except the present participle.

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    Frequent Verbs in English

    This following list contains the five conjugations for twenty of the most common English verbs aside from the auxiliaries be, have, and do:

    • Base – Simple Present – Simple Past – Present Participle – Past Participle
    • ask – ask, asks – asked – asking – asked
    • become – become, becomes – became – becoming – become
    • begin – begin, begins – began – beginning – begun
    • come – come, comes – came – coming – come
    • drink – drinks, drinks – drank – drinking – drunk
    • eat – eat, eats – ate – eating – eaten
    • feel – feel, feels – felt – feeling – felt
    • finish – finish, finishes – finished – finishing – finished
    • get – get, gets – got – getting – got, gotten
    • give – give, gives – gave – giving – given
    • go – go, goes – went – going – gone
    • know – know, knows – knew – knowing – known
    • learn – learn, learns – learned – learning – learned
    • like – like, likes – liked – liking – liked
    • make – make, makes – made – making – made
    • put – put, puts – put – putting – put
    • say – say, says – said – saying – said
    • see – see, sees – saw – seeing – seen
    • take – take, takes – took – taking – taken
    • write – write, writes – wrote – writing – written

    English languages learners should memorize these twenty verbs including the five conjugations at the beginning of their English language studies.

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    Modal Verbs

    Modals are a distinct verb form unique to Germanic languages including English that express modality. Modality is the expression of possibility, necessity, and contingency. English language learners must therefore also learn the nine English modal verbs.

    • can
    • could
    • may
    • might
    • must
    • shall
    • should
    • will
    • would

    Unlike other verbs including the three prototypical auxiliary verbs, the nine modal verbs in English have only one form. The meanings of modal verbs depend on pragmatics and must be learned through use.

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    For a printable reference study sheet of for the three auxiliary, twenty most common, and nine modal verbs in English, please download the supplement to this article Common English Verbs: List of Common Verbs.

References

  • Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Stracke, Louise & Suzanne McQuade. 2006. 2000+ essential English verbs. New York: Random House.