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Basic Verb Patterns


This unit looks at the way the form of a verb changes depending on it is used with other elements in the sentence.

Click to listen to a short text about James. As you listen, fill in the missing verbs. Note the forms of the verbs.

James has two very gifted siblings. His brother John 1. plays the cello and would like 2. to become a professional player, while his sister Mary 3. paints and 4. earns a living as an artist. James, who does not have such artistic skills, is thinking about 5. doing a course in translation. He wants 6. to use his knowledge of English and Mandarin in a more productive way and he recently remembered 7. hearing about a certificate course in translation at AUT a few months ago. A friend of his advised him 8. to enrol for the course and James feels his friend is right. 9. Enrolling for the course will make him 10. learn new skills which will give his career a boost.

Show answer

Answers and verb pattern in brackets:

1 plays (verb+object); 2. to become (to+Verb); 3. paints (verb+no object); 4. earns (verb+object); 5. doing (verb+ing);

6. to use (to+verb); 7.hearing (verb+ing); 8. to enrol (to+verb); 9. enrolling (verb+ing); 10. learn (no 'to)


Problems with verb use:

The following examples represent some of the common problems with using verbs in writing:

1. The technicians did not *apply correctly. 

2. The leader of the opposition was forced *resign

3. She made him *to leave work early.

4. The workers spent hours *repair the water leak.   

5. He succeeded in *stop the leak.   

In this unit, we will explore the following verb patterns:

 1 Verb + object

     This type of verb requires an object after it to make sense, e.g.  plays the celloearns a living; The technicians did not apply the guidelines correctly.

2 Verb + no object

    This type of verb makes sense on its own, e.g. She paints.

     Adverbials may be added to give information about the action, such as time of the action or its frequency,                

     e.g. She paints every morning.

 3 Verb complements: This refers to the form of the verb following the main verb in a sentence.

   a) with infinitive (to+verb), e.g would like to become; wants to use; advised (him) to enrol; forced to resign

   b) without infinitive, e.g. will make (him) learn; made him leave

   c) with verb+ing, e.g. He remembered learning about...; spent hours repairing...; succeeded in stopping...  


Verb + Object

Verbs in this pattern are called transitive verbs. They do not make complete sense on their own. For example,

   *Did you enjoy?  is clearly unfinished. 'Enjoy' what?

                                  V   O                 V            O

CorrectionDid you enjoy it? Did you enjoy the concert?   (The verb enjoy needs an object: it; the concert.)

A large group of verbs take this pattern:

 notice protect 


 climb fear
 deny guess 
 keep miss prepare report want


How do you know if a verb is a transitive verb or used transitively?

Click to view the answer.

Only transitive verbs can be used in the passive:

                    The police caught the thief.

Passive ----> The thief was caught by the police.

Verbs followed by two objects. Click to view.

Some verbs have two objects - a direct object (dirO - answers the question 'lent what?') and an indirect object (indO - to whom or for whom the action is done)

                                       V    indO         dirO                                           

                      His friend lent   him      some money. (Or,  His friend lent some money to him.)

BUT NOT         *His friend lent some money.

Another common error is in the word order.

Example:   The Prime Minister handed to her deputy the case.

Better:      The Prime Minister handed the case to her deputy. OR The prime Minister handed her deputy the case.

Example:   She offered to the poor food.

Better:      She offered food to the poor. OR She offered the poor food.

Example:   The US president sent to Iraq a warning.

Better:      The US president sent a warning to Iraq. OR The US president sent Irag a warning.


Verb not followed by an Object

These are called intransitive verbs. Their meaning is complete, e.g.

             The roof collapsed; A lot of people were screaming; The prisoner escaped; He fell.

But we can complement the verbs with

  • adverbs, e.g. The roof collapsed last night; He fell heavily.
  • prepositional phrases, e.g. A lot of people were screaming at the president; The prisoner escaped through a hole in the floor.   

Examples of intransitive verbs include:

die sleep go walk

Intransitive verbs are not used in the passive.

Some verbs are used transitively and intransitively:

Verbs used transitively (with an object)
Verbs used intransitively (without an object)
1. She reads his letter.
She reads quietly (+adverb)
2. She speaks English and French. She speaks very well.
3. Mary painted her room purple. Mary paints in the studio. (+prepositional phrase)
4.He drove his father's car.
He drove into a wall.


 Practice: HyperGrammar [University of Ottawa]

Verb+ to-infinitive

                                              V       to-infinitive

Example: The university has decided    to increase    student tuition fees by 5% from 2011.

Click to view a useful classification of verbs that take this pattern: Verb + to-infinitive

(Source: Frodesen, J. and Eyring, J. (2000). Grammar dimensions: Form, meaning, and use. Boston: Heinle & Heinle.)


Verb + object + to-infinitive

                                  V             O              to-infinitive

Example: The lecturer  told    the students     to attend      the last class.

 Use some of the following verbs to write sentences with this verb pattern:

allow encourage
remind urge

 Exceptions: make, let, watch, hear, and see. These verbs have this pattern: Verb+object+infinitive without to.

Examples : The lecturer let the students to record his lecture.

                 The father made his son to pay for the damage to the family car.

                 She watched him to drive away.

                 Witnesses saw the robbers to enter the bank at 2 p.m.

                 They heard the boy to scream.                 

Verb +'ing'

Verb + -ing pattern

This verb pattern is used as a noun in the following ways:

• as the subject of a sentence to express an action or state or a general idea or concept: e.g. Swimming is good exercise; Watching too much television can be harmful to young children.  

• as the object of a preposition: e.g. She thought about applying for the job of project manager.

• as the object of the verb: e.g. She particularly enjoyed teaching five-year olds.

The following verbs are normally followed by the verb + -ing pattern. Click on the highlighted heading for a useful classification of verbs that take the Verb + -ing pattern.

Write in the -ing form of the verb in brackets in the space provided. 

1   (Persuade) Persuading people to smoke less is the main purpose of this campaign.

2   (Watch) Watching TV can be a good way to release stress.

3   Research has shown that (sit) sitting in front of the television set for a long time can cause obesity.

4   Barriers are erected along the pathway to prevent people from (fall) falling over the edge.

5   Why do so many people keep (break) breaking the law?

6   The young doctors considered (move) moving to Australia.

7   The minister dislikes the media (criticise) criticising him.

8   The students risk (be expelled) being expelled if they are caught.

9   People should avoid (use) using their cars during the oil crisis.

10  (Get) Getting consumers to change brands is a marketing challenge.


V-ing versus to-infinitive

Some verbs are followed by either to-infinitive OR verb+ing, with little difference in meaning.

Examples: I started to work/working at McDonald last week.

                I like to help/helping people.


The following verbs can take both forms, but the meaning is different. Study the pairs of sentences below and consider how they are different in meaning.

       1a After the Olympic Games in Beijing, she went on to compete in the World Cycling Champs in Germany.

       1b After the Olympic Games in Beijing, she went on competing in her speciality sport until her 60th birthday.


       2a The children need to bath the dog.

       2b The children need bathing because they are very dirty.


       3a The tourist stopped to ask for directions.

       3b The tourist stopped asking for directions when no one showed willingness to help.


        4a I remember to lock the door every time I leave the house.

        4b I remember locking the door last night, but found it unlocked this morning.



Click here to view an explanation.

(a) sentences describe one action following another; she completed one task and started on another.

(b) sentences may describe a repeated action (or seen as something as happening at the time of recall, state or condition:



Challenge Tasks

Website link for further practice: Click for to+infinitive and Verb+ing tutorials

Select the correct verb form to complete each of the following sentences:

1.   The teachers told the students to expect an early examination.

2.   The teachers saw many students loitering around the hallway.

3.   The teachers allow parents to help in the classroom.

4.   The lawyer reminded his client to turn up for the court hearing.

5.   The lawyer remembered telling his client about the court hearing.

6.   She did not want to risk losing all her money.

7.   Some people argue that smoking makes them feel calm.

8.   Michael Phelps succeeded in winning nine gold medals at the Beijing Olympics.

9.   After the Olympics, Phelps went on to compete in the European Swimming Championships.

10.  The bank is interested in buying my property by the beach.


Read the two texts and fill in the blanks with the correct form of the verb in brackets.

Text 1: The Beijing Olympics

Beijing managed (finish) to finish all the building construction in time for the 2008 Olympic Games. In fact, they stopped (work) working on the preparations a week before the Games began. Beijing hoped (show) to show the best that China could offer during the Games. (Make) Making the 2008 Olympics in Beijing the best Games ever was the ultimate challenge.

When it was all over, the Games was deemed a huge success. Not only had Beijing succeeded in (attract) attracting the best architects and technicians to build the Olympic sites, it had also boasted a record number of attendance at the Games. With pollution hanging over the city in the weeks prior to the opening ceremony, Beijing had expected to delay (start) starting the opening ceremony, but the pollution lifted and everything went as scheduled.

The people of Beijing have enjoyed (host) hosting the Games and have invited all athletes (return) to return to the city to use the wonderful facilities for their on-going training and development. The Chinese Olympic Games committee even suggest that London(seek) seek advice from Beijing architects for the 2012 Olympics.

Text 2: Sources of Creativity

In his book Serious Creativity, de Bono explores five traditional sources of creativity that have relevance today: innocence, experience, motivation, tuned judgement, and chance or accident.

According to de Bono, innocence is the classic creativity of children. It has to do with not (be being inhibited by (know) knowing the constraints and (know) knowing what cannot be done, and being open to novel approaches.  The main problem, however, is (motivate) motivating others to take the plunge.

The creativity of experience is the opposite of the creativity of innocence. It is essentially a low-risk creativity and seeks (build) to build upon and (repeat) to repeat|repeat past successes.

Motivation means (be) being willing to spend up to five hours a week (try) trying to find a better way of (do) doing something when other people perhaps spend five minutes a week. Motivation means (look) looking for further alternatives when everyone else is satisfied with the obvious ones. Motivation means (have) having the curiosity to look for explanations. It means (try) trying things out and (tinker) tinkering about in the search for new ideas. Motivation means (put) putting in the time and effort and (attempt) attempting to be creative.

de Bono likens the creativity of "tuned judgement" to the creativity of the photographer. Tuned judgement allows a person (recognise) to recognise the potential of an idea at a very early stage and make it happen (to happen). (See) Seeing the value of an idea is a creative act, and people who develop ideas in this way should get as much credit as those who initiate ideas.

Finally, according to de Bono, history is full of examples of how important ideas came about through chance, accident, mistake, or "madness". For example, (discover) discovering penicillin was a "chance observation". The future will continue (benefit) to benefit from mistakes, anomalies and events outside the boundaries of reasonableness because they let us (think) think outside the square.

Source: de Bono, E. (1992). Serious creativity: Using the power of lateral thinking to create new ideas. London: Fontana.

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