What Is an Action Verb?

I have a specific set of criteria when I choose to go see a movie. Most movies I enjoy need to have clever dialogue, a strong plot line and plenty of action. Action is often what keeps viewers tuned in (and not falling asleep). Writing is much the same, no matter if you’re writing a research paper, a novel or a blog post; action verbs keep things interesting.

Defining Action Verbs

What is an action verb? In reality, action verbs are quite possibly the easiest verbs to define. The action verb definition is this: they express what a person, an animal, a force of nature or really anything at all can physically do. Here are some action verbs examples:

– My kids play outside a lot.

– The thunder rumbled ceaselessly as the storm rolled in.

– I ran down the track at lightning speed.

To identify an action verb, just ask yourself if a person or thing can do it. Can kids play? Yes, so play is an action verb.

The Difference Between Action Verbs and Non-Action Verbs

As there are opposites in all things, there are also non-action verbs, also known as stative verbs. These describe a state of being rather than an action. Need, want, own, have, believe and love are examples of stative verbs.

– Stative: Cara knows every grammar rule you can imagine.

– Action: I drank some caffeine yesterday.

Stative verbs do not work with the progressive tense. If the verb can be used with be verb + ing, it is likely a true action verb. Knows is stative because it is incorrect to say, “Cara is knowing every grammar rule you can imagine.” Drank is a true action verb because you can just as easily say, “I was drinking some caffeine yesterday.”

Transitive and Intransitive Action Verbs

Transitive and intransitive verbs are two types of action verbs. Transitive verbs are those that require an object in order to transfer the action. Verbs such as bring, offer, give, owe, make and get are transitive. Here are some examples of transitive action verbs:

– The wind conveniently carried leaves and garbage onto my clean front lawn.

– As cats tend to do, Whiskers proudly brought me the mouse he caught in the garden.

– At our family Christmas party, grandma and grandpa gave all the children presents.

Intransitive action verbs do not take an object, and true intransitive verbs cannot be used in a passive voice. Sit, lie, went, die, laugh, cry and arrive are examples of action verbs that are always intransitive, or in other words, these verbs never take a direct object. Here are some examples of intransitive action verbs:

– Freelance writers often sit at their computers in their pajamas.

– My new AP Stylebook finally arrived.

– I was so happy that I cried.

Note that the words following sit make a phrase and are not a direct object. It’s also important to keep in mind that some action verbs can be both transitive and intransitive. If a verb needs a direct object, it’s transitive; if there’s no object required, it’s intransitive. Got it? Good!

Write Away!

While the verb is the action of a sentence, only some verbs are true action verbs. Where would writing be without this exciting part of speech? What’s the easiest way for you to identify an action verb? Teach us your tips and tricks in the comments below!


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