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Verbs - Main verbs - Common mistakes

The following explains how you cannot use these as main verbs.


The infinitive is made up of to followed by the base of the verb (before it is changed in any way - Parrott, 2000).

Infinitive - to build

She builds - base of the verb changed to agree with she
She built - base of the verb changed to show it happened in the past

The main verb shows that something is happening, will happen, or has happened. An infinitive cannot be a main verb because it does not do this - it is neutral.

This is not a sentence. The infinitives are underlined. There is no main verb.
*To be or not to be.

This is a sentence. The main verb is in bold.
To be or not to be, that is the question.


These are formed from the verb. The present participle ends in ing; the past participle often (there are many exceptions) ends in ed.

to use - using - used
to rate - rating - rated
to dive - diving - dived

to find - finding - found
to swim - swimming - swum

There are no rules here. You just have to know (check in a dictionary)!

Participles can be used to describe, change or add to something.

On their own, they cannot be main verbs, and a sentence must have a main verb.

These are not sentences. There is no main verb. The participles (bold) describe something.
*The used car.
*The frightened girl.
*The waving hands.

If you add either a form of to be or to have to the participle, then it does make a main verb. The 'added' verb shows when something happens or happened. The participle shows the meaning (what happens or happened).

These are sentences. The past participle is now part of a verb.
The car was used.
The girl has been frightened.
The hands are waving.

People are most likely to make mistakes about this in long sentences.

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004