Action verbs

Action verbs tell us what the subject of a sentence does —physically or mentally. Take a look.


"Tony writes a weekly column about lacrosse for the school newspaper."

In this example, writes is an action that Tony physically performs, most likely at his computer, or maybe at his vintage Underwood typewriter. Tony's a real Renaissance man.

"The hot air balloon full of birthday clowns flew over Detroit."

In this case, flew is a physical action performed by the hot air balloon. Did you know that the large balloon is called an "envelope"? …What's that? You're too terrified by the image of a hot air balloon full of clowns to think? We're sorry. Let's get your brain back in action with another example.

"Susan thinks Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best book in the series."

Here, thinks is an action that Susan performs with her mind, perhaps while dreaming of Alan Rickman.

Common mistakes


We all know that "to lie" means "to tell an untruth." Everyone does it. It's totally normal…but not always acceptable.

Apart from that definition, though, the verb "to lie" is often mixed up with the verb "to lay." Although that's also totally normal, it's never acceptable. People may be able to accept the occasional lie you tell, but they'll never accept your grammatical mistakes.


Lay requires a direct object, so you use this verb when you are putting an object down. For example, you lay your stuffed tiger on your pillow.

Lie does not require a direct object because it means "to recline." You love to snuggle your fluffy tiger as you lie in bed.

You may be thinking, "easy enough." Alas, the going gets tough when you're using other verb tenses. Our suggestion? Just commit it all to memory by repeating them seven times out loud. Not six, not eight. Only seven—and don't you dare lose count.

Present Tense lay lie
Present Participle laying lying
Past Tense laid lay
Past Participle have laid have lain

"As the hikers made their final ascent, they noticed some cute mountain goats that were lying idly in the rocks. The goats were making fun of their pathetic attempt at rock climbing, but thankfully all the hikers heard were adorable bleating sounds."

Remember that the verb to lay needs a direct object. Goats don't have hands, so we're pretty sure that there is no situation in which any form of the verb to lay would be correct. You don't see he-goats going around laying flowers in front of their she-goat counterparts. The next step is deciding which tense the verb should be in. Since the next sentence starts with were making, you should go with were lying. You know, for consistency and parallelism and all that.


Sit does not require an object; set does. You sit down, but you set that steaming plate of spaghetti carbonara down.

Note: In some legit dialects of English (like African American Vernacular English), these words are pronounced the same. Then, it's an issue of spelling these verbs right.


You might think that choosing between bring and take is simple. However, the decision can occasionally trip you up if you're not careful. How do you pick the right one, you ask? It's all about your point of reference.

If someone is carrying an item towards you, they are bringing it to you. If you are carrying an item to someone else, then you are taking it to them. In short, people bring you things and you take them away.

"When I was watching the weather report last night I saw that it's supposed to rain pretty hard today, so you'd better take your umbrella with you."

Since this speaker is telling you to move something from where you are to someplace else, the word she should use is take. If she were in the rain and wanted you to transport that umbrella to her, she could ask you to bring it to her. But she seems to be pretty on top of the weather report, so we're guessing that's not going to happen.


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