Perhaps we should quit calling verbs “weak”

Here’s a nice post from Katherine Kerr, in which she rather firmly suggests that the concept of “strong” verbs versus “weak” verbs is perhaps not terribly helpful and in fact is actually misleading.

English depends on auxiliary verbs like to have, to be, to do, to define many aspects of verbs: tense, duration, possibility, conditionality. It’s impossible to write precise English without using them. … Without auxiliary verbs, it is impossible to use English verbs precisely. That is, if an author was determined to eliminate all auxiliaries from his prose, he could convey simple past and an ambiguously unmarked pure verb form only. Try it and see — absolutely no uses of to be, to have, to do, can, could, would, should, will, shall, and so on allowed. These verbs are a natural and important part of English, as are the participles. They fulfill functions that no other words can fill. .. Only the progressive tense, and the use of “to be” with a participle, conveys the exact meaning of the author. Why anyone would want to throw away such an important tool is beyond me.

Yeah, what she said. Participles and auxiliary verbs are your friends.



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2 thoughts on “Perhaps we should quit calling verbs “weak””

  1. That chart of the modal verbs is beautifully clear.
    Can I print it for my nephew, who is learning English in secondary school?
    Or should I buy a print somewhere if it’s copyrighted?

  2. Hanneke, I confess I just Googled for images for auxiliary verbs and participles, and snagged these cool graphic organizers that way. It’s a slight risk, I guess, though one imagines teachers are generally glad to share teaching materials.

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