common actions

english is a language full of actions. actually, english is considered an action-dominant language so the most important part of every sentence is the action – without an action word, it’s not a sentence. many other languages allow objects, descriptions and actors to function as sentences or become the important part of discussion but in english it’s always the action. these are some of the most common action words in english.

be, have, do, say, go, get, make, know, think, take

be is an unusual word in english for two reasons. it has many forms that don’t look at all like the original word and it’s used both for existence and descriptions. it can be “i am” or “i am happy” or “i am a student” and it’s all the same word, even if that’s three different meanings.

i am, you are, it is, they are
i was, you were, it was, they were

the other extremely-common actions in english are have and do. these are combined with many other words to make complex ideas possible without creating whole new words. for example, you can have a meeting, have lunch, have class or have a job. you can do laundry, do yoga or do homework. be careful, though, as you have to play sports or musical instruments – doing them doesn’t make sense in english. do also works as a question word and have, when combined with the past, means something is finished.

i did my homework. (it happened at some point in the past.)
i have done my homework. (it is already finished.)

the word know is used in two different ways in english. it can mean to be familiar with an idea or to have met a person. “i know about chemistry” and “i know katherine” are both the same word but different meanings.

think can be about using your mind or expressing an opinion.

i think about happiness every morning. (thoughts about happiness)
i think you’re cute. (opinion about your appearance)

you can take something from someone (“i gave her a gift and she took it willingly”) or take a class (“i took physics last year”). they are both about receiving something. it is also a euphemism for theft (“someone took my book while i was in the bathroom”).

see, come, want, look, use, find, give, tell, work, call

“see” is used in english for vision (“i see the dog”) and understanding (“i see what you mean”).

while “come” varies in its usage in other languages, in english it always means to move in the direction of the speaker at the time of speaking. you can only say “i came home” if you are home when you say it – in any other case it’s “i went home”.

“tell” is often misunderstood by language-learners. it reports speech without quotation. so you can write “she said ‘go to the store’.” but not “she told me ‘go to the store’.” if you use “tell”, it has to be indirect speech – “she told me to go to the store”, which is far more common in english than quotation.

try, ask, need, feel, become, leave, put, mean, keep, let

“ask” can be used with an object (“i ask a question”) or a conditional (“i asked if i could go outside”) but never reported speech (“i asked can i leave” – this should be “i asked if i could leave”).

begin, seem, help, talk, turn, start, show, hear, play, run

it is important to remember the difference between “talk”, “speak” and “say”. you can “speak words” or “speak french” or simply “speak”. you can “talk” or “talk to a friend” but you can’t talk a language. you can “say words” but you can’t “say” or “say german”. talking is conversation – a speaker and listener. speaking and saying are conversation that don’t have to involve listeners, though it’s possible they are there.

english-speakers often use “show” for demonstrate. while this usually means visual demonstration, it isn’t unusual at all for “show” to be answered by an explanation in spoken words.

hear is used both for audio and understand.

i heard the bell. (listening)
i hear what you mean. (understanding)

play is used for sports, musical instruments and recreation (usually for children).

i play tennis every saturday. (playing sports never has an article.)
i enjoy playing the piano. (playing instruments usually does.)
go outside and play. (recreation doesn’t need an object.)

move, like, live, believe, hold, bring, happen, write, provide, sit

move can be physical movement or changing homes.

i moved my arms and legs.
i moved from chicago to mexico city.

stand, lose, pay, meet, include, continue, set, learn, change, lead

you can meet a person or more than one person can meet.

today i’ll meet my grandmother at the station.
my partner and i met in class.

in much the same way, things can continue or a person can continue an action.

after the interruption, the class will continue.
i want to continue from where i stopped.

understand, watch, follow, stop, create, speak, read, allow, add, spend

things can stop or a person can stop an action.

the car stopped at the corner.
i stopped listening when she changed languages.

remember “read” doesn’t change spelling between present and past. in the past it sounds like the color “red” but in the present it sounds like the grass, “reed”. in writing, its tense is assumed from context.

grow, open, walk, win, offer, remember, love, consider, appear, buy

you can grow or grow plants.

i saw my friend’s child and she had grown a lot this year!
i want to grow tomatoes in the garden.

the difference between “buy” and “spend” are that when you “buy” it means you own the object money has been paid for but when you “spend” it just means money was paid.

wait, serve, die, send, expect, build, stay, fall, cut, reach
kill, remain, suggest, raise, pass, sell, require, report, decide, pull

now you have learned the hundred most-common action words in english. practice by asking a partner questions using pairs of verbs (buy/sell, give/get, speak/listen, read/write, etc).

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