Every day you speak up to 20,000 words.
That’s more than 1,000 words for every hour you’re awake!
And many of those are verbs.
Verbs are action words—jump, throw, go, think—and they’re a part of every single sentence you speak. There are very few English sentences that don’t need a verb, so you’re using lots and lots of them every day.
How well do you really know your verbs though? Are you using each verb correctly? Do you know all the different situations you can use these words for? Think about that!
You probably spend a lot of time and effort learning new vocabulary words, and that’s very important too. But it’s a good idea to look at the words you use every single day, and learn them even better.
You think you know your common verbs, but chances are there’s still lots to learn about them.
Choosing Which English Verbs to Learn
Some verbs have just one meaning, and can be used in only one way. Others have many different meanings and can be used in ways you probably don’t even realize.
Where do you start?
Pay attention to your English speech for just a day. You’ll start to notice the words you use the most. These are the words you should begin with.
Now open your eyes and ears, and you’ll notice even more verbs everywhere. You should be familiar with the words you read or hear over and over. This is especially true if there are some words you’re always hearing, and you’re not sure what they mean!
A good place to start is with a list of the most commonly used verbs—which is exactly what I have for you here.
Before we start, here’s an important reminder: Some of the most popular verbs are “irregular verbs.” This means that their tenses are different than regular verbs (you don’t add -ed for past tense, for example).
You’ll need to memorize the different forms of these verbs. Don’t just learn what the word means and when to use it—also learn all the different conjugations (forms) of it. This way you’ll know the right word to use in any sentence!
The Best Way to Learn Common English Verbs
It can be difficult to learn words by just looking at the definition. An easier way to learn is to hear it in a real sentence. That’s called “context,” and it gives your mind something to link the word to. Then when you’re trying to remember the meaning, you can remember the whole sentence.
An even better way to learn these words is to see them used in entertaining videos on FluentU. FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
You’ll easily remember and understand these verbs when you see them in a funny commercial, for example. Plus, every word comes with an in-context definition, image, audio and multiple example sentences. You can even click on a word to see how it’s used in other videos across the site.
Now that you’re ready, here are 16 of the most commonly used verbs in English—plus famous quotes that use these verbs.
16 of the Most Commonly Used English Verbs, in Quotes
A note before you start: To really get the most out of this list, open a dictionary! Look up the words and see their other forms, how to use them in a sentence, and more in-depth definitions. Learn these words well, because they’re so common you might be using them every time you speak English!
1. To Be
Conjugation: To be
What it means: To exist, to happen.
To be or not to be, that is the question.
—Hamlet speaking in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
This line is one of the most famous lines written by the playwright William Shakespeare. You might have heard it even if you’ve never read any of Shakespeare’s plays! In this line, the character Hamlet has just had some seriously bad stuff happen in his life, and is wondering if there’s any point in existing.
The verb “to be” is the most commonly used verb in the English language. It’s a word we use to speak about things happening or existing, and to speak about yourself or others. Learn this one and all its forms, because you’ll be using it a lot!
2. To Have
Conjugation: To have
What it means: To have or hold, to experience, to need to do something. Its also used as a “helping verb” to talk about something that was happening but is now finished (i.e. I have eaten).
Learn to appreciate what you have before time makes you appreciate what you had.
No one is sure who originally said this quote, but its meaning is very important to remember. It’s reminding us to enjoy and love what we own, hold or are experiencing—because you never know when it will be gone. Love your family, enjoy your life and remember to appreciate everything!
One of the toughest things about learning to use the word “have” is using it correctly as a helping verb. It’s used very often to mean that something happened already, or finished happening.
For example, you can say “I have eaten here” if you’ve been to a restaurant before. You can also say “I had been reading when he visited yesterday” to show that your reading was interrupted by a visit. Use this verb as often as you can to understand it!
3. To Do
Conjugation: To do
What it means: To perform an action, to achieve something, to act.
Do or do not. There is no try.
—Yoda speaking in “Star Wars”
This quote, spoken by Yoda in the famous “Star Wars” movie, is saying that when you have a goal, you should approach it with the aim to succeed. Trying means there’s a possibility (chance) you’ll fail! So if you’re learning English, do it, don’t just try to do it.
The word “do” is used in situations from weddings, when couples say “I do,” to words of motivation like “You can do it!”
You’ll use it a lot when you’re asking questions, usually at the beginning of the sentence, like in “Do you know how to speak English?” or “Did you feed the fish?”
4. To Say
Conjugation: To say
What it means: To use words to express yourself out loud.
Never say never.
—Written by Charles Dickens in “Pickwick Papers”
If you’re a fan of spy movies, you might know that “Never Say Never Again” is the name of a James Bond movie from the 1980s, but this quote was originally written by the famous author Charles Dickens.
The meaning is simple but powerful: Anything can happen!
If you’re having trouble understanding when to use “say” and when to use “speak” or “tell,” remember this:
- Use “say” when you’re quoting someone. (“She said she’s coming to the party”)
- Use “tell” when someone is being spoken to. (“I told you that wouldn’t work!”) “Tell” should always be followed by a recipient.
- Use “speak” or “talk” when you’re talking about general speech or a more serious conversation. (“I spoke with the professor.”)
Remember that you say something but you tell someone: “She said no” and “She told me no” are both correct ways of saying the same thing.
5. To Go
Conjugation: To go
What it means: To move from one place to another, to leave.
In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.
You can learn a lot from life, but the poet Robert Frost learned that at the end of the day, the most important fact is that it “goes on.” That means that no matter what’s happening, or what you’re experiencing, life will continue.
The word “go” is all about movement! Use it when you’re going somewhere, when you’re complaining about gas prices going up, or when you’re describing a hole in your wall that went from the floor to the ceiling.
6. To Get
Conjugation: To get
What it means: To acquire or obtain something, to understand something, to reach someplace (“get to”).
Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please.
The author Mark Twain wrote a few famous books, like “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but he also said some witty (smart and funny) things. In this quote, he’s pointing out that you should really know about a subject before you can make any conclusions about it. “Distort” means to bend or change something, so he’s making fun of people who bend the truth to their own benefit.
You can get things that are physical or just concepts, like getting a job or a cat, or getting some new information or knowledge. The verb is used in many phrases:
- Get a grip means to relax and control yourself
- Get going means to start traveling somewhere
- Get over it means not to let something bother you anymore.
Learn many of these commonly used phrases to sound more natural when you speak.
7. To Make
Conjugation: To make
What it means: To create, to bring something into existence, to force someone to do something.
Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”
—Ms. Frizzle from “The Magic School Bus”
This quote might only be “famous” for people who grew up watching “The Magic School Bus” cartoon in the ’90s, but they’re excellent words to live by! The quote means you shouldn’t be afraid to get dirty or get things wrong when you’re learning something new.
While the verb “make” has a few main meanings, it’s used in many different ways. When you’re learning the word, try to learn as many of its uses as you can.
For example, you would use the word “make” to talk about earning money (i.e. He makes a lot of money), to say a person is moving towards something (i.e. He made for his car…), or even to talk about changing something into something else (i.e. You can make butter from milk).
8. To Know
Conjugation: To know
What it means: To be aware of something, to form a relationship with someone.
We know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
—Ophelia speaking in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare
It’s no wonder many people consider William Shakespeare to be one of the greatest play writers of all time—his works are just so full of great quotes! In this one, Ophelia says that we might feel, look and act one way right now, but we could be completely different people in the future. You never know!
Knowledge is important to us, and we use the word “know” often to share it with others. The word is used when you’re getting information from your own mind, whether it’s to know the capital of France, or to know the person who just walked past you.
Use this word to express that you’re sure about something, such as “I just know that London is the capital of France.” Of course, you don’t have to be right—you only have to think that you’re right. (Paris is the capital of France!)
9. To Take
Conjugation: To take
What it means: To acquire something with your hands, to bring or carry something, to receive.
I wish they would only take me as I am.
—Vincent Van Gogh
Vincent Van Gogh was more famous for painting sunflowers and starry nights, and for cutting off his ear than for his words. But this quote is something we might have all felt at some point: wanting to be accepted for who you are.
When you take something, you physically remove it. You take what people give you, take what belongs to you, and take your time when you’re doing something. The last example is another meaning that “take” has, and it’s one that might take some practice. The word is used to talk about requiring or using up some period of time. For example, will it take you a week to learn this word or a day?
10. To See
Conjugation: To see
What it means: To use your eyes to perceive something, to gain an understanding of something (“Ah, I see”).
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.
This spoken quote by the author Anaïs Nin means that everyone sees things differently. Our experiences and ways of thinking change the way we see the world and the things in it. You might see just a flower, but someone else might see his mother’s favorite rose.
The word see is pretty straight-forward: You use it to talk about what your eyes are perceiving. You can also use the verb to describe meeting someone (i.e. I saw my friend last night), or, more rarely, escorting someone (i.e. I’ll see you out).
What about the difference between “look” (#13) and “see”?
- Use “look” when you have reason or purpose. (“Look closely at this tree. Do you know what kind it is?”)
- Use “see” when something just comes into your field of vision. (“Can you see that dog over there?”)
11. To Come
Conjugation: To come
What it means: To move towards, to happen.
Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier.
How do people feel after they have a conversation with you? This quote by Mother Teresa reminds us to be good to others, and spread love and happiness—much like Mother Teresa did when she helped so many people.
“Come” and “go” are both about movement, but in different directions. “To come” is to move towards something, and “to go” is to move away from something. You go to work in the morning, but you come home at night.
When the goal is more important than the journey or the place you started, you can also use the word ““come”: “I came all the way to work this morning, then realized it’s a holiday.”
12. To Think
Conjugation: To think
What it means: To have an opinion, to use your mind.
I think, therefore I am.
This philosophical quote is a reminder that there is no one in the world who thinks exactly like you. On an ever deeper level, Descartes was trying to prove that because we are able to think, we must be real. People study philosophy for years, so don’t worry if you don’t quite get it!
When you’re saying something that is an opinion and not a fact, you can use the word “think.” It’s also the right word to use if you’re not sure about something (i.e. I think it will rain), or even to suggest something (i.e. I thought we might go swimming later).
13. To Look
Conjugation: To look
What it means: To search for something with your eyes, to give an appearance or impression.
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.
Albert Einstein is a reliable source on understanding things—he is one of the most famous scientists in history! But even Einstein found nature to be the place to look to learn more about everything.
As described in the section about “to see,” the word “look” is used when you’re seeing something with a purpose. Maybe you’re looking for your friend in the crowd, or for a good place to park your car.
You can also use the word to describe appearance (i.e. You look happy today; What does he look like?), or to say you admire someone (i.e. I look up to her).
14. To Want
Conjugation: To want
What it means: To have a desire for something.
If you want something done right, do it yourself.
Sometimes it’s easier to do something by yourself than to explain to someone how to do it. The writer Charles-Guillaume Étienne wrote this to mean that a lot of the times, you are the one who can make your desires happen in the best way for yourself.
“Want” only has one common meaning, and that is to desire something. The fact that we use it so often means a lot about us! You can want material things like money or a good job, or you can want more emotional things like love. Or you can simply want to talk to someone about getting a good job or finding love!
15. To Give
Conjugation: To give
What it means: To transfer something, to provide, to state information.
Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
This quote is a proverb, which is a saying that’s been passed down, but no one knows who said it first. It’s pointing out that you can help someone much more by sharing your knowledge than your material possessions.
We might love to get things, but we also like to give. When you give something, you are parting with it. You can give gifts, give your word to someone (promise something), or give someone a call on your phone.
Use this verb any time something is being transferred from one place or thing to another.
16. To Use
Conjugation: To use
What it means: To put something to work (sometimes until there’s nothing left), to become familiar with something or someone (“get used to”).
Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.
Life is what you make of it! At least, according to the beloved sculptor and artist Auguste Rodin. It means that if you make the most of your time and your experiences, you will always be learning.
The word “use” has many… uses. Anything that can be taken, held, employed, exploited or applied to fulfill some goal or purpose can be used.
That means relying on a friend to meet a celebrity is using them, just like you would use a key to open a lock. You can also use the word “use” to remember how things were (but no longer are), as in, “I used to have red hair but then I dyed it black.”
Try using these words as much as you can, in as many different ways as you can. You’ll feel much more confident learning more complicated words in English if you can master these very common English verbs!
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