From the Author
Why a book on English verbs and why these 501?
For everything you do, or want to be or how you feel, you need a verb. A verb can indicate an action ( I write, she buys, they talk) or a state of being (we feel, you care). The verb is an essential element of EnglishÑonly the nouns occur more frequently in the spoken and written language. Structurally the verb is one of the easiest parts of speech, since there really are only four or five different forms. Native speakers of English rarely think about verbs. In actual practice, however, verbs are misused and abused by native speaker and learners of English alike. The English verb has confounded generations worrying whether to use ÒlieÓ or Òlay,Ó ÒgoneÓ or Òwent,Ó ÒshallÓ or Òwill.Ó For those learning English the verb can be one of the most complex of forms with over 300 irregular verbs and 200 possible combinations for all the possible verbal usages. It is the disparity between this paucity of verbal endings and the numerous and flexible uses of English verbs that has given birth to 501 English Verbs. Where did these 501 English Verbs come from? A pioneer in attempting to list all the forms of English irregular verbs was Vincent F. Hopper whose list of 123 irregular verbs, English Verb Conjugations (BarronÕs: 1975) was both an inspiration and a starting point for the five hundred one verbs here. I have attempted to determine all of the irregular verbs in English. Most sources refer to over two hundred. Dictionaries, grammars, handbooks provided a list of almost three hundredÑalthough that included several compounds of the type Òreread,Ó Òunderwrite,Ó etc. I consulted word frequency lists for the spoken language by Hartvig Dahl, Word Frequencies of Spoken American English (1979), who notes Òthat only 848 words account for 90% of spoken usage.Ó ( p. vii). I have included all verbs found in first 1000 words of the spoken sample. Similarly I have included verbs in the first two thousand of written speech as determined by the Brown corpus in W. Nelson Francis and Henry Kucera, Frequency Analysis of English Usage (1982). At the final stage I carefully compared the list to the entire body of the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (Third Edition, 1992) to seek out forms that might cause difficulty for learners and native speakers alike. For all of the entries I have compared the American Heritage entry to those of the Oxford Modern English Dictionary (Second Edition, 1996), Merriam WebsterÕs Collegiate Dictionary (Tenth Edition, 1993), and WebsterÕs New World Dictionary (Third Edition,1990). In the course of my work it became clear that there are several accepted forms and some disagreements. This is as it should be. English has resisted most efforts to prescribe the ÒcorrectÓ usage. As a living language spoken natively by hundreds of millions living in the United States, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, it is also spoken by hundreds of millions who learn English in addition to their native languages. I have relied on two of the most recent grammars in English for guidance: Randolf Quirk, Sidney Greenbaum et alii., A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (1985) and Sidney Greenbaum, The Oxford English Grammar (1996). I have also consulted Kenneth G. Wilson, The Columbia Guide to Standard American English (1993). My purpose has been to describe what can and may occur. I make no claim that each and every form of the verbs presented here have or will actually occur in speech or writing. They are all potential forms, and even when one must invent situations or figurative usages, they are here for your information. I have also become convinced of how complex the entire verbal system is, and how much work is required by native speakers and learners alike to master all the forms. 501 English Verbs is itself a pioneering attempt and I look forward to your comments and suggestions for the next edition. Thomas R. Beyer, Jr. Middlebury College Middlebury, Vermont U.S.A.