I'm learning English grammar now for the first time, and I find it extremely confusing.

A verb is defined as

an action, an occurrence, or a state of being. Whether mental, physical, or mechanical, verbs always express activity.

If verbs are about a state of being, then why isn't "sad" a verb? Isn't it a state of being? Why is it any different from "recognized", which is a verb because it describes a cognitive state?

  • 1
    Interesting question. Let's explore this a bit. What activity would a verb-equivalent for sad describe?
    – Lawrence
    Feb 20, 2018 at 15:19
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    The fault, dear Brutus is not in the stars, but in the ding-busted textbooks that reduce complex concepts to vague phrases like "state of being." The verbs in question are better described as linking verbs. With such a definition, there would be no such sad confusion.
    – Rob_Ster
    Feb 20, 2018 at 16:14
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    The only verb which in a direct sense describes a "state of being" is the verb "to be". "I was sad". The "was" is the verb. There are plenty of verb participles that describe a state of being, but they each depend on the verb "to be" for their implementation. At least that's how I, nothing more than a native speaker, with no training in linguistics, see it.
    – WS2
    Feb 20, 2018 at 18:03
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    Who defines a verb like that? Certainly no one who knows what verbs actually are, because that definition is appalling. We don’t define word classes (a morphological, grammatical concept) by their meaning (a semantic concept). Feb 20, 2018 at 18:27
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    "Sad" is an adjective because it has the properties of indisputable adjectives and hence must belong in that class. For example, it can be modified by “very”, which can’t modify verbs. It can occur as complement to complex-intransitive verbs lie “become” (“Kim became quite sad”), ore complex-transitive verbs like “find” (“I found it quite sad”).
    – BillJ
    Feb 20, 2018 at 19:55

3 Answers 3


I don't know where your definition of 'verb' comes from, but it only defines the semantic aspect of the word.

Here's a more complete definition from Oxford:

A word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hear, become, happen.

The boldfaced portion defines the syntactic aspect of the word.

Let me explain this with this example sentence:

You look sad.

Here, the subject is 'You' and the predicate is 'look sad'. And syntactically, the main part of the predicate is 'look' and this is a verb.

Now, 'sad' here is not a verb, because syntactically it is not the main part of the predicate. Rather, 'sad' is called a complement of the verb 'look', because syntactically it is governed by the verb and completes the meaning of the predicate.

  • To be fair, the OP's definition isn't so different from the Oxford one you gave (leaving aside the part about the predicate). They both mention action, occurrence, and state (though the OP's one says "state of being" instead of just "state").
    – Zebrafish
    Jan 21, 2019 at 5:49

"Sad" is a verb, but at this point it is both rare and nonstandard. The OED lists the following as one definition:

To make sorrowful; to sadden. Now rare.
In later use only in regional or nonstandard speech.

It gives some old examples, like this one:

May it not sad your thoughts.
Antonios Reuenge, 1602

In addition, I'm able to find some very recent examples:

I was sadded to hear of the passing of Lou.
Memorial page for Louis S. Josselyn, Jr, 2017

Note that to the vast majority of native speakers (myself included), "sad" is not not a verb, and trying to use it as one sounds weird and wrong. The verb you should use is "sadden".

  • That sense of "sad" has been replaced with "sadden" in modern English (at least in the US). (And a brief note of consolation on a random obituary page can hardly count as a credible example of current usage, especially given that it's probably a typo.)
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 20, 2018 at 19:38

In many languages it would be a verb, or at least indistinguishable from a verb.

But not in English. Sad is an adjective, which is one of the most variable types of word.

  • There are languages where adjectives are very much like verbs, like Malay.
  • There are languages where adjectives are very much like nouns, like Latin.
    (Latin grammarians treated adjectives as nouns without any implicit gender.
    It wasn't till the middle ages that "adjective" replaced "participle" in
    the Eight Parts Of Speech)
  • And there are languages where there is a small number of adjectives
    (like prepositions in English) and compounds are used for anything complex.

In English the rules say that a predicate adjective needs an auxiliary verb, normally a form of be.
Just as a predicate noun needs the same auxiliary, plus an indefinite article if it's countable.
Aside from that detail, predicate adjectives and predicate nouns both work just like intransitive verbs, so go ahead and think of them that way, if it helps you understand.

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