How to Find the Main Verb in a Sentence

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  • 0:03 Elements of a Basic Sentence
  • 0:33 The Main Verb
  • 3:51 Finding the Main Verb
  • 5:14 Practice
  • 5:48 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Valerie Keenan

Valerie has taught elementary school and has her master's degree in education.

Expert Contributor
Marc Mancinelli

Marc is a long-time HS English teacher and has taught at the college level. He has a master's degree in literature and a doctorate in education.

A basic sentence must contain a subject and a predicate to be complete. The main verb of a sentence will always be located within the predicate. Learn how to identify the main verb of a sentence and how to avoid confusing it with infinitives and auxiliary verbs.

Elements of a Basic Sentence

A basic sentence must contain two main elements in order to be complete: a subject and a predicate. The subject of a sentence contains the person, place, or thing that is performing the action. The predicate contains the action or state of being within the sentence.

For example:

  • The dog ran home.

The subject is 'the dog.' The predicate is 'ran home.'

The Main Verb

The main verb is located within the predicate, and it expresses the main action or state of being of the sentence's subject. The main verb can stand alone, or it can be accompanied by words that add meaning and detail. For example:

  • Sally jumped over the fence.

The subject is 'Sally.' The main verb (or action) is 'jumped.' The modifying phrase is 'over the fence.'


Sometimes, a sentence will have more than one verb. Often, this verb will be part of an infinitive. Rather than being a true verb, an infinitive functions as a noun, adverb, or adjective within a sentence. An infinitive will almost always begin with the word 'to' followed by the simple form of a verb. When the verb is part of an infinitive, you cannot add -s, -es, -ed, or -ing to the end. For example:

  • To sleep
  • To read
  • To run

For example:

  • Danny wanted to watch the thunderstorm from his patio.

The subject is 'Danny.' The main verb is 'wanted.' The infinitive is 'to watch.'

Auxiliary Verb

Another type of verb that sometimes exists in a sentence and can cause some confusion is an auxiliary verb, or helping verb. The purpose of an auxiliary verb is to add content to what is being expressed by the main verb of a sentence.

Auxiliary Verbs
be (am, are, is, was, were, being)
do (did, does, doing)
have (had, has, having)

To identify whether a verb is an auxiliary verb, you can try subject-auxiliary inversion by switching the verb in question with the subject of the sentence or by changing the sentence to the negative form by inserting the word 'not' immediately after the verb in question. If the sentence can be inverted and can function in the negative form, then the verb in question is an auxiliary verb rather than the main verb. For example,

  • Sally will run the race.

'Will' and 'run' are both verbs. To decide if 'will' is the main verb or not, first try subject-auxiliary inversion. This means that you will switch places with the subject, 'Sally,' and the verb in question, 'will.'

  • Will Sally run the race?

Next, you will insert the word 'not' immediately after the verb in question, 'will.'

  • Sally will not run the race.

As you can see, the sentence allowed for both subject-auxiliary inversion and it functioned in the negative form. Therefore, 'will' is an auxiliary verb and 'run' is the main verb.

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Additional Activities

Review of Verbs

Verbs are action words that describe what is happening—i.e. the action—in a sentence. The main verb in a sentence is the one that describes the main action of the subject. It is generally located right next to or very close to the subject. Main verbs can stand on their own or can be joined to an auxiliary, or helping, verb. Note that the auxiliary verb is not part of the main verb, nor is the "to" in an infinitive like "to love."

Some Examples of Main Verbs:

Frank ran across the street.
We had jumped over the fence by then.
The trees swayed in the breeze.


In the sentences below identify the main verb of the sentence. It may help to first identify the subject of the sentence.

1) The presenter talked for over an hour.
2) The teachers all ran out the door the moment school was over.
3) Everyone who came will receive a prize.
4) To live in harmony with each other is man's greatest hope.
5) More than anything else, people want to be loved.
6) Dana laughed all the way to the beach.
7) Tim has said that he can't come on Tuesdays.
8) The plants will grow if you give them water and sunlight.
9) Only after we entered the dungeon did we know our true strength as warriors.
10) Flip those burgers now!


1) talked
2) ran
3) came
4) live
5) want
6) laughed
7) come
8) grow
9) entered
10) Flip

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