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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
Instructor: Valerie Keenan

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

Infinitives

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)
can
could
do (did, does, doing)
have (had, has, having)
may
might
must
shall
should
will
would

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.

Finding the Main Verb

To find the main verb in a sentence, remember:

  • A main verb will usually come right after the subject, and
  • A main verb will express actions, emotions, ideas, or a state of being. For example: run, love, think, play, hope, be, and is.

When you find the subject of the sentence, or the main person, place, or thing, a good way to find the main verb is to ask: What is he, she, or it doing? Let's look at some examples:

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