How to Find the Verb Using the Tense Trick

How do you find the verb in a sentence like this:

My dog Zucchini loves to chew your slippers.

Most of us are taught to look for the action word when asked to find the verb. Since Zucchini is chewing the slippers, chew must be the verb, right?

It isn’t though. In this post we will explain why it isn’t and how to identify verbs in any sentence.

How to Find the Verb in a Sentence

To find the verb you need to know the three things a verb has to do in a sentence.

In a sentence a verb has three jobs or functions.

  • The first is to indicate an action or state of being. 
  • The second is to count–to tell the reader whether the subject is singular or plural. 
  • The third one is to tell time–we call this verb tense. 

The action part of a sentence often leads to confusion.  A sentence can have more than one action:  chewing is an action.  But so is loving.  So which one is the verb in the sentence?

The Trick to Find a Verb

If you know the trick, finding the verb is easy.  Instead of the verb’s first function, we use the third one. The verb form is different when something happened in the past than if it will occur in the future. 

To find the verb, add time words at the beginning of the sentence. Then listen for the word that you need to change to make the sentence sound right.  That word is the verb.

To change the time of a sentence, we use time words–yesterday, every day, and tomorrow at the beginning of the sentence. 

Then we listen for the word that needs to change so that the sentence will sound right.  Here is how you do that:

Zucchini loves to chew my shoes.

  • Yesterday Zucchini LOVED to chew my shoes.
  • Everyday Zucchini LOVES to chew my shoes.
  • Tomorrow Zucchini WILL LOVE to chew my shoes.

If you try to change the tense of to chew, it will not sound right.

Yesterday Zucchini loves CHEWED my shoes.

            Or

Yesterday Zucchini LOVED CHEWED my shoes.

When you put the words yesterday, every day, and tomorrow at the beginning of the sentence, you are changing the time when the action happened.  When you do this, the word functioning as the verb must change.   

Notice how in my tomorrow sentence the verb became two words instead of one.  This always happens with tomorrow.  They are like partners working together to be the verb in that sentence. 

One More Thing on Finding a Verb

Sometimes a sentence has a reference to time in it already. 

                        Last year I got a new phone for my birthday.

It’s going to sound strange if I try to say

  • Yesterday last year
  • Every day last year
  • Tomorrow last year

So it works well to leave off the words that refer to time when you are changing the tense:

Last year I got a new phone for my birthday.

Every day last year I GET a new phone for my birthday.     

Tomorrow last year I WILL GET a new phone for my birthday.

So the verb in that sentence is got.                

Bottom Line on How to Find Verbs

Although most of us can use verbs accurately, when asked to find the verb in a sentence, we sometimes get confused.  The time trick will do the trick every time.  (I heard that groan).

We cover another aspect of verbs in our blog post on predicates.

You might run into someone who claims that chew is a verb. They are partially correct. Maybe I should buy Zucchini a chew toy.

Let’s not confuse parts of speech with how a word functions in a sentence.

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