Finding Verbs Using the Tense Trick


Zucchini loves to chew your slippers.

How do you find the verb? You look for the action word. Zuchini chews slippers, so chew must be the verb.

To Find Verbs We Must Know the Three Things a Verb Must Do

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 one or more than one. 
  • The third one is to tell time?we call this verb tense. 

When asked to identify the verb in a sentence, the action part of a sentence often leads to confusion.  That is because a sentence can have more than one action:  chewing is an action.  But so is loving.  So which is it?

The Trick to Finding Verbs

If you know the trick, finding the verb is easy.  Instead of the function of showing an action, we use the function for indicating whether something happened in the past or will happen in the future.  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 chew, it will not sound right.

Yesterday Zucchini loves CHEWED my shoes.


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.   

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

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

One More Thing for Finding Verbs

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.                

Finding Verbs–Bottom Line

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).

And if you know a kid who is being tortured by their teacher to identify parts of speech, this technique will come in handy.

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