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In this lesson, we will review the definition of a verb and different verb phrases.

Then, we’ll look at a few examples to help differentiate between the main verb and auxiliary verbs.

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What Is a Verb?

A verb is arguably one of the most important parts of any sentence. Without it, the sentence would have no purpose. A verb is the word that expresses an action, condition, or state of being. To find the verb in any sentence, just ask, ‘What is the subject doing?’ The answer will be the verb.

Look at some examples:

  • I ate an apple this morning.

In this sentence, what did the subject, ‘I,’ do? Well, the sentence says I ‘ate,’ so ‘ate’ is the verb in that sentence. Let’s look at another one.

  • My sister eats a banana every day.

In this one, what is the subject, ‘sister,’ doing? My sister ‘eats,’ so ‘eats’ is the verb in that sentence.

Verb Phrases

Not all sentences are as simple as the examples listed above.

In fact, most of the time, you use much more complex words to express specific situations. Let’s look at another example.

  • I should eat an apple every morning.

This sentence is very similar to our first example. Both sentences discuss eating apples in the morning.

However, there is one important difference. Do you see which word is added to this sentence that makes it different than the first? The word ‘should’ is placed in front of the verb ‘eat.’ ‘Should’ is then considered part of the verb.

‘Should eat’ is a verb phrase. A verb phrase consists of two or more verbs linked together.

Main Verbs

Let’s take a second look at that last example.

  • I should eat an apple every morning.

You have already seen how this sentence has more than one verb. It has the verb phrase ‘should eat.

‘ When you have a verb phrase, it is important to be able to identify which is the main verb. The main verb is the verb which cannot be removed from the sentence. If it is removed, the sentence loses all meaning. Look at the sentence. Let’s remove the word ‘should.

  • I eat an apple every morning.

Does this sentence still make sense? Yes, it certainly does. Now remove the word ‘eat’ instead of ‘should.

  • I should an apple every morning.

Does it make sense now? Of course not. If you said this to someone, that person would ask, ‘You should what?’ Thus, for this sentence, ‘eat’ is the main verb. The sentence loses all meaning if the verb ‘eat’ is removed.

Auxiliary Verbs

So we have determined how to identify the main verb in any sentence. But what about the other verbs attached to a main verb? Those are called auxiliary verbs, or helping verbs. Auxiliary verbs help the main verb express shades of meaning or time.

Look at this pair of sentences:

  • My sister eats a banana every day.
  • My brother should eat a banana every day.

In the first sentence, what is the verb? ‘Eats.’ The second sentence has a verb phrase, ‘should eat.’ In that sentence, the main verb is, again, ‘eat,’ and the auxiliary verb is ‘should.’So what’s the point of adding auxiliary verbs? Look at the difference in the meaning between the two sentences. My sister eats a banana every day.

She does that action every day. But does my brother? No, he does not eat a banana every day, but he ‘should.’ So the auxiliary verb ‘should’ explains that my brother does not eat a banana every day. It gives a different shade of meaning to the verb ‘eat.’ Let’s look at an example to show how an auxiliary verb can help express time.

  • My father works every day.

  • My mother will go to work tomorrow.

What is the action in the first sentence? ‘Works.’ Is there a verb phrase? No, there is only one verb. What about the second sentence? Here you have the verb phrase ‘will go.’ Which is the main verb? Look for the word you cannot remove from the sentence. If you remove ‘will,’ then it reads:

  • My mother go to work tomorrow.

Grammatically, you have to change ‘go’ to ‘goes,’ but the message is the same. On the other hand, if you remove ‘go,’ then you have:

  • My mother will to work tomorrow.

The sentence makes no sense. Thus, the main verb is ‘go,’ and the helping verb is ‘will.

‘ Lastly, look at the difference in meaning. Is the father at work today? Yes. Will he go again tomorrow? Yes. Is the mother at work today? No, she isn’t.

She won’t go to work until tomorrow. This is an example of the helping verb ‘will’ changing the action into something that will happen in the future. This example demonstrates how an auxiliary verb can help express time.

Lesson Summary

A verb expresses the action, condition, or state of being in every sentence. Many sentences have more complex meanings and thus use verb phrases to express those different meanings.

An auxiliary verb is attached to the main verb to help express the different shades of meanings and time.

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