A sentence is a group of words that expresses a complete thought. The heart of the sentence is the verb, which is the mover of the sentence. In order to be able to understand the written word clearly, and to express one's own thoughts in writing, a student must be able to identify and manipulate verbs.

Understanding Verbs and Auxiliary Verbs

A verb is a word that shows action or "state of being." Action words include words like "run," "dance," "draw" and "eat." Action verbs can be used in different tenses, so they may have an "-ed" or "-ing" ending. A "state-of-being" verb links the subject to the predicate nominative or predicate adjective. The list of state-of-being verbs is small and can be memorized for easy access. It includes "am," "is," "are," "was," "were," "be," "being" and "been." Finally, auxiliary or "helping" verbs come before main verbs to help them complete the thought in a sentence. Helping verbs include forms of "be," "have," "do," "may," "will" and "shall."

Finding Simple Predicates

Sentences are composed of subjects and predicates. The subject is the "doer" in a sentence, or what the sentence is about. A simple predicate is simply the main verb. Each sentence must have a main verb, and the easiest way to find it is to look for a word that shows action. If there is no action verb in the sentence, then the simple predicate will be a "state of being" verb. By memorizing the short list above, you can easily find this type of verb.

Finding Complete Predicates

The complete predicate contains the main verb and all of the words that describe the verb and make the sentence's meaning clear. The predicate is usually in the second half of the sentence. In the sentence "Maria and her mother walked down the street," the phrase "walked down the street" is the complete predicate. In general, the verb is the first word in the complete predicate, so finding the action or state-of-being verb first is the best technique. Complete predicates also include any helping verbs. In the sentence "He may be running in the marathon," the words "may" and "be" are helping verbs, while "running" is the main verb. If asked to find the complete predicate, you would say, "may be running in the marathon," because that includes the entire verb phrase and other modifiers.

Finding Verbs in Unusual Sentences

Finding the verbs in inverted sentences is more difficult; these include interrogative sentences and those that begin with "here" and "there." To find the verb in an interrogative, you need to flip the sentence around first: "Why are you running away from me?" becomes "You are running away from me." In this way, it is easy to see that "running" is the main verb. Sentences beginning with "here" and "there" are also inverted. The sentence "There are many bugs on the window sill" becomes "Many bugs are on the window sill." The linking verb "are" is easily found in this sentence.