Verb Identification Definition and Exercises


Parts of a Sentence

A sentence needs two minimum grammatical components:

A subject and a verb. 

So far so good. But what exactly is a verb?

Common definition:  A verb shows action or a state of being

Most everyone agrees on the above definition, but is it a helpful one?

Consider the following sentence:

Sample sentence: Taking dangerous risks seems to frighten most hardworking people.

Which words are action words? Well, let’s underline the ones that show or imply some action.

Possible action words: Taking dangerous risks seems to frighten most 
 hardworking people.

You may argue, and with reason, that not all of these words indicate action to you. But even if you only see taking and hardworking as action words, you still won't be able to find a verb--because the verb in this sentence is not an action word at all. Nor is it clearly a state of being. And anyway, what exactly is a state of being? It’s tough to define. So how do you find a verb?

A Working Definition of Verbs
Verbs always tell the time (also called the tense) of the sentence.

The easiest way to find a verb in a sentence is to change the time of the sentence and find the word that changes.

How do you do this? 
  1. Well, choose some time words for the past and future, such as "Last year" or "In the past" or "Next year" or "In the future." 
  2. Then put them in front of the sentence you are trying to find the verb in and see which word changes.

Let's take our previous sentence:

(Last year) Taking dangerous risks seems to frighten most hardworking people.

It doesn't look right or sound right. Seems would have to change to seemed.That means that seems is the verb in the sentence because it's the word that carries or indicates the time.

** Important Note: Verbs are sometimes action words, but the problem is that lots of words can show action, such as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.  And verbs don't always show action. Seems is not an action word.

So the action rule is not a helpful one as you identify verbs. 

* Important note: You will notice that some verbs seem to consist of two words:  
 Example: I am hoping to change jobs soon.
The complete verb is "am hoping" but the important verb to look for is the part that carries the time of the sentence.  

A (verb + ing) is never a main verb in a sentence all by itself. A (to + verb) is never the main verb in the sentence.


Exercise 1: Identifying Verbs

Change the following sentences to the future or past to find the word. If you try past, and the word doesn't change, then the sentence may already be in the past, so the verb won't change. Then try the future.


 (will take)
(Next year) I took a big risk in applying for a new job in the same company. 

Took would change to will take so took is the verb.
(In the past) I never want to see that look on her face again. 

Want would change to wanted so want is the verb.

  1. We hear a lot of talk about the American melting pot.
  2. Here, in our current neighborhood, it exists.
  3. But in other neighborhoods, people raised their children to reject their cultures.
  4. The newspapers are full of stories about hatred and violence.
  5. The old immigrants have suspicions about the new immigrants.
  6. The new immigrants think that the old ones are bigots.
  7. In our first neighborhood, I lived near a lot of old Italians.
  8. They complained about the other groups living in the area.
  9. They never blamed me for anything.
  10. They liked me. So I was not one of "the others."

Exercise 2: Finding Verbs

Read the following paragraph, then go back to read it again and underline the verbs. Some sentences will have more than one verb.

Cartoon superheroes are made up of a number of common traits. They have extraordinary powers and abilities. They vary greatly, but superhuman strength, the ability to fly and the ability to project energy are often common. Batman and Green Hornet possess no superpowers but they know martial arts. Most superheroes risk their own safety in the service of good. Many refuse to kill an opponent, even though they threaten the safety of others. Many superheroes use a descriptive or symbolic code name. A supporting cast of characters includes the hero’s friends and family. Superheroes often have a secret headquarters or base. Female characters include the Invisible Woman, Black Canary and Raven. Some examples of non-Caucasian characters are the Black Panther, Shang Chi and Cyborg. 

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