When Are We Doing Something? – Parts of Speech: the Verb

By Jacqueline Schaalje

dogWhen are we doing something? Will Keightley

This lesson is on request.

Parts of speech is the name for the different functions that words can have in a sentence.

For example, book can be a thing (noun) or an action (to book a room; book is a verb).

But if we take the word decide, this can only be a verb. And decision can only be a noun. But decided can be a verb or an adjective.

If you know all this stuff already, you can test your knowledge in this quiz.

children playingSukanto Debnath

Why is it important to learn parts of speech?

It’s important because you’ll learn how to recognize what words do in a sentence and you’ll learn more about the structure of English sentences. This will make you a better speaker and writer, and it can increase your vocabulary.

In this article I’ll talk about verbs.

English sentences have to have a verb.


At least one verb.

A verb describes an action (something that is done):

The children played outside.

Played = the verb.

But it can also create a situation:

I’m a teacher.

Am = the verb.

Note: have, has, had, am, is, are, was, were are all verbs. Some English learners think they aren’t verbs, but they are!

Can there be more than one verb in the sentence?

Yes, there can.

There are two possible situations:

A There is a main verb and a helping verb, or auxiliary verb.

For example: are looking.

When you use are looking, are is the auxiliary verb and looking is the main verb.

The main verb will carry the meaning, whereas the auxiliary verb is needed to make the tense (= what time the verbs are in: present progressive, future perfect, past perfect, whatever). Also passives are made with auxiliary verbs in English.

Here are some more examples of auxiliary verbs and main verbs in sentences:

1 He’s answering your question now.

Auxiliary verb: is

Main verb: answering

2 I would have liked to speak to you before the meeting.

Auxiliary verbs: would have

Main verbs: like to speak

3 That would have been better.

Auxiliary verbs: would have

Main verbs: been

As you can see, there are several combinations of auxiliary verbs and main verbs possible. It depends on the tense and whether you use modals (can, may, must, etc.) how many auxiliary verbs there are. Some main verbs can be combined so that more than two different verbs are used.

Note, as you can see from sentence 3, forms of to be can be the main verb or they can be an auxiliary verb. The rule is: if the form of “be” is the last verb in a combination, it’s the main verb.

B The second situation when there can be more than one verb is when a sentence is a combination of two sentences. This is called compound or complex sentences. These sentences will have more than one subject, and they need verbs for each subject. Click here to read more about compound and complex sentences.

Here are some examples of such longer sentences with more than one subject, and consequently also with more than one verb:

1 In case you get thirsty, take a bottle of water with you.

Verbs: get take

2 The first time they met, they were just staring at each other wordlessly.

Verbs: met were staring

3 After he came back from the dentist’s office, he treated himself to a nice cup of coffee with sticky cake.

Verbs: came treated

4 Natalie was the first to paint her nails in wild colours, but it didn’t take long before her friends followed.

Verbs: was did take followed (There’s a combination of three sentences here.)

Now try this yourself in a quiz!


Type all the verbs you can find in the following sentences.


This following is a true story (names have been changed) about someone trying to break into a house.

Verbs: is trying to break

Please include “to,” as it’s part of the verb.

burglaryChris Yarzab

Click here to do this quiz online.  

The Big Summer Burglary that Didn’t Happen

Guy put his smiling face on Facebook, taken in the plane as he was flying to a holiday in Thailand.

He was the son of an importer of high-end stereo equipment made in Japan, and Guy had a lot of this stuff in his flat.

While he was in Thailand, Guy’s friend Micky was looking after his apartment.

At 11 in the morning, Micky was just drying himself off in the shower when he heard a strange noise.

The sound seemed to come from outside, so Guy quickly put something on and looked through the window of the living room.

To his shock, a man was hanging onto the kitchen window.

Micky had never seen a real person look so much like Spiderman!

The strange man was using a knife with which he was trying to pry the window open.

Trying to make no noise, Micky ran to the kitchen and pushed open the window.

He gave the strange man a good shove.

When he closed the window, he saw the man on the ground, three floors down, limping away.

When Micky called the police, he told them to look for a limping man.

Later the police phoned him back to tell him they’d arrested the man, who had already been to prison for armed robberies.

Yeah, that story was pretty scary, wasn’t it?

Want to do more quizzes?

You can order more here.

Read more about nouns, another part of speech.

Read more about adjectives.

One thought on “When Are We Doing Something? – Parts of Speech: the Verb

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