Recognize a verb when you find one.
Consider this subject, for instance:
My grumpy old English teacher
It is a stalled idea until we add a verb:
My grumpy old English teacher smiled at the plate of cold meatloaf.
Do you see how the verb smiled gets the idea moving toward the destination that the writer has in mind? Here are more examples:
The daredevil cockroach splashed into Sara's soup.
The daredevil cockroach = subject; splashed = verb.
Theo's overworked computer exploded in a spray of sparks.
Theo's overworked computer = subject; exploded = verb.
The curious toddler popped a grasshopper into her mouth.
The curious toddler = subject; popped = verb.
Francisco's comic book collection is worth $20,000.00.
Francisco's comic book collection = subject; is = verb.
Consider word function when you are searching for the verb.
Read these three examples:
The crunch factor of this brand of potato chips is intense.
The crunch of the potato chips drew the angry eyes of Professor Orsini to our corner of the room.
Potato chips crunch too loudly to eat during an exam.
In the first sentence, crunch is a modifier describing factor.
Crunch can also be a noun. The crunch of the potato chips, for example, is a thing, a sound that we hear.
Finally, crunch is something that we can do. We can crunch cockroaches under our shoes. We can crunch popcorn during a movie. We can crunch numbers for a math class. In the third sentence, then, crunch is what the potato chips do, so we call it a verb.
You therefore need to analyze the function that a word provides in a sentence before you determine what grammatical name to give that word.
Recognize an action verb when you find one.
Dance! Sing! Paint! Giggle! Chew! What are these words doing? They are expressing action, something that a person, animal, force of nature, or thing can do. As a result, we call these words action verbs.
Here are examples:
Clyde sneezes with the force of a tornado.
Sneezing is something that Clyde can do.
Because of the spoiled mayonnaise, Ricky vomited potato salad all day.
Vomiting is something that Ricky can do—although he might not enjoy it.
Sylvia always winks at cute guys driving hot cars.
Winking is something that Sylvia can do.
The telephone rang with shrill, annoying cries.
Ringing is something that the telephone can do.
Thunder boomed in the distance, sending my poor dog scrambling under the bed.
Booming is something that thunder can do.
If you are unsure whether a sentence contains an action verb or not, consider every individual word in the sentence and ask yourself, "Is this something that a person or thing can do?"
Take this sentence, for example:
Every August, my poodle constantly pants and drools.
Can you every? Is everying something that you can do? Can you August? Is there someone Augusting outside the window right now? Can you my? What does a person do when she is mying? Can you poodle? Show me what poodling is. Can you pant? Bingo! Sure you can! Run five miles, and we will hear you panting. Can you and? Of course not! But can you drool? You bet—although we do not need a demonstration at this time!
In the sentence above, therefore, you have two action verbs: pant and drool.
Recognize a linking verb when you find one.
Read the examples below:
Mario is a computer hacker.
Ising is not something that Mario can do. Is connects the subject, Mario, to additional information about him, that he will soon have the FBI on his tail!
During bad storms, trailer parks are often magnets for tornadoes.
Areing is not something that trailer parks can do. Are is simply connecting the subject, trailer parks, to something said about them, that they tend to attract tornadoes.
After receiving another failing grade in algebra, Jose became depressed.
Became connects the subject, Jose, to something said about him, that he was not happy.
A three-mile run seems like a marathon during a hot, humid July afternoon.
Seems connects the subject, a three-mile run, with additional information, that exercise is more arduous depending on the day and time.
At restaurants, Rami always feels angry after waiting an hour for a poor meal.
Feels connects the subject, Rami, to his state of being, anger.
The following verbs are true linking verbs: any form of the verb be (am, were, has been, are being, might have been, etc.), become, and seem. These true linking verbs are always linking verbs.
Then you have a list of verbs with split personalities: appear, feel, grow, look, prove, remain, smell, sound, taste, and turn. Sometimes these verbs are linking verbs; sometimes they are action verbs. Their function in a sentence determines what you should call them.
How do you tell when these words are action verbs and when they are linking verbs? If you can substitute am, is, or are for the verb and the sentence still sounds logical, you have a linking verb on your hands. But if, after the substitution, the sentence makes no sense, you are dealing with an action verb.
Here are examples:
Chris tastes the crunchy, honey-roasted grasshopper.
Chris is the grasshopper? No way! In this sentence, tastes is an action verb.
The crunchy, honey-roasted grasshopper tastes good.
The grasshopper is good? You bet. Roast your own!
I smell the delicious aroma of grilled octopus.
I am the delicious aroma? Not the last time I checked. Smell, in this sentence, is an action verb.
The grilled octopus smells appetizing.
The octopus is appetizing? Definitely! Come take a whiff!
Convinced of their formidable intelligence, the students will prove the theorem that Professor Lambeau posted on the whiteboard.
The students are the theorem? Of course not! Here, will prove is an action verb.
The theorem proved too difficult for the students to solve.
The theorem is too difficult? Without a doubt! Try the math yourself.
This substitution will not work for appear. With this verb, you must analyze its function in the sentence.
Godzilla appeared in the doorway, spooking me badly.
Notice that is would sound good: Godzilla is in the doorway. But here appear is what Godzilla is doing (whether you want him to or not), making this appear an action verb.
Godzilla appeared happy to find me.
Here, appeared is connecting the subject, Godzilla, to his state of mind, happiness.
Realize that a verb can have more than one part.
Consider these examples:
Harvey spilled chocolate milkshake on Leslie's new dress.
Spilled = 1-part verb.
Because Harvey is a klutz, he is always spilling something.
Is spilling = 2-part verb (always is an adverb interrupting the two parts).
Harvey might have spilled the chocolate milkshake because the short dress distracted him.
Might have spilled = 3-part verb.
Harvey should have been spilling the chocolate milkshake down his throat.
Should have been spilling = 4-part verb.
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