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Main Verb

Term Definition
Main Verb

In English grammar, a main verb is any verb in a sentence that is not an auxiliary verb. Also known as a principal verb. A main verb (also known as a lexical verb or full verb) carries the meaning in a verb phrase. A main verb is sometimes preceded by one or more auxiliary verbs (also known as helping verbs).

Describes the main action

Main verbs describe the primary action in a sentence.

"Are you curious to know about the part of grammar called the main verb?"

"If you answered yes to that question, then by all means, continue reading this glossary entry. "

In the previous sentence, "answered" and "reading" would each be a main verb. This is because they describe the main action taking place within the sentence. The main verb sometimes stands alone, and sometimes it has an auxiliary verb helping it

However, the main verb can be easily identified as the single verb within a clause that is really saying what is happening within a given sentence. 

Learning to use a main verb

Here is an example of the main verb being used correctly within a sentence. 

"The man was eating dinner when the doorbell rang; he was curious about this, because he wasn't expecting any guests." 

In this sentence, eating, rang, was, and expecting are all main verbs that are being used in a grammatically correct way.

Now, here is an example of the main verb being used incorrectly

"The man goed outside to get a meal, because he was being hungry and his refrigerator was being empty."

In this sentence, goed, being, and being are all main verbs that have been conjugated in a grammatically improper fashion. 

For your reference, here are a couple rules you can follow in order to make sure you're making effective use of the main verb. 

  1. The main verb is always the verb that is signifying action within a given clause. For example, in the phrase "would have been running", running is the main verb, because it is the verb that signifies a real action of some kind. The others in the phrase are just helping verbs that enable to main verb to properly express its meaning. 
  2. There can be more than one main verb within a sentence, depending on the complexity of the sentence. In general, there is only one main verb per clause; but if a sentence has multiple clauses and subjects, then each of those subjects could have its own main verb. Again, you just have to ask yourself: what action is taking place here? 

Main Verb - The traditional action

The main verb essentially fulfills the traditional role of the verb as students of English ordinarily learn it: it simply expresses a given action. Obviously, this is a fundamental purpose of language itself, to the point that it is not even possible to construct a coherent, complete sentence without including a main verb within it. Dependent clauses are examples of incomplete sentences. Even the simplest sentences possible, such as "I was happy", include a main verb. It is simply not possible to express a meaningful thought in language without using or at least implying a main verb, or a subject that is engaged in some action (even if that action is just being). 

If there is only one verb in a sentence, then it is by definition the main verb. The reason the concept of the main verb is even relevant is the fact that a given clause can often contain numerous helping verbs, which makes it necessary to distinguish between these and the main verb. In English, for example, the past tense and the future tense are both essentially constructed by linking helping verbs (in particular, forms of the verbs have and be) to the main verb in order to conjugate the verb into the correct tense. 

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Synonyms: main-verb

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