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    Common mistakes

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Starter Level Advice

Verbs - Main verbs

Every sentence must have a main verb.

You must identify it, to ensure you get important things right in your sentences.

Where a sentence has only one verb, that is the main one.

The main verb is in bold and the subject is underlined.
This book is helpful.

Sometimes a verb is made up of more than one word (e.g. were going). The main verb can consist of more than one word.

The main verb is in bold and the subject is underlined.
He was reading the book.

They had been reading the books.

Where a sentence has more than one verb, the main verb:

  • refers to the subject of the sentence
  • could stand alone (Parrott, 2000)
  • shows the main action, feeling, or state of being (Parrott, 2000) - any other verbs in the sentence add to it.
Identifying the main verb in long sentences can be a bit more difficult, but stick with this. It is really important.

The sentence below has only one verb, so it is the main one. The subject is underlined and the verb is in bold.
Because of their interests in sports and leisure activities, students like to have a range of facilities in or near the university of their choice.

The sentence below has several verbs. The subject of the sentence is highlighted, the main verb is in bold, and other verbs are underlined.
Many full-time students, some of whom are older and have families, have part-time jobs, although they may also have loans.

The main part of the sentence (which could stand alone) is ...
Many full-time students ... have part-time jobs

© Learning & Teaching Institute, Sheffield Hallam University 2004