If you are a parent of a child in primary school, you will probably be becoming aware of the increased focus on grammar and punctuation contained in the new National Curriculum. Your child’s school may have provided information about the new English grammar, punctuation and spelling tests which Year 2 and Year 6 children will be taking next summer. Depending upon when and where you went to school, you may find the information coming from school (and the terminology being used by your child) challenging.

Whether you are bewildered by the terminology used or just want to know a little more to support your child, I hope you will find this blog useful. You can click on the Parent’s Start Page to link to information about different areas of grammar and punctuation. Alternatively, enter a term in the search bar or click on a word in the cloud of labels. If you have further queries, get in touch and I will try to help where I can. You can also follow me on Twitter @grammarpuss13.

Friday, 13 November 2015

What is a verb/verb phrase?

Sentences in English are all about the verb: they are the ‘workhorse’ words of the sentence and tell us not only what is happening, but provide important information about when it happened and what sort of sentence type is being used.  They are so important that, to be called a sentence in English, a verb must be present.

Verbs fill the verb slot in a sentence, which usually follows the subject (although sometimes we change the word order in a sentence to create different effects).

Although in the majority of verbs describe an action, we must be careful not to use 'doing word’ with children to describe the verb, because it could also be a 'being' or 'having' word.  Let’s look at some sentences to consider these differences:
  • The dog ran in the park.
  • The boy jumps in the puddle.
  • Mum drove to the shops.

The verbs in the above sentences all involve some sort of action and, in children’s minds, these are words which describe something being ‘done’.  They will often refer to these verbs as ‘doing’ words.  ‘Doing verbs’ is a better term.
  • The princess was happy.
  • Dad is in the garden.
  • She seems cheerful.
  • I feel hungry.

If children are used to using the term ‘doing word’ and you ask them where the verbs are in the sentences above, they will struggle.  They do not see forms of the verb ‘be’ (e.g. am, is, are, was, were) and other verbs such as ‘seem’ or ‘feel’ as an action, or something that is ‘done’.  They will often say that the verb is ‘happy’ or ‘hungry’.
  • I have a headache.
  • She owns a pony.

These verbs are also difficult to see as ‘doing’ words.  A better term is ‘having verbs’.

So, when starting to talk about verbs with children, it’s better to use the terminology ‘doing verb’ (e.g. jump, run, cook, drive), ‘being verb’ (e.g. am, is, are, was, were, seem, feel) or ‘having verb’ (e.g. has, have, had, own). 

Verbs are used in many different forms and tenses, some of which are listed below against a sentence exemplifying their use.  Children will learn the terminology for these forms at different points in their primary education, but they will already be using many of these in their everyday speech and writing. 
  • The dog runs in the park.   (Present simple)
  • The dog ran in the park.   (Past simple)
  • The dog is running in the park.   (Present progressive)
  • The dog was running in the park.   (Past progressive)
  • The dog has run in the park.   (Present perfect)
  • The dog had run in the park.   (Past perfect)
  • Run in the park!   (Imperative form of the verb used in commands)
You will notice that some of these verbs consist of one word and some have two words. When a verb uses more than one word, we can call it a verb phrase.  The words are working together to fill the verb slot in the sentence.

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