The next Part-of-Speech called up before Judge Grammar, to give an account of himself, was Dr. Verb.
Three Kinds of Verbs

He came bustling up with an air of great importance.

"My lord, my name' is Verb. I am called Verb because verb means word, and the verb is the most important word, the word, in fact, in every sentence."

"The most important word!" cried Mr. Noun, interrupting him. "My lord, he says the verb is the most important word in every sentence! Why, Dr. Verb, you know that you cannot give the name of a single thing, for all names are nouns, and belong to me. The verb the most important word, indeed, when I have the name of everything!"

"I know that," answered Dr. Verb, "I know very well that when people want to name a thing they must use a noun. But do you suppose that when they have simply named a thing they have made a sentence? Not a bit of it. To make a sentence you must tell something about the thing that you have named; you must say whether it is or has or does anything, as: 'Ice is cold,' 'Puss has a tail,' 'Blackbirds sing.' Is, has, sing, are verbs, and so are all words that speak of being, having, or doing, and without some such word you cannot make a sentence."

"You think so, Dr. Verb," said the Judge, "but I should like it to be proved. Brother Parsing, just call some of the other Parts-of-Speech forward, and let them try to make a sentence without Dr. Verb."

"I will, my lord," answered Serjeant Parsing. "Noun, Adjective, and Article, be kind enough to step forward, and each of you give me a word."

"Sun," said Mr. Noun.

"Bright," said Adjective.

"The," said little Article.

"Very good," said Serjeant Parsing, "now I will put them together; 'sun bright the;' 'the bright sun;' 'the sun bright.' They do not seem to make quite a proper sentence, my lord, anyway."

"Of course, not," said Dr. Verb, interrupting; "for when you say 'the bright sun," which sounds the best of the three ways, you still have not made a sentence, for you have not said whether the bright sun is shining, or is not shining, or whether you can see it, or what it does. 'The sun bright' of course is nonsense; but say the sun is bright, and then you tell a fact about the sun, and you have made a sentence fit to set before the king."

"You had better try Mr. Noun again, Brother Parsing," said Judge Grammar. "Perhaps he can give you a more convenient word."

Serjeant Parsing turned again to Mr. Noun, and asked for another word.

"Hippopotamus" answered Mr. Noun. Mr. Adjective gave fat.

"Now, little Article, give me a" said Serjeant Parsing, "and I will put them together. 'Hippopotamus fat a;' 'a fat hippopotamus;' 'a hippopotamus fat.' H'm! it sounds odd."

"'A fat hippopotamus' does not sound wrong," put in Mr. Noun.

"Not wrong, of course," answered Dr. Verb. "You may mention a fat hippopotamus, if you like, or any other animal, but unless you tell something about it you have not made a sentence. Say that it is, or has, or did something, if you want to make a sentence; like 'a fat hippopotamus is here;' or 'a hippopotamus has a fat body;' or, 'a hippopotamus ate me up,' or, 'swam away,' or something of that sort. Then you will have some famous sentences, but you will have had to use verbs to make them, for is, has, ate, swam, are all verbs, for they are all words that speak of being, having, or doing."

"How can we always find out if a word is a verb?" asked Serjeant Parsing.

"It is sure to be a verb if you can put a little to before it," answered Dr. Verb; "to be, to have, to do, to eat, to drink, to swim, to fly, to speak, to think, to run, to dance, to play, to sing, to sleep, to wake, to laugh, to cry, to call, to fall;" and Dr. Verb stopped, quite out of breath.

"That sounds very easy," said Serjeant Parsing. "Let me try it with the words that you said were verbs; to is, to has, to ate, to swam."

"Stop, stop," cried Dr. Verb; "not like that. You must not put to before any part of the verb you like. Is is part of the verb to be, has is part of the verb to have."

"Is, part of the verb to be?" said Serjeant Parsing. "What do you mean? why, the two words have not a single letter alike."

"True; but still they mean the same sort of thing. When a countryman says 'he be a brave lad,' he means the same thing as 'he is a brave lad;' or when he says, 'I be too tired,' he means, "I am too tired.' Is and am ought to be used according to the laws of Grammar-land instead of be, but as they both express something about being they are said to be parts of the verb to be. In the same way has is part of the verb to have, ate is part of the verb to eat, and swam is part of the verb to swim.

"That is very learned, I daresay," said Serjeant Parsing, "but will you kindly tell us, Dr. Verb, how we are to guess that am, or any other word that has neither a b nor an e in it, is part of the verb to be?"

"You cannot guess, of course," retorted Dr. Verb, sharply. "I never said you were to guess. You must use your reason, to find out whether they have the same sort of meaning. Or if you like it better, learn the song that Mr. Pronoun and I have made up, to bring in all the different parts of the verb."

"A song?" said Judge Grammar, in surprise. "I did not know that you could sing, Dr. Verb; but let us hear your song, by all means."

"If you will not interrupt me, my lord, I will give you three verses of it," answered Dr. Verb.

"No, we will not interrupt," said the Judge.

So Dr. Verb began:

When he had finished, everyone burst out laughing.

"And you call that singing, do you, Dr. Verb?" said the Judge.

"Dr. Syntax, there, calls it conjugating, I believe," said Dr. Verb; "but I think singing is a prettier and easier name for it."

"But it is not a song at all," said the Judge, nearly laughing again; "there is no tune in it, and no rhyme."

"It is the best that Pronoun and I could make alone," said Dr. Verb, angrily. "But it can be easily made to rhyme if the other Parts-of-Speech will help. Listen.


I am an Englishman merry and bold,

Thou art a foreigner out in the cold,

He is a beggar-man hungry and old;

We are not happy to see you out there,

You are too snug and warm ever to care,

They are at home with us now, I declare."

"That will do," interrupted the Judge; "we do not want to hear any more today. Another day I shall want to know what you mean by calling the verses Present Tense, Past Tense, and Future Tense—why you have just six of your words in each tense,—and whether other verbs can be conjugated in the same way."

"I can answer at once that they can, my lord," said Dr. Verb. "Indeed, very few verbs change as much as the verb to be, so that they are all easier to conjugate; as, I have, thou hast, he has; we have, you have, they have. I live, thou livest, he lives; we live, you live, they live."

"Enough for today, Dr. Verb," interrupted the Judge once more; "we will hear about them next time. Meanwhile, as we shall have further examination of this verb to be, I should like my friends in Schoolroom-shire to make a copy of it, to bring with them. I shall also request them to find out all the verbs in my verse.

The court then rose.

You may find the Judge's verse for finding verbs in the Lesson Guide.


Over the two weeks:

  • Read or review the lesson each week.
  • Complete the assigned enrichment activities for each week.


Meet Dr. Verb, a self-important, bustling sort, who quarrels with the rich Mr. Noun over who is the most important. A verb is a word that indicates an action, event, or state. Examples include speak, run, think, kick, and smile.


Activity - Week 1: Find the verbs

Find the verbs in the following verse for the Judge of Grammar-land.

  • 'Sit to your task,' a father said,
  • 'Nor play nor trifle, laugh nor talk,
  • And when your lesson well is read,
  • You all shall have a pleasant walk.'
  • He left the room, the boys sat still,
  • Each gravely bent upon his task,
  • But soon the youngest, little Will,
  • Of fun and nonsense chose to ask.
  • 'My ball is lost,' the prattler cried,
  • 'Have either of you seen my ball?'
  • 'Pray mind your book,' young Charles replied.
  • 'Your noisy words disturb us all.'

Activity - Week 2 Part 1: Play the 'Guess That Verb' Game

Play the game with your instructor and classmates.

  • The person who is 'it' acts out a secret verb, without speaking or making any noise.
  • The person who correctly guesses the secret verb will be 'it' next.
  • Continue playing until all have had a turn to be 'it.'

Activity - Week 2 Part 2: Find the verbs

Find the verbs in the following sentences:

  • Vesuvius erupted in 1906.
  • The explosion blew away part of the mountain.
  • It threw red-hot rocks into the air.
  • The earth rocked and trembled.
  • Lightning flashed and flames roared.
  • A great crack opened down the side of Vesuvius.
  • Lava flowed down the mountain slopes.
  • It buried houses and vineyards.
  • People hastened to places of safety.
  • They piled their belongings on the backs of dogs and donkeys.
  • The animals staggered under their loads.
  • Some people wept and wrung their hands.
  • Others knelt and prayed.
  • Trains carried some of them to Naples.
  • Others embarked in the Capri boat.
  • The dust blinded the sailors.
  • The gases smothered them.
  • They fell, half sick, on the decks.
  • Ashes and dust covered everything.
  • The roof of a building in Naples fell in and killed many people.
  • At last the eruption ceased.
  • The mountain grew quieter.
  • The smoke lessened in volume.
  • The king came from Rome and helped the people.