Finite verbs are central to a clause and therefore to sentences. The finite verbs are the element that express what is happening in a sentence and locate it in time (tense).


In broad terms the tense will be past, present or future, for example ‘Sarah laughed’, ‘Sarah laughs’, ‘Sarah will laugh’. Tense should be consistently used in texts, that is, if a sentence starts in the past tense it should end in the past tense. However, different tenses can be used in one sentence if there is a specific time shift, for example, He was late and I will get the blame because I gave him the wrong directions.

Verb form

Participles (present participles ending in –ing or past participles such as seen and done) do not locate a verb in time and in standard Australian English they need a finite component to indicate when the event happens. For example, the participle running needs the finite auxiliaries was running (past), is running (present), will be running (future) to indicate when the running occurred. Similarly, although done is a past participle, it can be used with a future tense auxiliary, ‘It will be done later.’ Point out that the verbs to do and to see are irregular verbs because the past tense (did or saw) is not formed by adding –ed.

This distinction is difficult for students who speak Aboriginal English or a working class dialect where it is normal to say, He done it and I seen it with me own eyes instead of He did it and I saw it with my own eyes.

NB: Participles ending in –ing without auxiliaries can be used as adjectives and be participants in sentences, for example, She was a cleaning lady. Cleaning was her job.

Verbs occur both as single words and as verb groups. Verb groups can contain two or more verbs and are sometimes called complex/compound verbs. They can also include non–finite verbs (for example, to jump in ‘is going to jump’).


Students in Kindergarten can begin using terms such as verb, action verb, thinking verb, saying verb, past present and future to describe language. Terms can be modified to suit the cognitive development of students. For example ‘auxiliary verbs’ can be referred to as ‘helping verbs’. They help with telling when something happened!

For example:

  • she has arrived = arrived is the main verb. Has is the auxiliary.
  • I am leaving = leaving is the main verb. Am is the auxiliary.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: develop text-based play boxes for action strategies to develop language

The play boxes should be based around a theme and contain a variety of tactile resources for acting out stories as well as fiction and factual picture books. Develop a set of questions for adults to use to develop students' spoken language while they are interacting with the play materials and books – make sure the questions range from concrete fact, (What did ...), to thinking about (What do you think is ...), to more analytical (Why do you think she ...) and beyond the here and now (What do you think would happen if ...). The resources might include puppets, dress ups for role play, small toys, building blocks or other appropriate play materials. Adults encourage students to talk like the characters in the books while they are playing.

Activity 2: encourage students to talk about picture posters or texts

Use open ended questions to get students to talk about how texts are worded. Get students to identify the verb by asking for example, What did crocodile do?” If students use the present tense in reply do not correct them but scaffold the next answer by saying, “Yes, he danced, and where did he dance?” This gives students the word they need to answer, “He danced around the fire.” If they only answer “around the fire”, then ask again, “What did he do?” to get the full answer.

Activity 3: encourage students to draw before they write

Drawing is a skill students bring to school and it assists them to make the transition to the new skill of writing if it is based on their current skills of drawing and talking. Kindergarten students who are reluctant to write are often willing to draw a picture. Students can then be encouraged to tell someone about their picture and will be willing to write that down. The picture also reminds students about what they want to write. Asking students questions about what is happening in their picture can help them to identify more interesting verbs and asking when it happened, or when it will happen, can assist students to use a variety of tenses. Teachers can model this by drawing a picture of what they did last weekend and writing a sentence in the past tense or draw a picture of what they will do next week and model a sentence in the future tense.

Activity 4: use sentence maker strips

While students are writing their stories you can provide them with basic words on strips of card. Have these words available for students in their own tote tray or in labelled pockets on a wall hanging. Students select the words they want to use and place them in order on card holders (like bigger versions of those used to hold scrabble tiles). They can then read the sentence to see if it makes sense before they write it down.

If students tend to use irregular participles like 'seen' and 'done' without auxiliaries, avoid the use of the spoken version by always including the auxiliary, for example, has seen/ have seen on the same card and providing the simple past tense saw as an alternative. Regular verbs can be written on one card and the possible endings for different tenses or verb agreement can be separate, for example, jump/ s/ ed/ ing as well as the separate auxiliary verbs.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1435: Recognise that sentences are key units for expressing ideas.

ACELA1428: Explore how language is used differently at home and school depending on the relationships between people

NSW syllabus

ENe-9B: Demonstrates developing skills and knowledge in grammar, punctuation and vocabulary when responding to and composing texts

Teacher resources

Auxiliary verbs

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