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    Grammatical Forms of English Verb Phrases

    Grammatical Forms of English Verb Phrases

    A verb phrase is a phrase in which a verb functions as the head of the phrase plus any auxiliaries (modals, operators, perfects, progressives, passives), modifiers, complements, objects, particles, and determinatives. The six grammatical forms that appear within the internal structure of English verb phrases are:

    • Auxiliary verbs
    • P-words
    • Prepositional phrases
    • Verb phrases
    • Adverb phrases
    • Determiners

    The following sections define each of the five grammatical forms that form the internal structure of verb phrases as well as provide examples to illustrate use.

    Auxiliary Verbs

    Auxiliary verbs are the first grammatical form that appear within verb phrases in the English language. The seventeen auxiliary verbs in English are have, be, do; the nine modal verbs (can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would); and the five quasi-modal verbs (dare, had better/best, need, ought to, used to). Auxiliary verbs perform the grammatical functions of perfect, progressive, passive, operator, and modal within verb phrases. For example:

    • Progressive Auxiliary Verb | Verb
      is | thinking
    • Perfect Auxiliary Verb | Verb
      had | fallen
    • Passive Auxiliary Verb | Verb
      was | returned
    • Operator Auxiliary Verb | Verb
      did | cry
    • Modal Auxiliary Verb | Verb
      might | attend

    Auxiliary verbs always precede the main verb within a verb phrase. An intervening adverb such as not may separate the auxiliary verb from the main verb. Operator auxiliary verbs may appear only with the main verb. Progressive, perfect, passive, and modal auxiliary verb may appear with other progressive, perfect, passive, and modal auxiliary verbs. The order in which auxiliary verbs may appear together is Modal-Perfect-Passive-Progressive. For example:

    • Perfect | Progressive | Verb
      have | been | writing
    • Perfect | Passive | Verb
      had | been | stolen
    • Modal | Progressive | Verb
      should | be | showering
    • Modal | Passive | Verb
      might | be | adulterated
    • Modal | Perfect | Passive | Progressive | Verb
      must | have | been | being | cleaned

    P-words

    P-words are the second grammatical form that appear within verb phrases in the English language. P-words are defined as prepositions and adverbs that no longer perform prepositional or adverbial functions. P-words are function words, which are defined as words that perform definite grammatical functions but that lack definite lexical meaning. Within verb phrases, p-words function as infinitive markers and particles. An infinitive marker is a function words that distinguishes the base form from the infinitive form of an English verb. For example:

    P-word | Verb

    • to | bounce
    • to | sleep
    • to | diaper
    • to | launder

    P-words functioning as infinitive markers always precede the main verb.

    A particle is a function word that expresses a grammatical relationship with another word or words. The p-word of a phrasal verb functions as a particle. For example:

    Verb | P-word

    • jumble | up
    • nod | off
    • quiet | down
    • wade | through

    Verb | P-word | P-word

    • drop | in | on
    • hammer | away | at
    • kiss | up | to
    • lay | in | on

    P-words functioning as particles follow the main verb. Depending on the specific phrasal verb, the particle may separate from the verb. For a list of English phrasal verbs, check out the Phrasal Verb Dictionary.

    Prepositional Phrases

    Prepositional phrases are the third grammatical form that appear within verb phrases in the English language. Prepositions are words that “link to other words, phrases, and clauses” and that “express spatial or temporal relations.” A prepositional phrase is a phrase that consists of a preposition plus another word, phrase, or clause functioning as the prepositional complement. Prepositional phrases function as verb phrase complements within verb phrases. Verb phrase complements are words and phrases that complete the meaning of a verb or verb phrase. For example:

    Verb | Prepositional Phrase

    • abide | by the rules
    • cope | with the truth
    • dream | about my future
    • participate | in the discussion

    Prepositional phrases always follow the verb within a verb phrase. Verbs that take verb phrase complements in the form of prepositional phrases are referred to as prepositional verbs.

    Verb Phrases

    Verb phrases are the fourth grammatical form that appear within verb phrases in the English language. The infinitive or base form following some catenative verbs functions as a verb phrase complement. Catenative verbs form strings of verbs by linking the catenative verb to an infinitive, present participle, or base form of another verb within a single verb phrase. For example:

    Verb | Verb

    • come | play
    • go | work

    Verb | Infinitive

    • aim | to please
    • intend | to study
    • offer | to pay
    • refuse | to play nice

    As with prepositional phrases functioning as verb phrase complements, verb phrases functioning as verb phrase complements also follow the main verb.

    Also note that verb phrases in the form of present participles and infinitives also sometimes function as direct objects in English.

    Adverb Phrases

    Adverb phrases are the fifth grammatical form that appear within verb phrases in the English language. Adverb phrase are phrases in which an adverb functions as the head of the phrase plus any modifiers. Within verb phrases, adverb phrases function as verb phrase modifiers. A verb phrase modifier is a word or phrase that describes a verb or verb phrase. For example:

    Verb | Adverb Phrase

    • shriek | wildly
    • yawn | tiredly
    • inquire | curiously
    • barter | shamelessly

    Adverb Phrase | Verb

    • furiously | scribble
    • annoyingly | bother
    • prominently | display
    • sadly | sigh

    Adverb phrases may precede or follow the verb within a verb phrase. Adverb phrases may also intervene between verbs as auxiliary verbs. For example:

    • had not quit
    • might have lovingly disagreed
    • should never have asked
    • could not have been being watched

    Determiners

    Determiners are the sixth grammatical form that appear within verb phrases in the English language. Determiners are words that provide information such as familiarity, location, quantity, and number about a noun or verb. Determiners function as determinatives within verb phrases. Determiners appear within determiner-present participle constructions in which the present participle performs a nominal function. For example:

    Determiner | Verb | Noun Phrase

    • my | caring | for the baby
    • her | washing | the laundry
    • his | mowing | the grass
    • our | moving | the refrigerator

    Determiner | Verb | Prepositional Phrase

    • the | reading | of the will
    • the | taming | of the shrew
    • the | running | of the bulls
    • a | screening | of the film

    Determiners always precede the verb within a verb phrase. Possessive determiners and articles most frequently appear within English verb phrases. A noun phrase that follows a determiner-verb construction functions as a direct object while a prepositional phrase functions as a verb phrase complement.

    Other Objects and Complements

    In addition to auxiliary verbs, p-words, prepositional phrases, verb phrases, adverb phrases, and determiners, verb phrases may also contain subject complements, direct objects, object complements, and indirect objects. Noun phrases and adjective phrases most frequently function as other objects and complements within verb phrases, although other forms can perform the four functions. For more information, see Forms of the English Predicate.

    Combining Grammatical Forms

    The six grammatical forms that can appear within verb phrases can also appear in combination with other grammatical forms within a single verb phrase. The six grammatical forms may also appear in combination with subject complements, direct objects, object complements, and indirect objects within verb phrases. For example, the following twenty-five constructions are some of the possible combinations of grammatical forms within verb phrases in English:

    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb – Subject Complement
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb – Direct Object
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb – Direct Object – Object Complement
    • Auxiliary Verb (s) – Verb – Indirect Object – Direct Object
    • Verb – P-word
    • Verb – P-word – Direct Object
    • Verb – Direct Object – P-word
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb – P-word
    • Verb – Prepositional Phrase
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb – Prepositional Phrase
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Adverb Phrase – Verb
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Adverb Phrase – Verb – Prepositional Phrase
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb – Adverb Phrase
    • Verb – Verb Phrase
    • Verb – Verb Phrase – Direct Object
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Verb – Verb Phrase
    • Auxiliary Verb(s) – Adverb Phrase – Verb – Verb Phrase
    • Adverb Phrase – Verb – Verb Phrase
    • Adverb Phrase – Verb – Prepositional Phrase
    • Determiner – Verb
    • Determiner – Verb – Adverb Phrase
    • Determiner – Verb – Prepositional Phrase
    • Determiner – Adverb Phrase – Verb – Prepositional Phrase
    • Determiner – Verb – Direct Object

    For example:

    • Modal | Verb | Subject Complement
      must | be | sick
    • Modal | Perfect | Progressive | Adverb Phrase | Verb | Direct Object
      might | have | been | very quietly | reading | a book
    • Adverb Phrase | Verb | Verb Phrase
      immediately | come | study
    • Perfect | Adverb Phrase | Verb | Verb Phrase
      had | thoughtlessly | decided | to fly
    • Determiner | Adverb Phrase | Verb | Prepositional Phrase
      my | obviously | eavesdropping | on the neighbors

    Note that more than just the twenty-five constructions of the verb phrase listed above are possible in the English language.

    Summary

    Verb phrases in English grammar are phrases in which a verb functions as the head of the phrase. Verb phrases perform verbal, nominal, adjectival, and adverbial grammatical functions.

    Verb phrase is a grammatical form.

    The eleven grammatical functions performed by verb phrases are predicate, noun phrase modifier, adjective phrase complement, verb phrase complement, subject, subject complement, direct object, object complement, indirect object, prepositional complement, and appositive.

    The five grammatical forms that may appear in verb phrases are auxiliary verbs, p-words, prepositional phrases, adverb phrases, and determiners. Verb phrases may also contain subject complements, direct objects, object complements, and indirect objects.

    References

    Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
    Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
    Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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