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    Nominal Functions of English Verbs and Verb Phrases

    Nominal Functions of English Verbs and Verb Phrases

    Traditional grammars define verbs as “action or state of being words.” Verb phrases are phrases that consist of a verb plus any modifiers, complements, particles, and auxiliaries. In addition to five primary functions, English verbs and verb phrases also perform seven nominal functions in English grammar. Nominal functions are grammatical functions prototypically performed by nouns, noun phrases, and noun clauses. The seven nominal functions of verbs and phrases are:

    The following sections explain and exemplify the seven nominal functions of verbs and verb phrases in English grammar.

    Verb Phrases as Subjects

    The first nominal function that verbs and verb phrases perform is the subject of a clause. Only verb phrases in the form of present participles and infinitives can function as subjects. For example, the following italicized verbs and verb phrases function as subjects:

    • Swimming is good exercise.
    • Reading books is educational.
    • Your eating health food impresses me.
    • To err is human.
    • To forget to wear pants is embarrassing.
    • To never visit the library disappoints librarians.

    Traditional grammars generally use the term gerund for present participles that perform nominal functions, or the functions prototypically filled by nouns and noun phrases.

    Verb Phrases as Subject Complements

    The second nominal function that verbs and verb phrases perform is the subject complement. Subject complements are defined as words and phrases that follow a copular verb and refer back to the subject. Predicate nominatives and predicate adjectives are both subject complements. Only verb phrases in the form of present participles and infinitives can function as subject complements. For example, the following italicized verbs and verb phrases function as subject complements:

    • My favorite pastime is reading.
    • His hobbies are writing and editing articles.
    • Her weekend chores are washing the dishes and cleaning the bathroom.
    • My job is to repair damaged books.
    • Her duties are to open and close the library.
    • Your only responsibility is to babysit your younger siblings.

    Verb Phrases as Direct Objects

    The third nominal function that verbs and verb phrases perform is the direct object. Direct objects are traditionally defined as words, phrases, and clauses that “receive the action of the verb.” Only verb phrases in the form of present participles and infinitives can function as direct objects. For example, the following italicized verbs and verb phrases function as direct objects:

    • I prefer reading fantasy literature.
    • The cleaning staff dislikes picking up our messes.
    • The dog enjoys chasing the cat.
    • My husband prefers to read nonfiction.
    • Golden retrievers like to swim.
    • My children prefer to eat vegetables.

    Verb Phrases as Object Complements

    The fourth nominal function that verbs and verb phrases perform is the object complement. Object complements are defined as words and phrases that directly follow and modify the direct object. Only verb phrases in the form of present participles can function as object complements. For example, the following italicized verbs and verb phrases function as object complements:

    • I consider my favorite activity studying English grammar.
    • Cultural analysts declare the American pastime playing baseball.
    • The man finds his least favorite job cleaning the bathroom.
    • My supervisor considers his least favorite duty dealing with customers.
    • The game show host will announce the final challenge scaling the rock wall.
    • The teacher declared the extra credit homework to write a report.

    Verb Phrases as Indirect Objects

    The fifth nominal function that verbs and verb phrases perform is the indirect object. Indirect objects are traditionally defined as words and phrases “to or for whom or what the action of the verb is performed.” Only verb phrases in the form of present participles can function as indirect objects. However, verb phrases rarely function as the indirect object. For example, the following italicized verbs and verb phrases function as indirect objects:

    • The children gave eating new vegetables a try.
    • My boss gave trying a different procedure a consideration.
    • She gave pursuing another graduate degree serious thought.
    • I had given preparing dinner some thought.
    • You should give showering daily a try.
    • My grandmother is giving returning to college serious consideration.

    Verb Phrases as Prepositional Complements

    The sixth nominal function that verbs and verb phrases perform is the prepositional complement. Prepositional complements are defined as words and phrases that function as the object of preposition. Only verb phrases in the form of present participles can function as prepositional complements. For example, the following italicized verbs and verb phrases function as prepositional complements:

    • The students are having problems with solving the assigned equations.
    • My professor strongly believes in consulting librarians with research questions.
    • Can we talk about planting a garden this summer?
    • The publisher thanks you for writing the introduction to the book.
    • My grandparents have been looking at selling the lake house.
    • Your little sister took care of watering the garden while we were on vacation.

    Verb Phrases as Appositives

    The seventh nominal function that verbs and verb phrases perform is the appositive. An appositive is a word, phrase, or clause that modifies or explains another noun phrase. Only verb phrases in the form of present participles and infinitives can function as appositives. For example, the following italicized verbs and verb phrases function as appositives:

    • My favorite activity, reading books, is something that I need to do more often.
    • I heard that we share a hobby, gardening.
    • Her to-do list, washing the windows and emptying the gutters, may never get finished.
    • Your chores, putting away the dishes and the clean clothes, must be finished by dinner.
    • My idea of a good time, to sit and ponder life, is not enjoyed by everyone.
    • He is unhappy with his assigned tasks, to clean the shelves and organize the books.

    The seven nominal functions of verbs and verb phrases are subject, subject complement, direct object, object complement, indirect object, prepositional complement, and appositive.

    For more information about prototypical functions of verbs and verb phrases in English grammar, see Grammatical Functions of English Verbs and Verb Phrases.

    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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