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Using Verbs and Verb Phrases as Verb Phrase Complements

Using Verbs and Verb Phrases as Verb Phrase Complements

Traditional grammars notionally define verbs as words that “describe an action or a state of being.” Verb phrases consist of a verb functioning as the head of the phrase plus any auxiliaries, infinitive markers, particles, modifiers, objects, and complements. An infinitive phrase consists of the p-word to functioning as an infinitive marker plus the rest of the verb phrase. The base form of a verb is the bare infinitive, or the infinitive without the infinitive marker.

In grammar, a verb phrase complement is a word, phrase, or clause that completes the meaning of a verb or verb phrase. In addition to prepositional phrases, verb phrases in the form of infinitives and base forms sometimes function as verb phrase complements in English. Examples of verbs and verb phrases as verb phrase complements include the following:

  • The students have to pass the test. (infinitive)
  • She intends to attend the ceremony. (infinitive)
  • My neighbors happen to own a hot air balloon. (infinitive)
  • Grandpa can come start the fire for the barbecue. (base form)
  • He helps manage the student workers. (base form)
  • Would you come wash the dishes? (base form)

Verbs with verb phrases in infinitive and base forms functioning as verb phrase complements are most often referred to as catenative verbs. Some catenative verbs also take verb phrases as direct objects.

Infinitive as Verb Phrase Complement

Infinitive as Verb Phrase Complement Grammar Tree

Base Form as Verb Phrase Complement

Base Form as Verb Phrase Complement Grammar Tree


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.
Kilby, David. 1984. Descriptive syntax and the English verb. Dover, New Hampshire: Croom Helm.
Leech, Geoffrey N. 2004. Meaning and the English verb. Harlow, English: Pearson Longman.

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