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Verb Phrase

Verb Phrase

Phrases are an essential part of the English language and are the building blocks of all sentences. There are five main phrases in English: noun phrases, adjective phrases, verb phrases, adverb phrases, and prepositional phrases. Today we will be looking at verb phrases.

This article will introduce verb phrases and explain all the different types of verb phrases we can use and their purpose.

What are verb phrases in grammar?

A verb phrase is a group of words, including the main verb and any other linking verbs or modifiers, that act as a sentence's verb. Modifiers are words that can change, adapt, limit, expand upon, or help define a certain word in a sentence. In the case of verb phrases, the modifiers are usually auxiliary verbs (helping verbs), such as is, has, am, and are, that work alongside (or help) the main verb.

In verb phrases, the main verb holds information about the event or activity that is being referred to, and the auxiliary verbs add meaning by relating to the time or aspect of the phrase.

When we say auxiliary verbs add meaning by relating to the time or aspect of the phrase, we're talking about whether or not the action has been completed, is currently happening, or will happen in the future. We're also referring to how an action can extend over a period of time. For example, an action may have started in the past but has not yet been completed.

Here are a few quick examples of verb phrases:

My dad is cooking today.

I have written a letter for you.I have been waiting all day.

Types of verb phrases

There are many different ways we can form verb phrases depending on the meaning and the purpose of the phrase. Let's take a look at some of the main types.

Verb phrases with only the main verb

When we hear the word 'phrase', we expect the inclusion of more than one word; however, this isn't always the case! Verb phrases can be a singular main verb on its own.

She hears the alarm.

They both jumped.

In these examples, the verb phrase consists of a main verb only. The verb can be in the present or past tense. The first example is in the present tense and the second one is in the past tense.

Verb phrase Image of alarm clock StudySmarterFig 1. 'She hears the alarm' contains a one-word verb phrase

Auxiliary verb (to be) + main verb (-ing form)

When the main verb is being used in its -ing form (e.g. walking, talking), it expresses a continuous aspect. The use of auxiliary verbs will show whether the continuing action is in the past, present, or future.

  • The auxiliary verbs am, is, and are used before the main verb in '-ing' form creates the present continuous tense.

  • The auxiliary verbs was and were used before the main verb in '-ing' form creates the past continuous tense.

  • The combined auxiliary verbs 'will be' used before the main verb in '-ing' form creates the future continuous tense.

Nobody is listening.

They were dancing.He will be visiting tomorrow.

Auxiliary verb (have) + main verb (past participle form)

This type of verb phrase includes the verb 'to have' (including all of its forms e.g. have, has, had) and the past participle form of the main verb.

Past participle verb forms are also referred to as verb 3. They are most commonly used to show the perfect aspect, a verb form that shows an action is either completed or begun in the past. The perfect aspect tends to focus more on the state of the action (i.e. whether or not it has been completed) rather than the action itself. For example, 'I have just eaten' lets the listener know that they have recently just finished eating.

The verbs have and has express a present perfect aspect, whereas the verb had expresses a past perfect aspect.

They have relaxed all weekend.

Nobody has tried the new flavour.

She had started the project.

Modal verb + main verb

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb that express modality. Modality includes things such as possibility, probability, ability, permission, ability, and obligation. Example modal verbs include: must, shall, will, should, would, can, could, may, and might.

He will arrive.

They might leave.

Auxiliary verb (have + been) + main verb (-ing form)

In this case, both the continuous aspect and the perfect aspect are expressed. The continuous aspect comes from the '-ing' verb, and the perfect aspect comes from the auxiliary verb 'have been'.

When the auxiliary verb has or have is used, it creates the present perfect continuous aspect. When the auxiliary verb had is used, it expresses a past perfect continuous aspect.

Nobody has been watching the show.

She had been dancing.

Auxiliary verb (to be) + main verb (past participle form)

A verb phrase with the verb 'to be' and a past participle form of the main verb expresses a passive voice. The passive voice is used to show that an action is happening to the subject of the sentence rather than the subject performing the action.

The dinner was served.

The dishes were cleaned.

Negative and interrogative verb phrases

In sentences that have a negative or interrogative nature (i.e. they express a negative or ask a question), the verb phrase gets separated as shown in the following examples:

I am not driving anywhere right now.

The verb phrase 'am… driving' has been separated by the interrupter 'not', which turns the action into a negative.

Has he performed well this season?

The verb phrase 'Has… performed' has been separated by the interrupter 'he', which helps to form an interrogative (question).

Emphasised verb phrases

The auxiliary verbs 'do, does, did' can be used to add emphasis to a sentence.

I enjoyed the party

I did enjoy the party.

The first example only includes the main verb. Whereas the second sentence is emphasised by the auxiliary verb 'did'.

Verb phrase Image of people at a party StudySmarterFig 2. I did enjoy the party - a lot!

What is the difference between a verb phrase and a verbal phrase?

The terms verb phrase and verbal phrase are very similar but be careful; they are not the same thing!

A verbal phrase is when the verb phrase no longer functions as a regular verb. Instead, verbal phrases act as adverbs or adjectives.

Let's take a look at an example of a verb phrase compared to an example of a verbal phrase.

'The man was driving his sports car.' - This is a verb phrase as the words 'was driving' function as the verb of the sentence.

Driving his sports car, the man achieved a top speed of 170mph! - This is a verbal phrase as the words 'Driving his sports car' function as an adjective. The verb of this sentence is the word 'achieved'.

Verb Phrase - Key takeaways

  • A verb phrase is a group of words that act as a verb in a sentence.
  • A verb phrase typically consists of a main verb and its modifiers, such as linking verbs and auxiliary verbs.
  • Auxiliary verbs are often used in verb phrases to express time and aspect, such as the completion of an action.
  • Modal verbs are often used in verb phrases to express modalities, such as likelihood, ability, obligation and suggestion.
  • Verb phrases are different from verbal phrases. Whereas verb phrases act as the verb in a sentence, verbal phrases act as an adjective.

Frequently Asked Questions about Verb Phrase

A verb phrase is usually a group of words consisting of the main verb and its modifiers, such as auxiliary verbs. It acts as a verb in a sentence.

Typically, a verb phrase is composed of a main verb and at least one auxiliary verb. However, they can also be singular main verbs on their own.

An example of a verb phrase is: 'The boy might eat the burger'. In this example, 'might' acts as the auxiliary verb and 'eat' is the main verb.

Prepositional phrases typically modify verbs rather than contain verbs.

The progressive aspect shows an ongoing or continuous action. These are demonstrated by verbs that have '-ing' at the end. For example, 'he is texting'.

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs used to express modality, such as likelihood, ability, obligation, permission, suggestions, and advice. E.g. 'you must sit down.'

Final Verb Phrase Quiz

Question

What is a verb phrase composed of?

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Answer

A verb phrase is composed of a main verb and at least one auxiliary verb.

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Question

What is an auxiliary verb?


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Answer

A part of a verb phrase that joins the subject to the rest of the sentence.

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Question

What are the common forms of auxiliary verbs?


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Answer

The common forms are 'To be', 'To have' and 'To do'.

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Question

True or False? A verb phrase can only have one auxiliary verb.


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Answer

False. A verb phrase can have up to three auxiliary verbs.

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Question

True or False? The verb 'dancing' expresses a progressive tense.


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Answer

True. Verbs ending with '-ing' express a continuous or ongoing action, which is the progressive tense.

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Question

True or False? The verb phrase 'I am not doing this.' is interrogative. 


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Answer

False. The verb phrase is negative, this is because the phrase 'am ... doing' is separated by the interrupter 'not'.

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Question

True or False? The verbs 'do, did' are used for emphasis.


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Answer

True. The use of these verbs adds emphasis to verb phrases.

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Question

True or False? The verb phrase 'Has he completed the task?' is negative.


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Answer

False. The verb phrase is interrogative.

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Question

What tense does the verb 'am' indicate?


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Answer

It indicates the present tense.

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What tense does the verb 'was' indicate?


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Answer

It indicates the past tense.

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Question

Which of the following is a verb phrase?


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Answer

 I have written a letter for you.

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Question

What does the perfect aspect imply?

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Answer

That an event started in the past. It places more emphasis on the status of an event (e.g. when it was completed) than on the event itself. 

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Question

Identify the verb phrase:

'I have been walking for two hours'

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Answer

'have been walking'

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Question

Identify the verb phrase:

'I've already eaten, thanks'

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Answer

'have already eaten'

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Question

Identify the verb phrase:

'They are running'

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Answer

'are running'

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Question

What is a verb clause?

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Answer

A verb clause is similar to a verb phrase except it contains a subject and a verb.

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What is a verbal phrase?

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Answer

When a verb phrase functions as something other than a verb, it becomes a verbal phrase. For example, acting as an adjective or adverb.

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Question

What does this sentence tell us about the aspect of the action?

'She's been dancing since 2 pm' 

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Answer

That the action (dancing) is ongoing (not complete).

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Question

Identify the verb phrase:
'She quickly tasted the cake'

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Answer

'quickly tasted'

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Question

What is an adverb?

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Answer

A word that gives more information about a verb e.g. 'quickly'

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