Verb phrases

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Verb phrases

Each verb phrase (VP) contains one main verb. Most also contain dependents such as: auxiliaries (for example, could in the VP could swim); objects, (for example, five dollars in the VP spent five dollars); complements for example, felt [happy]AdjP; or adjuncts, for example, is leaving [tomorrow]ADJUNCT.


1. Verb phrases and clauses

2. Organisation of the VP

3. Auxiliaries in the VP

4. Internal complements to the VP

5. Adjuncts to the VP

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Verb phrases and clauses

A basic clause contains a subject and a verb phrase. Because the subject sits outside of the verb phrase in the structure of the clause, the subject is sometimes referred to as an external complement of the verb phrase. It is considered to be a complement because the semantics of the verb determine what type of subject is appropriate. All other complements of the verb phrase are internal.

This page focuses on the verb phrase itself, for more information about subjects see the page on transitivity.

Organisation of the VP

The head of a verb phrase (VP) is the main verb. Each VP contains only one main verb that functions as the head of the VP. A VP can consist of only a verb (for example, slept in the clause I slept) but it may also consist of many more elements.

These elements include:

Auxiliaries in the VP

Auxiliaries include forms such as (be, have, do, will, could)

They are used to encode the following categories within the VP:

Internal complements to the VP

Within the VP there are three basic types of complements: objects, predicative complements and complements that express other types of semantic relation such as location. Some verbs may also require prepositions that function as particles.


An object is a NP complement required by the verb and is prototypically affected by the situation described by the verb (for example, Henry [washed the car]VP) although this is not the case for certain verbs (for example, see, know – the object is not affected by being seen or known). Verbs which require an object are called transitive verbs. A semantic object becomes a grammatical (syntactic) subject in the passive voice construction, for example, The police [arrested the suspect]VPThe suspect [was arrested]VP (by the police).

Some verbs require two objects; a direct object (which directly undergoes the action in verb) and an indirect object (prototypically the recipient), for example, Zilla gave [Peter]Indirect Object [the invoice]Direct Object. Either of the objects can become the syntactic subject of a passive construction, for example, Peter was given the invoice (by Zilla), or The invoice was given to Peter (by Zilla).

Some verbs (for example, want, like, consider) can have either objects that are encoded either by noun phrases (for example, like eggs) or by subordinate clauses (for example, like to play chess).

Read more about objects...

Predicative complements

Certain verbs (for example, be, feel, seem, appear) require other kinds of complements. These complements are used to identify a particular quality of the subject or object. They have a range of forms including:

Read more about predicative complements...

Other types of complement

Verbs of movement typically require a preposition phrase complement or and adverbial phrase that indicates the direction of the movement.

A range of other verbs occur in certain uses with a PP complement headed by a specific preposition, for example, depend on the team, hope for a solution.


In specific uses, a number of verbs include a preposition as a particle, for example, turn on, brighten up. These are often called phrasal verbs (or sometimes prepositional verbs).

The particle behaves as part of the verb, and when the verb has an object, this can occur before the particle, for example, turn the light on, brighten the room up, in contrast with PP dependents, for example, depend on the team, but not *depend the team on.

Also, particles must precede an unstressed pronoun object, for example, turn it on but not *turn on it. This is explored in more detail in the section on prepositional phrases.

Adjuncts to the VP

Adverbs and adverbials (phrases and clauses encoding adverbial meanings) optionally function as adjuncts within the VP.

Adjuncts are not required by the grammar. For example, the verb sing can optionally take any of the following adjunct modifiers: sang sweetly (adverb), sang with tenderness (PP with adverbial function), or sang last night (NP with adverbial function).

Read more about adjuncts...

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Verb phrases

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