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What is a Verb Phrase-Definition and Examples

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Verb Phrase Definition 

A verb phrase is a group of more than one word in a sentence that works the same way as a single verb. The verb phrase is a combination of the auxiliary verb followed by the main verb, which is called the head.

The main verb indicates the action, and the auxiliary verb helps or supports the main verb. The auxiliary verbs include 
is, am, are, was, were, do, does, did, and has, have, had

Model verb: can, may will, shall, must, etc.

The verb phrase (be verb + main verb) forms the continuous tenses.
He is working hard to fix the machine.
(The verb phrase "is working" form the present continuous tense)

The woman was talking loudly to her son.
(The verb phrase "was talking" form the past continuous tense)

He will be going to University with us tomorrow. 
(The verb phrase "will be going" form the future continuous tense)

The verb phrase (Verb to have + main verb) forms perfect tenses.

Your noise has woken up every student in the hostel.
(Here, the verb phrase "has woken up" form the present perfect tense)

They had welcomed us. 
("had welcomed" is a verb phrase that forms the past perfect tense)

Similarly, the perfect continuous tenses are created using the verb phrases (has/have/had been + main verb)

Verb and Verb Phrase Examples Sentences

  • Verb: He studies this book every day.
  • Verb Phrase: He should have been studying this book every day. 

  • Verb: They break the window. 
  • Verb Phrase: They have broken the window.

  • Verb: I know the truth. 
  • Verb Phrase: I have known the truth. 

  • Verb: The boy chases the dog.
  • Verb Phrase: The boy has been chasing the dog. 

  • Verb: The company ships books every month. 
  • Verb Phrase: The company has been shipping books for many months. 

The Function of a Verb Phrase

The verb phrase in a sentence carries the main meaning of the sentence, similar to a single verb. 

  • I will be seeing him tomorrow. 
  • He has eaten the whole pizza.  
  • You can wait here for some time.
  • I thought he would have got home by seven o'clock, but he didn't. 
  • Why is she wearing these warm clothes in summer?
  • The rich man has bought some rice.
  • She is reading a storybook.
  • We may leave this place soon.

How do I identify a Verb Phrase?

The verb phrase takes the predicate part in a sentence. To identify a verb phrase, look for a verb in a sentence. The action verb, such as talk, wait, play, cook, etc., can be preceded by an auxiliary verb. For instance, identify the verb phrase in the following sentence.
That boy is studying very hard.

To identify the verb phrase, look for the main verb in this sentence. The main verb is "playing," which is preceded by an auxiliary verb "is." The two verbs (auxiliary + main verb) forming the verb phrase "is playing"

Some More Examples

We are cooking rice now. 
You must wait until next Monday.
Will you give me your bag for one day?

Remember that the main verb alone with any helping verb is also considered a verb phrase. In this case, we can distinguish the simple verb phrase and the complex verb phrase. A verb phrase is said to be a simple verb phrase if it consists of a main verb only. For example, the following are simple verb phrases.

I waited for him in the school.
They arrived in New York later that day. 

A complex verb phrase may consist of a modal verb plus one or more auxiliary verbs that come before the main verb. For example, the following are complex verb phrases.

  • I can give him some if he wants.
  • Can you hear the teacher's instructions?
  • Shall I go to their party?
  • You must tell your parents.
  • I will buy a gift for his son.
  • You should find this book helpful. 

The verb phrase consists of the model verb and the main verb in these sentences.

They might have reached home by now. 
(Here, the verb phrase consists of one model verb, one auxiliary verb, and the main verb)

They should have been reached his house by 5 o’clock.
(In this sentence, the verb phrase consists of one model verb followed by two auxiliary verbs plus a main verb)

Verb Phrase in Interrogative Sentence

The verb phrases are split in interrogative sentences. If we remove the first, the sentence will not remain an interrogative sentence. For example

Could she find her keys yesterday morning?

(The model verb "could" and the main verb "find" form the verb phrase, but they don't appear together in the sentence)
  • Were they going to the party?
  • Have you heard this story before?
  • Has he been invited

What are verbal Phrases? 

A form of a verb that functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb in a sentence is verbal. A verbal phrase is actually a verb phrase, but it doesn't do the function of a verb.

The working students work hard.
(In this sentence, the word "working" is verbal, and the word "students" is a noun)

You can see that the verbal in the above sentence isn't modified by any word. When a verbal is modified by some words in a sentence, then that verbal becomes a verbal phrase.

Walking towards the man, he falls down the stairs.
(Here, the group of words "walking towards the man" is the verbal phrase)

The verbal phrase includes the gerund, participle, and infinitives.

Further Examples of Verbal Phrases

  • My dream is to complete the degree course.
  • The man fell down, trying to catch the running baby.
  • Switch off those lights to save electricity.
(The phrase "to save electricity" is an infinitive verbal phrase."
  • Playing in the garden, the children look happy.
  • Running towards his mother, the boy slipped and fell.
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