1. What is a verb phrase?
In order to be complete, every sentence needs at least one verb. The verb can be an action verb (run, sing, play, climb) or a linking verb (seem, look, forms of be) that connects the sentence’s subject to more information about the subject.
Sometimes, the main verb needs help forming different moods or tenses, or it needs to provide additional information about when the action was completed. When this happens, writers also use an auxiliary verb, or “helping verb.” Auxiliary verbs include forms of be, have, and do.
When multiple verbs work together to describe the action in a sentence, these verbs form a verb phrase.
Jacob is playing his video game.
- This sentence uses two verbs: “is” and “playing.”
- In this case, the main verb is “playing.”
- “Is” (a form of be) is an auxiliary verb that is “helping” the main verb (playing) provide more information about when the action occurred.
- Together, the verb phrase “is playing” tells readers that the action (playing the video game) is happening right now.
We had washed our hands before sitting at the dinner table.
- In this example, we see two verbs in bold: “had” and “washed.”
- The main verb is “washed.”
- “Had” is an auxiliary verb that “helps” the main verb (washed) provide more information about when the action occurred.
- The verb phrase “had washed” is used to demonstrate that this action (washing hands) occurred before another action (sitting at the dinner table).
“I did finish my homework, Dad!”
- This sentence contains two verbs: “did” and “finish.”
- The main verb is “finish.”
- The auxiliary verb “did” is “helping” the main verb (finish) add emphasis. The speaker of this sentence wants to emphasize (make it very clear) that his homework is finished.
- The verb phrase “did finish” works together to help the speaker emphasize that his homework is complete.
Modal verbs are a special type of auxiliary verb that can also form part of a verb phrase. Modal verbs are used to show necessity, ability, or possibility. The most common modal verbs include must, can, will, should, could, and might.
You should try to exercise more.
- This sentence contains the main verb “try” and the modal verb “should.”
- The verb phrase “should try” is used to give advice and demonstrate the importance of exercising more.
My grandfather could grill the best steaks.
- In this example, we see the main verb “grill” and the modal verb “could.”
- The verb phrase “could grill” is used to show ability (in this case, the ability of the speaker’s grandfather to grill steaks).
I might go to the birthday party this weekend.
- This sentence includes the main verb “go” and the modal verb “might.”
- The verb phrase “might go” is used to show possibility (in this case, the possibility of someone attending a birthday party).
In total, a verb phrase can contain up to four verbs.
Lauren might have been feeling sad because her dog ran away.
- This sentence contains a verb phrase that is four words long.
- The main verb is “feeling.”
- We also see the modal verb “might” and the auxiliary verbs “have” and “been.”
- The verb phrase “might have been feeling” is used to express a possible reason for Lauren’s sadness.
Sometimes, an adverb interrupts the verb phrase, or appears in between the two verbs. The adverb is not considered part of the verb phrase.
Ryan is not going to the party with us.
- This sentence contains the main verb “going” and the auxiliary verb “is.”
- The adverb “not” is placed between the two verbs.
- However, the adverb “not” is not considered part of the verb phrase.
- The verb phrase in this sentence is “is going,” despite the fact that it is interrupted by the adverb “not.”
A verb phrase is a main verb and its helpers or modifiers. The multiple verbs in a verb phrase work together to describe the action in a sentence.
2. Examples of Verb Phrases
Brandon will be graduating from middle school in a few weeks.
- In this sentence, the main verb is “graduating.”
- The sentence also includes the verb “will” and the auxiliary verb “be.”
- Together, these verbs form the verb phrase “will be graduating,” which is used to talk about a future event (graduation).
Josiah can spell almost any word in the dictionary.
- This sentence contains the main verb “spell.”
- We also see the modal verb “can.”
- The verb phrase “can spell” is used to express Josiah’s ability (to spell very well).
Mikayla would have been allowed to attend the party if her grades were better.
- The main verb in the bold part of the sentence is “allowed.”
- The bolded part of the sentence also uses the modal verb “would” and the auxiliary verbs “have” and “been.”
- The verb phrase “would have been allowed” is used to describe an action (allowing Mikayla to attend the party) that did not happen, but could have happened under certain conditions (better grades).