English Language
Verb Phrase

Verb Phrase

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An Overview of Verb Phrases in English Grammar

In the English language, phrases serve as the basic building blocks of sentences. There are five main types of phrases: noun phrases, adjective phrases, verb phrases, adverb phrases, and prepositional phrases. In this article, we will specifically focus on verb phrases.

A verb phrase is a group of words that includes a main verb and any auxiliary verbs or modifiers. Modifiers are words that limit or define a certain part of a sentence. In verb phrases, they are usually auxiliary verbs (known as helping verbs) such as is, has, am, and are, which work with the main verb.

The main verb in a verb phrase provides information about the action or event, while auxiliary verbs add meaning by relating to the time or aspect of the phrase.

For example, auxiliary verbs can indicate whether the action has been completed, is currently happening, or will occur in the future. They can also express the duration of an action, such as when an action started in the past but is not yet finished.

Different Types of Verb Phrases

There are various ways to form verb phrases, depending on the intended meaning and purpose. Let's take a look at some of the main types:

Verb Phrases with Only the Main Verb

Despite the term "phrase" implying multiple words, a verb phrase can consist of just a single main verb. For instance:

  • She hears the alarm.
  • They both jumped.

In these examples, the verb phrase contains only a main verb, which can be in the present or past tense.

Auxiliary Verb (to be) + Main Verb (-ing Form)

When the main verb is in its -ing form (e.g. walking, talking), it expresses continuous aspect. Depending on the tense, auxiliary verbs can show whether the action is occurring in the past, present, or future.

  • The auxiliary verbs am, is, and are used before the -ing form to create the present continuous tense.
  • The auxiliary verbs was and were used before the -ing form to create the past continuous tense.
  • The auxiliary verbs "will be" used before the -ing form to create the future continuous tense.

For example:

  • Nobody is listening.

Auxiliary Verb (have) + Main Verb (past participle form)

This type of verb phrase includes the verb "have" and the past participle form of the main verb. Past participle verb forms, also known as "verb 3," are commonly used to show the perfect aspect, indicating that an action has been completed or begun in the past.

The verbs "have" and "has" express a present perfect aspect, while "had" expresses a past perfect aspect. For example:

  • They have relaxed all weekend.
  • Nobody has tried the new flavor.
  • She had started the project.

Modal Verb + Main Verb

Modal verbs are a type of auxiliary verb that express modality, including things like possibility, probability, ability, permission, and obligation. Common examples of modal verbs are must, shall, will, should, would, can, could, may, and might.

When combined with the -ing form, modal verbs can express both continuous and perfect aspect.

When the auxiliary verb "has" or "have" is used, it creates the present perfect continuous aspect. On the other hand, "had" expresses a past perfect continuous aspect. For instance:

  • He will arrive.
  • Nobody has been watching the show.
  • She had been dancing.

Auxiliary Verb (to be) + Main Verb (past participle form)

The verb phrase is formed by using the verb 'to be' and a past participle form of the main verb. This structure creates a passive voice, indicating that the subject of the sentence is receiving the action rather than performing it.

Negative and Interrogative Verb Phrases

When an interrupter such as 'not' or 'he' is inserted between the auxiliary verb and the main verb, it changes the verb phrase into a negative or interrogative form, respectively.


  • I am not driving anywhere right now.
  • Has he performed well this season?

In the first sentence, the interrupter 'not' turns the verb phrase 'am driving' into a negative statement. Similarly, in the second sentence, the interrupter 'he' transforms the verb phrase 'has performed' into an interrogative phrase.

In a sentence, an interrupter can help form an interrogative structure, as seen with the use of 'he' in the second sentence.

Emphasizing Verbs with Auxiliary Verbs

A sentence can gain emphasis by incorporating auxiliary verbs such as 'do, does, or did'. For example, compare the two sentences below:


  • I enjoyed the party.
  • I did enjoy the party.

According to Pixabay, 'I did enjoy the party - a lot!'

What Makes a Verb Phrase Different from a Verbal Phrase?

The terms 'verb phrase' and 'verbal phrase' are similar but have distinct functions in a sentence.

A verb phrase serves as the main verb and usually consists of a main verb and its modifiers, including linking and auxiliary verbs.

A verbal phrase, on the other hand, functions as an adjective or adverb and no longer operates as a regular verb.

For example:

  • The man was driving his sports car.
  • Driving his sports car, the man achieved a top speed of 170mph!

In the first sentence, 'was driving' is the verb phrase. In the second sentence, 'Driving his sports car' is a verbal phrase, and 'achieved' serves as the verb.

Important Points to Remember About Verb Phrases

  • A verb phrase consists of a group of words operating as the central verb in a sentence.
  • It is typically made up of a main verb and its modifiers, including linking and auxiliary verbs.
  • Auxiliary verbs are commonly used to indicate time and aspect, while modal verbs express various modalities.
  • Verb phrases are distinct from verbal phrases, which play the role of adjectives or adverbs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Verb Phrases

What is the definition of a verb phrase?

A verb phrase is a set of words functioning as the main verb in a sentence, usually consisting of a main verb and its modifiers.

What components can a verb phrase contain?

A verb phrase can feature a main verb and auxiliary verbs, although singular main verbs can serve as a verb phrase on their own.

Can a verb be part of a prepositional phrase?

Prepositional phrases usually modify verbs, not contain them.

How is a verb phrase used to convey a progressive aspect?

The progressive aspect employs verbs that end in '-ing', such as 'he is texting'.

What is the purpose of modal verbs in verb phrases?

Modal verbs are auxiliary verbs that express modalities, such as likelihood, ability, obligation, and suggestion.

Example: 'You must sit down.'

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