• Andrew

Grammar Bites | Combining Verb Phrases & Building Sentences (YouTube Script)


With an understanding of verb phrases, you’re ready to start building simple sentences.

The simplest sentences are built with a single verb phrase. These are the ones you use when you’re telling someone what to do. Stop! Shut up! Listen! are all single verb phrases that work perfectly well as complete sentences.

Of course, those kinds of sentences really only work in very specific situations. For more conventional sentences, you need to attach some other kinds of phrases to get your point across.

You probably remember that English is an SVO language: so you can imagine verb phrases as train cars with special connectors on either side. Almost every verb phrase has a connector on the left to attach subject cars, and many verbs have specialized connectors on the right for attaching objects and other kinds of phrases.

So, when you’re not throwing around orders in your writing, you will most likely have to connect a subject to your verb phrase. As we’ll see in a later video, subjects can get very complex, but, no matter busy they get, they’re still just subjects—they all connect the same way, and they all come before the verb.

(Well, there are questions that sometimes pull part of the verb phrase first—but, if you’ve ever asked a question before in you life, you already know how to do that little operation.)

Some verbs not only attach to subjects but also transfer energy to objects. These energy transferring verbs are known as transitive verbs.

Basic transitive verbs have object connectors on their right sides. Like subjects, objects can become fairly complex, but they all attach the same way. If you like a song, wash a dish, or break a leg—all of those verbs transfer energy to objects. Not only does the verb phrase happen, but it happens to something. Take that object out of the sentence, and the whole thing short-circuits, leaving you with an odd-sounding sentence indeed.

Some transitive verbs involve two objects: one that gets a direct transfer of energy from the verb and another that gets an indirect transfer. In the sentence, Pat sent Chris a message, the message gets the most direct transfer of energy: it’s the thing being sent! But Chris also gets some of the energy from that verb: because the message got sent, Chris’ situation has changed.

It’s also worth noting that indirect objects can be written in two ways, either as noun phrases that attach in between the verb and the direct object or within prepositional phrases that come right after the direct object.

But wait, there’s more! Verbs like smell, look, and taste can function as transitive verbs, transferring energy to object phrases—but they can also function as linking verbs, verbs that tell you more about their subjects.

You can smell the lasagna (with a transitive verb), but you can also say that the lasagna smells good (a linking verb). In the first sentence, the energy of smell is being transferred—the lasagna is being smelled. But, in the second sentence, there is no transfer of energy to an object: the sentence is just telling you more about the lasagna.

Like transitive verbs, linking verbs have connectors on their right sides. But, unlike transitive verbs, linking verbs connect to circle back to the subject, rather than introducing new moving parts to the sentence. Many grammarians call all these linking-verb attachments subject complements, but they come in two distinct varieties.

The first kind of subject complement is a modifier—In the sentence Kaput is terrifying, terrifying describes the subject, modifies it, gives more details to flesh it out.

The second kind of subject complement is a noun phrase. In the sentence Kaput is a tyrant, the subject complement isn’t describing the subject so much as putting it a different way. Noun-phrase complements are not the subject in greater detail, they are the subject in other words.

As the powerhouse of the sentence and the central point in an SVO structure, the verb phrase can connect to a wide variety of other sentence components, whether that’s subjects, objects, or complements. With these basic combining rules for verb phrases under our belts, it’s time to take a closer look at noun phrases in all their many shapes and sizes.