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Grammar Bites | The Verb Phrase (YouTube Script)

Now that we’ve taken some time to see how verbs function on their own, let’s look at how they can work together to form longer verb phrases.

Probably the most obvious way to combine verbs within a verb phrase is with a word like and. Linking words like these, known as conjunctions, allow you to build longer phrases by sticking multiple words together in various ways.

Sometimes, though, English uses multiple words to express a single thing, so it doesn’t always make sense to count each individual word as an independent part of a sentence. If you just focus on single words, you’re bound to overlook some of the ways your sentences are really put together.

So, if you have a long string of verbs in a sentence, it’s true that you could identify them as individual verbs, but it’s more practical and more accurate to identify them as a single unit, a verb phrase, rather than as isolated words that happen to be next to each other.

One of the most common ways to encounter these multi-word verb units is through a change in timing—or verb tense. When you say that someone should have eaten before leaving the house, you aren’t really using three independent verbs—you’re expressing a single idea that, in English, happens to expressed in three words that work together. They wouldn’t make the same kind of sense if they were separated, so it makes more sense to treat them as a single unit expressing a single idea.

In addition to using multi-word verbs to express timing, there is another group of verbs that look like multiple words but function as one—these are known as phrasal verbs.

Just as ice cream is something more magical than the combination of ice and cream, phrasal verbs mean something more than the sum of their parts. If someone tells you to “hold on” for a second, they’re not telling you to keep something in your grip for the length of a Mississippi—they’re telling you to wait. Or, if you hear that someone blows up at a referee, you’re not going to picture them forcing air at the ref from downstairs.

So, just like multi-word verb tenses, phrasal verbs are a package deal. When you encounter these kinds of multi-word verbs, it might look like you have a pretty complicated verb phrase with many moving parts, but, remember, it’s more helpful to think of it all as a single unit. In a sentence like, By the time we get there, he will have been blowing up at the referee for quite some time, there’s no real need to treat that long string of verbs as anything other than a single unit because that’s what it is—a single verb phrase.

Finally, of course, you can also add modifiers to verb phrases. Later on, we’ll have more to say about modifiers, but, for now, just know that they are words that add bonus information to verb phrases. Your sentence might be more interesting with modifiers, but, in most cases, it will also get along just fine without them.

Coming up next, we’ll take a look at how sentences are built by connecting verb phrases to other types of sentence components.

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