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Verb phrase

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In linguistics, a verb phrase or VP is a syntactic structure composed of the predicative elements of a sentence and functions in providing information about the subject of the sentence.

VPs in the generative grammar framework

In the generative grammar framework, the verb phrase is a phrase headed by a verb. A verb phrase may be constructed from a single verb; often, however, the verb phrase will consist of various combinations of the main verb and any auxiliary verbs, plus optional specifiers, complements, and adjuncts. For example, consider the following sentences:


a. Yankee batters hit the ball to win their first World Series since 2000.
b. Mary saw the man through the window.
c. John gave Mary a book.

Example (1a) contains the verb phrase made up only of the verb hit. The verb to win, in infinitive form, is used here in a prepositional phrase (to win their first World Series). Example (1b) contains the main verb see, the noun phrase (NP) complement the man, and the prepositional phrase (PP) adjunct through the window. Additionally, example (1c) contains the main verb gave, and two noun phrases Mary and a book, both selected by the verb in this case.

Note that according to this definition, the verb phrase corresponds to what is commonly called the predicate.

Up to the mid/late 1980s, it was thought that some languages lacked a verb phrase. These included languages with extremely free word order (so-called non-configurational languages, such as Japanese, Hungarian, or Australian aboriginal languages), and languages with a default VSO order (several Celtic and Oceanic languages). The current view in generative grammar is that all languages have a verb phrase, including the ones just mentioned. The apparent lack of a verb phrase is a consequence of constituents having moved from their positions.

VPs narrowly defined

Verb phrases are sometimes defined more narrowly in scope to allow for only those sentence elements that are strictly considered verbal elements to form verb phrases. According to such a definition, verb phrases consist only of main verbs, auxiliary verbs, and other infinitive or participle constructions. For example, in the following sentences only the bolded words would be considered to form the verb phrase for each sentence:


a. John gave Mary a book.
b. They were being eaten alive.
c. She kept screaming like a maniac.
d. Thou shall not kill.

This more narrow definition is often applied in functionalist frameworks and traditional European reference grammars. It is incompatible with the generative theory of the verb phrase, since the bolded strings are not constituents under standard generative analyses.

See also


Published - December 2008

Information from Wikipedia is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License

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