Verb Phrases and Tenses

Verb Phrases

What Is A Verb Phrase?

In linguistics, a verb phrase or VP is a syntactic unit composed of at least one verb and its dependents—objects, complements and other modifiers—but not always including the subject. Thus in the sentence A fat man put the jewels quickly in the box, the words put the jewels quickly in the box is a verb phrase; it consists of the verb put and its dependents, but not the subject a fat man. A verb phrase is similar to what is considered a predicate in more traditional grammars.

Verb phrases generally are divided among two types: finite, of which the head of the phrase is a finite verb; and nonfinite, where the head is a nonfinite verb, such as an infinitive, participle or gerund. Phrase structure grammars acknowledge both types, but dependency grammars treat the subject as just another verbal dependent, and they do not recognize the finite verbal phrase constituent. Understanding verb phrase analysis depends upon knowing which theory obtains in context.

What Do Verb Phrases Do?

We should already know that verbs communicate action, such as run or swim. They form the meat of the predicate of a sentence (predicates and verb phrases are similar and, under the correct circumstances, can be used interchangeably).

In fact, people often speak of there being “main verbs” in verb phrases. The main verbs are simply verbs: run, swim, eat, throw, dance, etc. These express the main idea of the verb phrase while the dependents provide detail for this idea, whether it be changing the tense of the verb, emphasizing the verb, asking a questions or forming a negative or passive verb.

Verb Phrase Examples

A verb phrase can be the predicate of the clause or sentence. A verb phrase can also be a phrase that functions as an adverb or adjective and contains a verb and its complements, objects, or modifiers.

Phrase Is the Predicate of the Sentence

Following are some verb phrase examples where the verb phrase is the predicate of a sentence. In this case, the verb phrase consists of the main verb plus any auxiliary, or helping, verbs.

  • She was walkingquickly to the mall.
  • He should waitbefore going swimming.
  • Those girls are not tryingvery hard.
  • Ted might eatthe cake.
  • You must goright now.
  • You can’t eatthat!
  • My mother is fixingus some dinner.
  • Words were spoken.
  • These cards may be worthhundreds of dollars!
  • The teacher is writinga report.
  • You have woken upeveryone in the neighborhood.

Phrase Functions as an Adverb or Adjective

Some verb phrases have a single function which means it can act like an adverb or an adjective. The phrase would include the verb and any modifiers, complements, or objects.

  • Texting on his phone, the man swerved into a ditch.
  • As the cat watched, the two puppies fought over a bone.
  • The small dog was reluctant to learn new things.
  • When he arrives, we can try to build a fort.
  • Finally, we can afford to buy a new house.
  • Walking on the ice, she slipped and fell.
  • Open the door to let the fresh air in.
  • To make lemonade, you first need some lemons.
  • It takes two people to tango.

All of these different verb phrases demonstrate how the dependents of the verb provide important useful information for the reader about the action in the sentence. Verb phrases help to make your text more informative and meaningful and they are essential to clear writing.


The simple past.

This is used to relate past events in a historic context. Often, you will know that it must be used, because the sentence also contains an adverb (or adverb phrase) of time, such as yesterday, or a date or time.


  • Queen Victoria died in 1901.
  • The Titanic sank when it hit an iceberg.
  • I told you not to drink too much
  • Next, they went and cooked dinner.

1.1. Simple past – progressive or continuous forms:

Here are some examples with a progressive or continuous form too: both of the events in the sentence are “historic”, but one took place while another longer-lasting situation was true:


  • John Lennon died while he was living in New York.
  • The students shouted as the President was speaking.

1.2. Used to and would – the past of finished situation or finished habit

To express a finished habit, or terminated situation, there are two possible structures, one with used to, the other with would.  To express a terminated situation, only the structure with used to can be used. Terminated situation can also be expressed using the simple past often reinforced by an adverb of duration or of time. These structures only exist in the active voice.


  • I used to go to Brighton when I was a child. But I don’t any longer.
  • He would call her every day when she was younger, but he doesn’t now
  • This streeet used to be very quiet; but nowadays it’s full of traffic.
  • This street was once very quiet, but nowadays it’s full of traffic.

The Simple Present

The present tense is a grammatical tense whose principal function is to locate a situation or event in present time. The term “present tense” is usually used in descriptions of specific languages to refer to a particular grammatical form or set of forms; these may have a variety of uses, not all of which will necessarily refer to present time. For example, in the English sentence My train leaves tomorrow morning, the verb form leaves is said to be in the present tense, even though in this particular context it refers to an event in future time. Similarly, in the historical present, the present tense is used to narrate events that occurred in the past.

Use of the present tense does not always imply present time. In particular, the present tense is often used to refer to future events (I am seeing James tomorrow; My train leaves at 3 o’clock this afternoon). This is particularly the case in condition clauses and many other adverbial subordinate clauses: If you see him,…; As soon as they arrive… There is also the historical present, in which the present tense is used to narrate past events.

For details of the uses of present tense constructions in English, see Uses of English verb forms. The formula: Positive: S + V1 (s / es) Negative: S + DO / DOES + NOT + V1 Question: DO / DOES + S + V1

It is used to express an action in present time, habitual or usual actions, a daily event or a universal fact. It is used to express an action in present time which is usually performed on a regular basis. For example a student says, “I go to school.” It is a daily activity of a student to go to school, so such actions are expressed by the present simple tense.

Positive Sentence

  • Subject + Main verb + Object
  • Subject + 1st form of verb (or base verb) + Object

Note: If the subject in a sentence is he, she, it, or a singular noun, then “s” or “es” is added to the base form of the verb. Examples:

  • I write a letter.
  • He gets up early in the morning.
  • The Sun rises in the east.

Negative Sentences

  • Subject + auxiliary verb +NOT + Main verb +object
  • Subject + Do not/Does not + 1st form of verb (or base form) + object


  • I do not write a letter.
  • He does not get up early in the morning.
  • The Sun does not rise in the north.

Note: In a negative sentence the auxiliary verb “do” or “does”, along with “not”, is used. If the subject in a sentence is he, she, it, or a singular noun, then “Does not” is used after the subject in the sentence. Otherwise, “Do not” is used after subject in sentence. “s” or “es” is not added to the main verb in a negative sentence.

Interrogative Sentence

  • Auxiliary verb + Subject + Main verb + Object
  • Do/Does + Subject + 1st for of verb (or base verb) + Object


  • Does he get up early in the morning?
  • Does the Sun rise in the east?

Future Simple Tense

In grammar, a future tense is a verb form that generally marks the event described by the verb as not having happened yet, but expected to happen in the future. An example of a future tense form is the French aimera, meaning “will love”, derived from the verb aimer (“love”). English does not have a future tense formed by verb inflection in this way, although it has a number of ways to express the future, particularly the construction with the auxiliary verb will or shall, and grammarians differ in whether they describe such constructions as representing a future tense in English, one and all.

The “future” expressed by the future tense usually means the future relative to the moment of speaking, although in contexts where relative tense is used it may mean the future relative to some other point in time under consideration. Future tense can be denoted by the glossing abbreviation

Positive sentence

  • Subject + auxiliary verb + main verb (present participle) + object
  • Subject + will + (1st form of verb or base form +ing) + object


I will buy a computer tomorrow.

They will come here.

Negative sentence

  • Subject + auxiliary verb+ not + main verb (present participle) + object
  • Subject + will +not + (1st form of verb or base form +ing) + object

To make negative sentence “not” is written after auxiliary verb in sentence.


I will not buy a computer tomorrow.

They will not come here.

Interrogative sentence

  • Auxiliary verb + subject + main verb (present participle) + object
  • Will + subject + (1st form of verb or base form +ing) + object

Interrogative sentence starts with auxiliary verb “will”


Will I buy a computer tomorrow?

Will they come here?



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