What is a Verb Phrase? - Definition, Structure & Examples

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  • 0:01 Verb Review
  • 0:59 Verb Phrases:…
  • 2:55 More Practice With…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

In this lesson, you will review the basic definition of verbs. Then you will learn about verb phrases and be able to identify verb phrases in sentences. Test your understanding of these grammar concepts with a quiz.

Verb Review

All words are classified into seven parts of speech. These include nouns, adjectives, adverbs and a few more. Not all parts of speech are used in every sentence; however, every sentence must have one particular part of speech: a verb. A verb is the word that expresses an action, condition or state of being. To find the verb in any sentence, just ask what is the subject doing? The answer will be the verb. Look at the following examples:

Her visitor talked for hours.
The tale was endless.

In the first sentence, what did the subject, 'visitor,' do? The visitor 'talked.' So 'talked' is the verb in that sentence. In the second sentence, what is the subject, 'tale,' doing? The tale 'was.' So 'was' is the verb in that sentence. This second example is a verb that shows a state of being instead of a straight action.

Verb Phrases: Structure and Examples

The examples listed above are the simplest kind of sentence. Each has just one subject and one verb. However, most of the time you use much more complex words to express more specific situations. Look at the next sentence:

The tale might be endless.

This sentence is very similar to the example above. Both discuss the tale a visitor was telling, but there is one important difference: the time frame. In the sentence with the verb 'was,' the action is in past tense. The tale had been told and was no longer being told. What is the action in the second version? What is the subject, 'tale,' doing? The tale 'might be.' It is still expressing a state of being, just a different state of being. Instead of the past, it is still occurring and is, therefore, in the present tense. What is added to the second version to change the tense? You should see that the word 'might' is what makes the difference.

'Might' is called a helping verb, or auxiliary verb. Helping verbs aid the main verb in expressing time or action. The main verb in this case is 'be.' When helping verbs appear in sentences instead of a simple verb, this is a verb phrase. A verb phrase consists of a main verb and one or more helping verbs linked together.

Look at the following examples and try to identify the verb phrase. Notice how the verb phrase helps express the different time each action is taking place.

Different versions of 'The Endless Tale' have originated in various parts of the world.
The verb phrase is 'have originated' and is past tense.

The hero can talk endlessly about locusts stealing corn.
The verb phrase is 'can talk' and is present tense.

In Japanese folklore, you will find a similar hero.
The verb phrase is 'will find' and is future tense.

More Practice With Verb Phrases

Verb phrases can get much more complicated than those examples. Most of the time, once you find the main verb, the helping verbs are easy to identify. However, it is possible to have more than one helping verb and for helping verbs to be apart from the main verb. Look at the following example:

He will have been talking all day.

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