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Verb-Phrases

Different ways in which verbs go patterning in structures of predication will engage our attention next.

Verb-phrases are of greater complexity than other sentence elements. They can contain multiple verb-forms, like We want to get started tomorrow morning; they can contain multiple non-verbal elements like She did not think she would be invited to the conference; verb-phrases can be discontinuous, interrupted by nominal elements, e. g.: He wanted to have his photo taken. Yet, in spite of this great complexity, we find verb-phrases in a few relatively simple patterns, which are then combined to build up complicated series of various types.

The multiplicity of ways in which verbs may be combined in actual usage permits a striking variety of patterns to be built in present-day English. It is important to see them in contrast with each other as used in different grammatical frames, larger units, in particular.

1Quoted bу B.Н. Ярцева. Шекспир и историческая стилистика. «Филологические науки», 1963, No.1, p. 45.

2 For further reading see: R. В. Lees. The Grammar of English Nominalisations. 5th Ed., the Hague, 1968.

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Verbs express meanings of occurrence — action, event, or state of affairs. Compatibility of lexical meaning naturally sets bounds on the development of all their syntactic relationships.

The patterning of particular verbs with respect to complements requires notice because of its importance to other parts of speech. Meaning relationships are very complex, as has been said. Many verbs are used with varied turns of meaning which with varied complement patterns are normal. Some verbs are used in patterns of extremely restricted type.

A verbal idea may be extended by:

  1. adverbs or adverbial phrases;

  2. adjectives or adjectival phrases;

  3. prepositional groups;

d) infinitives;

  1. participles I and II;

  2. conjunctional groups;

  3. subclauses.

a) VD — speaking fluently; VDP — answer at once.

Soames regarded him fixedly. (Galsworthy)

But you know what the Forsytes are, he said almost viciously. (Galsworthy)

... they both felt that they had gone quite far enough in the expression of feeling. (Galsworthy)

Adverbs generally follow the verb. But instances are not few when for the sake of emphasis they take pre-position:

Never has the Soviet Union deviated from its policy of peace and friendship among nations.

Away ran the children.

In compound tense-forms adverbial adjuncts are placed after the auxiliary verb:

But you're never going to bring out that about the pearls! (Galsworthy)

b) VA — came in happy;

VAP — came in, pale with fear.

Val regarded him round eyed, never having known his uncle express any sort of feeling. (Galsworthy)

Reckless of the cold, he threw his window up and gased out across the Park. (Galsworthy)

He had come back uneasy, saying Paris was overrated. (Galsworthy)

c) The use of prepositional groups to extend the verbal idea is fairly common: .

VpNT — stay in London;

VDP — do in half an hour;

VpI — go to them;

VpD — come from there;

VpVingD — enter without looking back.

d) Infinitival modifiers in verb-phrases can be structurally ambiguous. Distinction will be made between a) adverbial relations expressed by infinitival phrases and b) "succession of actions". The former

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can be transformed into patterns with in order to, so as + Vinf, and clauses of purpose or time, the latter — into co-ordinated finite verb-forms. Examples are:

1) And he paused to see whether the boy understood his meaning (→ in order to see...) (Galsworthy)

He turned at the gate to look back at that russet mound, then went slowly towards the house, very choky in the throat (→ in order to look back...) (Galsworthy)

Brian laughed to think of it (→ Brian laughed when he thought of it — a subclause of time) (Sillitoe)

2) Sweat became mud on his face, ran to his mouth to be blown away when it chafed, or wiped if he had a free hand. (Sillitoe)

and was blown away when it chafed... — "succession of actions", a coordinated infinitival phrase.

She awoke to find that she was atone will always mean: She awoke and found that she was alone (the lexical meaning of the sentence-elements does not permit any other implication — the so-called lexical incongruity or improbability.

e) VVingwent away, smiling; VVingN — sat writing a letter; VVencame in enchanted; VVenD — returned surprised greatly.

He walked over to the piano, and stood looking at his map while they all gathered round. (Galsworthy)

"Don't read it". On his way to the door he kissed her, smiling. "Think about me." (Cronin)

f) Patterns with the conjunctions: as, as if, as though, so as, etc.:

  • AP — got up as usual;

  • VP — stopped so as to see all;

V VingP — stood as though hesitating; Ving VenP — looking as if excited;

Ving DP — running as if in alarm.

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