Verb Phrases

It's time to learn how to identify the verb phrase in a sentence. Learning about verb phrases is essential in speaking and writing without mistakes.

Verb Phrases in the English Grammar

What Are Verb Phrases?

A verb phrase is a segment of a sentence that is comprised of a verb and the verb's dependents.

These dependents can be linking verbs, auxiliary verbs, modals and sometimes complements.

She remembered the song.

She can remember the song.

She will have been running for three hours.

What Do Verb Phrases Do?

Verb phrases help create tenses except present and past tenses, such as continuous tenses and perfect tenses. They also show the mood or other information about the sentence.

I was watching a movie when Ken came over.

Verb Phrase: Structure

A verb phrase can have only a main verb, or the main verb plus a modal or auxiliary verb. Pay attention to the order of these verbs. For example, the main verb always comes last in the verb phrase.

The little boy smiled.

He can bake a cake like a professional baker.

We can have two types of verb phrases:

  • Simple verb phrases
  • Complex verb phrases

Simple Verb Phrases

A simple verb phrase only has one main verb. It demonstrates whether the sentence is declarative or imperative.

I work in the fashion industry. (declarative)

Pass the salt. (imperative)


In the imperative form, if we want to stop someone from doing someone, we must have the auxiliary verb 'do' in the verb phrase which makes it a complex verb phrase. Look below:

Don't come near me.

Don't just sit here.

Verb Phrases Can Be a Single Word

Complex Verb Phrases

A complex verb phrase may include one modal verb and one or more auxiliary verbs before the main verb. A modal verb always comes before any auxiliary verbs:

Verb Order

The continuous, perfect, and passive meanings of auxiliary verbs may be combined in a verb phrase, and auxiliary verbs may combine with modal verbs.

Subject + modal verbs + have/has/had + been + main verb

subject + be (passive or continuous) + main verb

I could have been promoted!

She must have gone.

Auxiliaries in Verb Phrases

Auxiliary verbs (also called helping verbs) connect the subject with the rest of the sentence. These verbs include:

In verb phrases, auxiliaries function as finite verbs, i.e. they show tense and mood, but don't make sense on their own. For example:

She is talking to his friend.

The verb phrase 'is talking' has the finite verb 'is.' It shows that the sentence is in present tense, the speaker is singular, and that the mood is declarative.

I don't know the answer to your question.

Modals in Verb Phrases

Modal verbs express possibility, obligation, suggestions, etc. They include:

  1. can
  2. could
  3. may
  4. might
  5. must
  6. should
  7. will
  8. would

Modal verbs also function as finite verbs. Although, they cannot be conjugated in different tenses, but they do show the speaker and mood.

You might need more information about that.

Main Verbs in a Verb Phrase

Main verbs demonstrate the action of the sentence. They work on their own or with an auxiliary verb in a verb phrase.

Are you going to the prom?

Verb Phrases: as Predicates

Verb phrases can be the predicates of or clauses. In this case, there is usually an auxiliary accompanying the verb.

Our friend hasn't arrived yet.

Ian didn't write that letter.


These verb phrases follow the subject of the sentence and function as the action in the sentence. Verb phrases can include all of these words in the predicate, or the helping and main verb only. It depends on how the phrase is used.

Verb Phrases vs. Verbal Phrases

  • Verb phrases can only be used as verbs in a sentence.
  • Verbal phrases, which are phrases that use verbs and the words that follow them as nouns, adverbs , and adjectives.
  • Verb phrases show the action of the sentence.
  • Verbal phrases do not show the action of the verb.

These verbal phrases include:

I really wanted to listen to that song live.

The phrase is the direct object of the verb 'want,' therefore, it is acting like a noun.

  • participial phrases: They can function as an adjective and begins with a participle.

We have to fix the broken window.

The phrase modifies the noun 'window,' so it is functioning like an adjective. 'Have to fix' is the verb phrase.

  • gerund phrases: They can function as a noun and can be subjects or objects.

Sleeping till noon sounds like a good idea.

The phrase acts as the subject in this sentence. 'Sound' is the only verb in this sentence.


Verb phrases can be only one verb in a sentence or they can include two or more verbs. Verbal phrases are nouns or phrases that are made from a verb. Here are different parts of a verb phrase.

  1. head: verb
  2. dependent: linking verbs, auxiliary verbs, modals and sometimes complements


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Phrases are comprised of one or more words that form a meaningful grammatical unit. They are one of the most important elements of English grammar.

Noun Phrases

When a group of nouns come together, they form a noun phrase. To know what is a noun phrase and how short or how long a noun phrase can be, start here!

Prepositional Phrases

What are prepositional phrases? Generally, as its name requires, prepositional phrases are phrases made of prepositions. To get to know them, read the article.

Adjective Phrases

Phrases are two or more words that can function as specific parts of speech. Adjective phrases are groups of words that function as adjectives.

Adverbial Phrases

Adverbial phrases are made of two or more words and are used as the adverb of the sentence. In this lesson, you will get to know phrasal verbs.


Gerunds are words derived from verbs that act as nouns. All gerunds include a verb and -ing. In this lesson, we will learn more about them.

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