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 its dependents.

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

What Do Verb Phrases Do?

Verb phrases are essential for indicating various tenses, including continuous and perfect tenses, although they are not necessary for forming simple present and simple past tenses. Furthermore, they help indicate the mood or provide other important information about the sentence.

I was watching a movie when Ken came over.

Verb Phrase: Structure

A verb phrase can consist of a main verb alone or a combination of a main verb and one or more modal or auxiliary verbs. Main verbs demonstrate the action of the sentence.
When forming a verb phrase, it's important to pay attention to the order of these verbs. For instance, the main verb always comes at the end of the verb phrase. Pay attention to the examples:

She played the song.

She can play the song.

She will have been playing the song for three hours.

Verb Phrases: Types

There are two types of verb phrases:

  • Simple verb phrases
  • Complex verb phrases

Simple Verb Phrases

A simple verb phrase consists of only one verb, which is the main verb, and is used to indicate whether a 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 something, we need to use the auxiliary verb 'do' in the verb phrase, which makes it a complex verb phrase.

Don't come near me.

Don't just sit there.

Verb Phrases Can Be a Single Word

Complex Verb Phrases

A complex verb phrase may consist of a modal verb along with one or more auxiliary verbs before the main verb. It's important to note that modal verbs always appear before the auxiliary verbs in the verb phrase.

Verb Order

Auxiliary verbs can be combined within a verb phrase to express continuous, perfect, and passive tenses. Additionally, auxiliary verbs can also be combined with modal verbs. In such cases, the order of appearance of elements within the verb phrase will be as follows:

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

English auxiliary verbs include:

In verb phrases, auxiliary verbs function as finite verbs, indicating the tense and mood of a sentence. However, they do not convey a complete meaning 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:

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

You might need more information about that.

Verb Phrases as Predicates

Verb phrases can function as predicates of sentences or clauses. In such cases, there is typically an auxiliary verb accompanying the main verb within the verb phrase.

Our friend hasn't arrived yet.

Ian didn't write that letter.


Verb phrases typically follow the subject of a sentence and indicate the action within the sentence. A verb phrase can consist of all the words in the predicate, or it can consist of just the auxiliary and main verbs, depending on how the phrase is used.

Verb Phrases vs. Verbal Phrases

Verbs phrases should not be confused with verbal phrases.
A verb phrase is a group of words that includes a main verb and any auxiliary or modal verbs and functions as a verb that is used to express the action or state of being in a sentence.
A verbal phrase, on the other hand, is a phrase that is based on a verb but can function as a noun, adjective, or adverb in a sentence. Verbal phrases can take the form of a gerund, infinitive, or participle and they act as different parts of speech depending on their form:

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 can function as an adjective and begin with a participle.

We have to fix the broken window.

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

  • Gerund phrases 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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Infinitive Phrases

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Infinitive phrases are phrases that look like infinitives but they are used in special positions.
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