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English Verbs

  

There are four kinds of English verbs: intransitives, transitives, copulas, and auxiliaries.

 

Intransitive Verbs

An intransitive verb can occur alone after its subject and the two words then form a standard, grammatical English sentence.

<He left.> (1)

<She laughed.> (2)

[  In (1) and (2), left and laughed are intransitive verbs, and are the predicates in their respective sentences .]

  

Transitive Verbs

 A transitive verb occurs after its subject and before its direct  object. Some common examples of direct object follow:

 

Direct object which is a noun or noun phrase:

<These plants need water.> (3)

<She brought a box of candy.> (4)

The transitive verb in (3), need, has a common noun, water, as its direct object.

The transitive verb in (4), brought, has the noun phrase, a box of candy, as its direct object.

 

Direct object which is a full [finite] clause introduced by the subordinating conjunction that:

<I hope that she gets here on time.> (5)

The transitive verb in (5), hope, has as its direct object a full sentence introduced by that. Such a clause, after that,  is always finite, i.e., a sentence whose first or only verb is in the present or past tense.

[Among transitives commonly introducing that clauses, the following have to do with communication:  admit, agree, announce, argue, bet, claim, complain, confess, declare, deny, explain, guarantee, insist, mention, object, predict, promise, reply, report, say, state, suggest, swear, warn, write. Following are some other transitive verbs that occur before that clauses and are connected with knowledge, thought, understanding, etc.: believe, consider, decide, doubt, expect, fear, feel, forget, guess, hope, know, notice, presume, realize, recognize, remember, see, suppose, think, understand.]

 

 

Direct object which is a finite  wh- or if clause:

<Have you heard whether the casino will open?>

<I don’t know if they can afford it.>

Following are some verbs commonly occurring with such an object:

ask, care, decide, doubt, explain, forget, hear, know, mind, notice,  remember, say, see, tell,  wonder.

 

Direct object which is a nonfinite clause, i.e., a phrase that is not a full sentence:

Wh-word  phrase or how-to phrase

<Show me where the dance floor is - I know how to tango.> (6)

Some verbs taking such an object:

decide, discuss, explain, forget, know, learn, remember, say, see, tell, think.

 

To-infinitive clause with no subject

<She loves to hike.> (7)

Some verbs taking such an object:

ask,  forget, hate, hope, learn, like, love, need, offer, prefer, want

 

To-infinitive clause with subject

<I want you kids to be quiet!> (8)

Some verbs that take such an object:

 hate, love, prefer, want, wish.

 

Gerund clause with no subject

<He’s quit skiing because of his bad knee.> (9)

Gerund clause with subject in genitive or objective case

<I like their praising my daughter.> (10)

<We liked them playing those old songs.> (11)

  

An extraposed  that clause looks something like an object because it follows the verb; but it in fact is a clause that is the notional subject of the sentence, and it has been moved (“extraposed”) to the end of the sentence because of its length, and because English speakers expect the new and/or important part of a sentence to come at the end of that sentence. The few verbs with which an extraposed clause occurs are intransitives; they are appear, chance, come about, happen, seem, transpire, turn out. These seven

intransitives cannot be used at the end of the sentence, as can the kind of intransitive say  in (1) and (2). [See (12), below.]

 

<It appears that we’ve lost the contract.> (12)

 [<That we’ve lost the contract appears.> is not acceptable English. ]

<It chanced that we had the same wish.> (13)

<It came about that they had both taken that train.> (14)

<It happens that I might know something about the incident.> (15)

<It seems that she doesn’t care to help you.> (16)

<It transpired that they did give her the job.>  (17)

<It turns out that you’ve been wrong all along.>  (18)

[The grammatical subject in examples 12-18 is the meaningless anticipatory it.]

  

Copulative Verbs

 

A copula (or copulative verb, or linking verb) connects the subject of a sentence to a noun or an adjective that usually describes or identifies the subject:

She seems bright.   [Description]

They are my parents.   [Identification]

or the copula connects the subject to an adverb or adverbial phrase naming a location:

They’re outside.   [Location.]

The kids are in the water.  [Location.]

 

The copulas can name something that is present or that currently exists, or something that results because of a change:

   Current: He looks sick.

   Resulting:   He got sick

 

The commonest current copulas are appear <They appear calm enough.>; be  <They are outside.>; feel  <I feel great.>;  look < The cake looks delicious.>; seem < He seems fairly pleasant.>;  smell <The roast smells wonderful.>;  sound < The band sounds good tonight.>;  taste <Mama – this broccoli tastes awful.>  

The commonest resulting copulas are become < She became a revolutionary.>; get <I got sick last week.>;  go <The crowd went wild with excitement.>; grow <Daddy grew old fast after Mama died.>; prove <She proved quite adept at the job.>;  turn  <The leaves of this oak turn red in October.>.

 The verbs get, go, grow, smell, and taste are used as copulas only with adjectives, never with nouns or adverbials.

 

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Auxiliary Verbs

 The English auxiliary verbs are the trio  be, do and have, and the nine modal auxiliaries. The modals are:

Present   can       may        shall        will

                                   must [only the one form]           

Past        could    might      should     would  

 

An  auxiliary carries the negative particle not, or n’t suffixed to the end of the verb, in a negative statement:

<You aren’t ready.>  <You don’t look so good.>  <She hasn’t finished her homework.>

<You may not smoke in here.>   <I can’t hear you.>  <I won’t be here tomorrow.>

and an auxiliary comes before the sentence subject in a yes-or-no question:

 <Are you ready?>  <Do I look OK?>  <Has she finished her homework?>  <May I smoke in here?>  <Can you hear me?>  <Will you be here tomorrow?>   

 

When a modal auxiliary occurs, it is always the first verb in the predicate, and is thus always finite. It has no –s form for the third singular [“she can sing beautifully” rather than “she cans sing beautifully”] and it is followed by the bare infinitive, rather than “to” plus the infinitive [“I could be here tonight “] rather than [“I could to be here tonight”].

 

The verbs be, do, and have are unique in English in that each is both a full verb as well as an auxiliary verb.

<There’s been an accident.>  [There has occurred an accident.]

<There’s somebody at the door.>  [There exists somebody…]

<I’ve never been to Edinburgh.>  [I’ve never gone to Edinburgh.>

<I just did the dishes.>  [I just washed/saw to/took care of…]

<Shall we do lunch?>  {Shall we have/eat…]

<Do some work for a change!>  [Accomplish some…]

<I just had lunch.>  [ate; consumed]

<The auditorium has room for a lot of people.>  [hold or include]

<Cars didn’t use to have power brakes.>  [possess]

 

 Be is also the English progressive auxiliary and the passive auxiliary:

<We are now studying the English verb system.>

<They were married last week by her brother, the bishop.>

And be, unlike the other auxiliaries and indeed any other verb, acts as its own auxiliary in negative statements and yes-or-no questions :

<They are ready.>

<They are not ready.>

<Are they ready?>

And be has eight forms – be, being, been, am, is, are, was, were.

 

The modal auxiliary verbs convey two main kinds of meaning: some human control over events; and human judgment, or opinion, about what is likely to be true or to happen.

 

Human control usually touches on obligation or permission.

<You may not smoke in here.>

<They must increase production.>

<You can’t talk that way to me!>

<Should I shut the door on my way out?>

 

Human judgment usually has to do with (logical) necessity, prediction, or possibility/ability.

<If ten and ten are added together, their sum must be twenty.>

<If yesterday was Monday, today must be Tuesday.

<I can tie 35 different knots.>

<You can see the steeple from here.>

<It may snow tonight.>

<We might be able to help you.>

<This will be your last chance.>

 

The past tense of a modal is almost always more polite, or deferential, than the present tense of that verb:

<can you help me?//could you help me?>  <May  I see that? // Might I see that?>  <Will you shut the door, please?> //  Would you shut the door, please?>

 

The past tense of modals can express a hypothetical [as yet unreal or untrue] situation:

<With a bit of luck, we could win that contract.>

<This should do the job tomorrow, but…>

<A coat of paint would improve the looks of this place.>

 

A past-tense modal followed by the perfective auxiliary, have, describes a past possibility that may or may not have been realized:

<She should have got home by noon yesterday.>

<They might have called us when we were out.>

<They could have communicated by snail mail rather than email.>

<Given enough time, they would have completed the project.>

And a past tense modal plus auxiliary have can also express something that was possible but that was not true or never happened – an unfulfilled possibility. Which meaning obtains must be inferred from the greater context:

<You might have called us, you know.>

<You should have asked my permission to borrow the car.>

<You could have won if you’d trained harder.>

<Doing that stunt would have got you arrested.>

<What could or should I have done?  What would you have done?>

 

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Phrasal Verbs

 

English has two-part and three-part verbs that are always and only transitive or intransitive full verbs, never copulas or auxiliaries.

The first part of a two-part verb is a “lexical verb” – a word that an English dictionary identifies as a verb. The second part is a preposition or a spatial adverb.

<You’ll have to dispose of  that trash.>  [Verb plus preposition; intransitive]

<The car just broke down.>  [Verb plus spatial adverb; intransitive]

<Squatters burned down the house.>  [Verb plus spatial adverb; transitive]

<They threw the bums out..>  [Verb plus spatial adverb; transitive]

The first part of a three-part verb is a lexical verb; the second part is a spatial adverb; the third part is a preposition.

<She puts up with a lot from him.>  [Verb, plus spatial adverb, plus preposition]

 

There are thousands of phrasal verbs in English and a lot of them are idioms, phrases which have to be learnt and memorized as a unit.

 

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