What Does a Verb Phrase Contain?

A verb phrase explains the action.
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Sentences comprise two parts: subjects and predicates. The subject tells who, what or where; while the predicate tells what happened. The "what happened" part of a sentence includes a verb (action or linking word) or a verb phrase (a verb plus a direct or indirect object). The verb phrase elaborates on the action in a sentence.

1 More Than Just a Verb

The Free Dictionary defines a verb phrase as, "A phrase consisting of a verb and its auxiliaries, its complements, and other modifiers." The simple sentence "The team jumped." is composed of a noun and a verb. While that statement follows the general rules of a sentence by including a subject (the team) and predicate (jumped), the reader is left with questions about the action. Why did they jump? How high did they jump? Did they jump off a cliff? Direct and indirect objects join the verb to provide answers.

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2 Direct and Indirect Objects in the Verb Phrase

Verbs and direct objects join together to create verb phrases. The direct object in a sentence tells who or what is receiving the action. For example, "The team jumped hurdles," contains the verb "jumped" and the direct object "hurdles." The team jumped what? Hurdles. The verb phrase in this sentence is "jumped hurdles." Indirect objects (something or someone that receives the direct object) may also join verb phrases. In the sentence "The team brought their coach a trophy on the track," the verb phrase contains action (verb), what they brought (direct object), and to whom they brought it (indirect object).

3 Auxiliary Verbs in the Verb Phrase

Verb phrases help writers convey meaning, and may be composed of a main verb and an auxiliary verb. Auxiliary verbs have no meaning on their own, so they are connected to another verb in a verb phrase. For example, "The team can," is not a complete sentence because the auxiliary verb "can" doesn't stand alone in the sentence. It needs the additional explanation provided by a main verb, such as "jump." A verb phrase is created when the auxiliary verb "can" is connected to the main verb "jump." The new sentence, "The team can jump," includes the verb phrase "can jump."

4 Helping Verbs

Since auxiliary verbs "help" the main verb in a sentence, they are often called "helping verbs." The helping verbs found in verb phrases include the "to be" verbs: be, is, are. Additional auxiliary verbs used in verb phrases are: have, do, can, can't, could, couldn't, will, won't, would, wouldn't, shall, should, shouldn't, may, might, must, mustn't, and ought to.

Kim Renfro is a native Texan with almost two decades of experience in elementary education. A former publisher/editor/reporter/photographer, Renfro spent seven years in the small market newspaper industry. She holds Bachelor of Fine Arts and Master of Education degrees from Texas Christian University.