The Structure of Finite Verb Phrases

• This entry concerns the structure of finite verb phrases.

The individual words which make up verb phrases are discussed in the entry, “verb (word class).” The role played by verb phrases as elements of clauses is discussed in “verb (element of clause).” The distinction between finite and non-finite verbs is discussed in “finite and non-finite clauses.”

• There are two types of finite verb phrase: simple and complex. Simple finite verb phrases are those which contain only one word, and complex finite verb phrases contain more than one word. The single word of a complex verb phrase is always either a present or past tense form or — much less often — an imperative or a subjunctive.

• Complex verb phrases are made up of one or more of four basic “constructions.” These are:

Type A (modal)
Type B (perfective)
Type C (progressive)
Type D (passive)

modal auxiliary + base form   (should repair)

have + -ed participle   (has repaired)

be + -ing participle   (are repairing)

be + -ed participle   (were repaired)

• These four basic constructions can be combined in eleven ways . These structures are listed below with examples.

- Notice that the ordering of the four basic constructions listed above (and of the letters of the alphabet used to name them) reflects the order in which the constructions appear in complex finite verb phrases. Notice also that, although the constructions must always follow each other in alphabetical order (i.e. B cannot come before A or D before C), there can be “gaps.” For example, A can be followed by C or D). Notice also that the same construction can not be repeated in a single verb phrase; i.e. combinations such as ABB are impossible.

the eleven structures: (the letters used in naming the structures refer to the four basic constructions listed above)

AB: should have repaired
AC: should be repairing
AD: should be repaired
BC: has been repairing
BD: has been repaired
CD: is being repaired

ABC: should have been repairing
ABD: should have been repaired
ACD: should be being repaired
BCD: has been being repaired
ABCD: should have been being repaired