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The Verb Phrase Complement in English Grammar

Verb phrase complements are words and phrases that complete the meaning of a verb or verb phrase. Unlike verb phrase modifiers that modify or describe a verb or verb phrase, verb phrase modifiers complete the meaning of the verb or verb phrase. Two grammatical forms can function as verb phrase complements. The two grammatical forms that can function as verb phrase complements are:

  1. Prepositional phrases
  2. Verb phrases

The preposition of a prepositional verb functions as a verb phrase complement. The infinitive or base form following some catenative verbs functions as a verb phrase complement.

Prepositional Phrases as Verb Phrase Complements

The first grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of verb phrase complement is the prepositional phrase. A prepositional phrase is defined as a preposition, which is traditionally defined as “a word or words that relates a noun, adjective, or verb to another noun, adjective, or verb,” directly followed by a prepositional complement in the form of a noun phrase, noun clause, verb phrase, or prepositional phrase. The prepositional phrase of a prepositional verb functions as a verb phrase complement. For example, the following italicized prepositional phrases function as verb phrase complements:

  • The child boasted about her accomplishments.
  • Dinner consists of soup and biscuits.
  • All citizens must fight for equality for all.
  • You should hope for the best but plan for the worst.
  • Our neighbors listen to terrible music.
  • He can rely on me.

One unique form of the verb phrase that contains a verb phrase complement in the form of a prepositional phrase is the Determiner + Verb + Verb Phrase Complement construction. For example:

  • the reading of the proclamation
  • the running of the bulls
  • the cutting of the cake
  • a scouring of the countertops
  • a naming of the award recipients
  • a ringing of the bell

Although some grammars consider forms such as reading and running gerunds, a more consistent approach considers the form verbs in the form of present participles. The determiner functions as a determinative, and the prepositional phrase functions as a verb phrase complement.

Verb Phrases as Verb Phrase Complements

The second grammatical form that can perform the grammatical function of verb phrase complement is the verb phrase in the form of an infinitive or base form. A verb phrase is defined as a verb plus any infinitive markers, auxiliary verbs, particles, modifiers, and complements.

  • The students have to pass the test. (infinitive)
  • She intends to attend the ceremony. (infinitive)
  • My neighbors happen to own a hot air balloon. (infinitive)
  • Grandpa can come start the fire for the barbecue. (base form)
  • He helps manages the student workers. (base form)
  • Would you come wash the dishes? (base form)

The two grammatical forms that can function as the verb phrase complement in the English language are prepositional phrases and verb phrases.

References

Brinton, Laurel J. & Donna M. Brinton. 2010. The linguistic structure of Modern English, 2nd edn. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.
Hopper, Paul J. 1999. A short course in grammar. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
Huddleston, Rodney. 1984. Introduction to the grammar of English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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