Verb phrases

List of Shortenings

N noun

NP noun phrase

Adj adjective

AdjP adjective phrase

Adv adverb

AdvP adverb phrase

V verb

VP verb phrase

P preposition

PP preposition phrase

S sentence


The theme of the present paper is investigation of verb phrases in the structure of the modern American text.

Verb phrases are examined in the research work paper as a method included into utterance extra linguistic context in prism of human comprehension of the surrounding life.

Novelty of the semester paper lies in cognitive and communicative approaches to linguistic analysis of verb phrases aimed at acquiring the communicative competence.

The aim of the work is to describe the workings of the system of special verb forms used in English to locate situations in time.

Object of the research is the verb within syntax and morphology.

Subject of the research is semantic relations of verb phrases in the discourse structure.

The objective of the work is to lay the terminological and conceptual groundwork which is necessary in providing precise definitions of the basic linguistic terms dealing with the English verb phrases.

The methods of linguistic analysis used in this research paper work are:

1. Componential analysis, which helps to research lexemes that have a common range of meaning and constitutes a semantic domain of this project.

2. Discourse analysis, that enables to reveal the hidden motivations behind a text or behind the choice of a particular method of research to interpret that text.

3. Semantic analysis which is used to divide all the verb phrases of the text into groups, concerning their semantic meanings.

4. Distinctive analysis, which purpose is to measure the preference of one verb phrase over another particular construction.

Theoretical value of the paper is based on the analyzed data of 20 pages with verb phrases used in the novel.

Practical value of the work may be useful in theoretical grammar and general linguistics.

Structurally the term paper consists of three parts. The first part is dedicated to syntax and functions of the verbs within syntax and morphology. The second part defines basic linguistic terms, such as ‘verb’, ‘verb phrase’, ‘categories of the verb’, etc. Since this study is intended as the part of a theoretical grammar, it seems necessary to make explicit the way in which we use such terms. The third part presents the discourse analysis of the verb phrases in the novel “Forsyte Saga” by John Galsworthy. Each part has conclusions that carry the most useful and important information concerning the theme of the paper. In the end of the paper there are supplements providing the most important notions and terms, and also a list of abbreviations that can be found in the paper; and the list of bibliography used while making the research.

Part I. Syntax

Peculiarities of the English Syntax

Language plays a unique role in capturing the breadth of human diversity. We are constantly amazed by the variety of human thought, culture, society, and literature expressed in many thousands of languages around the world. We can find out what people think only through their language. We can find out what they thought in the past only if we read their written records. We can tell future generations about ourselves only if we speak or write to them. If we want other civilizations in space to learn about us we send them messages in dozens of our planet's six thousand languages.

Language has often been characterized as a systematic correlation between certain types of gestures and meaning. For spoken language, the gestures are oral, and for signed language, they are manual.

It is not the case that every possible meaning that can be expressed is correlated with a unique, unanalyzable gesture, be it oral or manual. Rather, each language has a stock of meaning-bearing elements and different ways of combining them to express different meanings, and these ways of combining them are themselves meaningful. The two English sentences Chris gave the notebook to Dana and Dana gave the notebook to Chris contain exactly the same meaning-bearing elements, i.e. words, but they have different meanings because the words are combined differently in them. These different combinations fall into the realm of syntax; the two sentences differ not in terms of the words in them but rather in terms of their syntax. Syntax can thus be given the following characterization, taken from Matthews [40, p.48]:

The term ‘syntax’ is from the Ancient Greek syntaxis, a verbal noun which literally means ‘arrangement’ or ‘setting out together’. Traditionally, it refers to the branch of grammar dealing with the ways in which words, with or without appropriate inflections, are arranged to show connections of meaning within the sentence.

First and foremost, syntax deals with how sentences are constructed, and users of human languages employ a striking variety of possible arrangements of the elements in sentences. One of the most obvious yet important ways in which languages differ is the order of the main elements in a sentence. In English, for example, the subject comes before the verb and the direct object follows the verb.

The connection between the words in a sentence is realized through the changes in their forms and these changes in the form of the words to indicate their function in the sentence are what Matthews referred to as ‘inflections’, and the study of the formation of words and how they may change their form is called morphology.[40, p.53] Something which may be expressed syntactically in some languages may be ex-pressed morphologically in others. Which element is subject and which is object is signaled syntactically in the examples from English, while it is expressed morphologically in the Ukrainian examples.

Syntax and morphology make up what is traditionally referred to as ‘grammar’; an alternative term for it is morphosyntax, which explicitly recognizes the important relationship between syntax and morphology.[40, p.56]

Syntax deals with simple sentences, like:

(1) Bosinney was waiting for the answer. [59, p.25]

(2) Mrs. Small grew nervous.[59, p.54]

But one of the most important syntactic properties of language is that simple sentences can be combined in various ways to form complex sentences. Syntax makes possible the formulation of expressions with complex meanings out of elements with simple meanings. One of the defining features of human language is its unlimited nature; that is, the number of meaningful expressions that can be produced by users of a human language is potentially infinite, and this expressive potential comes from the combination of the basic meaningful elements with syntactic principles.

Much of the interest in language in psychology and cognitive science comes from what the study of the cognitive mechanisms underlying language use and acquisition can reveal about the human mind.

To many people the term ‘grammar’ evokes bad memories of prescriptive rules learned in school, e.g. ‘don’t split infinitives!’ Since the early part of the twentieth century, linguistics has rejected the prescriptive tradition which underlies school grammars and focuses instead on describing what users of human language actually do, not on prescribing what they should do.

A central part of the description of what speakers do is characterizing the grammatical (or well-formed) sentences of a language and distinguishing them from ungrammatical or (ill-formed) sentences.[22, p.53] Grammatical sentences are those that are in accord with the rules and principles of the syntax of a particular language, while ungrammatical sentences violate one or more syntactic rules or principles. For example, (1) is a grammatical sentence of English, while Was waiting Bossiney for the answer would not be. This sentence is ungrammatical because it violates some of the word order rules for English, that is basic word order in English clauses is subject–verb–object, subject Bossiney precedes the predicate was waiting, and auxiliary verbs like was precede the main verb, in this case waiting. It is important to note that these are English-specific syntactic rules.

Well-formed sentences are those that are in accord with the syntactic rules of the language; this does not entail that they always make sense semantically. For example, the sentence the answer was waiting Bossiney is nonsensical in terms of its meaning, but it violates no syntactic rules or principles of English; indeed, it has exactly the same syntactic structure as (1). Hence it is grammatical (well-formed), despite being semantically odd.

1.2 Aspects of syntactic structure

In the syntactic structure of sentences, two distinct yet interrelated aspects must be distinguished. The first one has already been mentioned: the function of elements as subject and direct object in a sentence. ‘Subject’ and ‘direct object’ have traditionally been referred to as grammatical relations. Hence this kind of syntax will be referred to as ‘relational structure’. It includes more than just grammatical relations like subject and direct object; it also encompasses relationships like modifier–modified, e.g. tall building or walk slowly (tall, slowly = modifier, building, walk = modified) and possessor–possessed, e.g. Pat’s car (Pat’s = possessor, car = possessed).

The second aspect concerns the organization of the units which constitute sentences. A sentence does not consist simply of a string of words; that is, in a sentence like The shaft of a passing cab brushed against his shoulder.[59] The teacher reads a book in the library, it is not the case that each word is equally related to the words adjacent to it in the string. There is no direct relationship between brushed and a or between of and the; a is related to cab, which it modifies, just as the is related to shaft which it modifies. The is related to brushed only through the shaft being the direct object of brushed. The words are organized into units which are then organized into larger units. These units are called constituents, and the hierarchical organization of the units in a sentence is called its constituent structure. This term will be used to refer to this second aspect of syntactic structure.

Consider the eight words in the sentence:

(3)The shaft of a passing cab brushed against his shoulde,[59, p.64]

What units are these words organized into? Intuitively, it seems clear that the article the or a goes with or forms a unit with the noun following it. Is there any kind of evidence beyond a native speaker’s intuitions that this is the case? If the article forms a unit with the noun that follows it, we would expect that in an alternative form of the same sentence the two would have to be found together and could not be split up.

Thus, these two aspects of syntactic structure are always present in a sentence, and when one or the other is emphasized, the sentence is being described from one of the two perspectives. It will be seen later that different grammatical phenomena seem to be more easily analyzed from one perspective rather than the other.

1.3 Phrases as the basic element of syntax

In the passive version of the sentence (3) The shaft was brushed against his shoulder by a passing cab the unit the shaft serves as subject, and the unit the passing cab is the object of the preposition by. The constituent composed of a noun and an article is called a noun phrase [NP], e.g. by the teacher; NPs can be very complex. Here is a list of some examples of NP:

the girl beautiful weather

this boy those sunny days

a dog stupid question

that large bicycle nice try

women the Pacific Ocean

elderly men brilliant student

David this year

Queensland judgment day

They water rat

What structure do noun phrases have in English? Based on the noun phrases listed above (there are more complicated ones), a noun phrase seems to consist of a determinative followed by a noun, or a determinative followed by an adjective followed by a noun, or just a noun, or an adjective followed by a noun.

We can represent these structures using what are called phrase structure rules, like:

NP → Detv N

This rule says that a noun phrase (NP) “goes to” (arrow) a determinative (Detv) followed by a noun (N). We could thus separately list the rules that we would need to cover all the structures:

NP → Detv N

NP → Detv Adj N

NP → N

NP → Adj N

In fact, there’s a simpler way to write all of these different forms with a single rule. There is a convention in writing phrase structure rules so that if something is in parentheses, it can either be there or not. So we could rewrite our rules just as:

NP → (Detv) (Adj) N

This rule says that a noun phrase consists of a noun, possibly preceded by a determinative.

The preposition by and the NP following it in the sentence also form a constituent in this sentence (by a passing cab); it is called a prepositional phrase [PP].

Some examples of the PP are:

to the shops in a weak

after the party next to the bus stop

into the large kitchen nearby

near those very large buildings under the tree

A preposition doesn’t have to be followed by anything, so we can have a preposition phrase that consists of just a preposition (John went outside ) . So a preposition phrase consists at least of a preposition, possibly with a noun phrase following it. We could write this as:

PP → P (NP)

The verb plus the NP following it form a unit as well, as shown by a sentence like A cab rolled out of blackness, and into blackness disappeared[59]. The constituent composed of a verb plus following NP is called a verb phrase [VP]. As with NPs, VPs can be quite complex. In our discourse,

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