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Chapter 6: The Structure of the Verb Group in the VP
Keys to the Exercises
Keys to the Exercises
.CHAPTER 6: THE STRUCTURE OF THE VERB GROUP (VGP) IN THE VP
In this chapter, the structure of the verb in the VP is discussed in more detail. Most of the sentences we have talked about so far have contained one (finite lexical) verb. In English, a sentence can (in principle) have four auxiliaries and a lexical verb. English is quite unusual in this respect, compared to other languages that typically do not have this many auxiliaries. This complex of auxiliaries and the lexical verb will be called the Verb Group, abbreviated in the tree as VGP. English is also unusual in that if an auxiliary is not present and the sentence is negative or a question, a `dummy' auxiliary do is needed.
In this chapter, the auxiliaries are defined and characterized (see table 6.1). A label is given to each of the auxiliaries, but in the tree structure I represent auxiliaries as part of the Verb Group. Thus, the Verb Group will be flat, i.e. non-hierarchical (for alternatives, see further reading). Auxiliaries are associated with a particular ending, i.e. affix, that appears on the verb immediately to their right (see table 6.3). This process is called affix-hop. This chapter will also provide rules for identifying finite verbs and for distinguishing them from non-finite verbs.
1 Auxiliary verbs
Verbs can be divided into lexical and auxiliary verbs. A VP contains one lexical verb and (optionally) up to four auxiliaries. In chapter 2, we talked about the distinction between verbs and auxiliaries in terms of lexical as opposed to grammatical. Most of the VPs dealt with in the previous chapters consisted of a single verb, and then they automatically are lexical verbs. Examples of lexical verbs are arrive, see, walk, copula be, transitive do, etc. They carry a real meaning and are not dependent on another verb. In addition to a lexical verb, the VP may contain auxiliaries. Auxiliaries depend on another verb, add grammatical information, and are grouped together with the lexical verb in a Verb Group.
Auxiliaries are also called helping verbs since they help out other verbs. For instance, in (1), have does not mean possess; it merely indicates that the action of the lexical verb see was in the past. In (2), on the other hand, have has a lexical meaning (`to possess') and there is no other verb present:
1. The Malacandran has seen the hross.
2. I have a book on sentences.
Auxiliaries invert in questions, as in (3), can precede the negative n't (i.e. the common form of not), as in (4), and can be used in tag questions, as in (5), unlike lexical verbs:
3. Has she gone yet?
4. She hasn't done that yet.
5. She hasn't done that yet, has she?
The Verb Group will be represented as a flat tree structure, as in (6). As mentioned in chapter 3, grammatical categories such as the auxiliary do not have their own phrase (in this book) and hence do not function at sentence level. Grammatical categories function inside a phrase or, in this case, inside the Verb Group:
a. They must be used with a lexical verb (unless elided)
b. They have little meaning; rather, they express tense and aspect
c. They invert in questions, as in (3)
c. They occur before n't, as in (4)
d. They are used as tags, as in (5)
TABLE 6.1: Characteristics of auxiliary verbs
Beginning of chapter
English is exceptional in the numbers of auxiliaries it has and the combinations it allows. Each auxiliary has its own name and position in regard to the others. Modal auxiliaries express uncertainty (might), necessity (must, should), and possibility (can). Modals do not have agreement or tense endings (hence *he cans; *I am canning to go); they are the first to occur in a sequence of auxiliaries; and do not require an affix on the verb following them (He can walk, but not: *He can walked). Thus, (7) is a typical instance: the modal could is first and the next verb be does not have an affix:
7. Rigobertha could be going tomorrow.
Modals are often used to express uncertainty, as in (7) and (8), but they may also mean `ability to', as in (9), or `permission to', as in (10):
8. It might snow.
9. I can swim.
10. You may go now.
Modals in English are: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, and must.
Modals are often used when we ask a favor of someone, as in (11), or when we want to be polite. The `past' form (could) in (11) is seen as more polite than the `present' form (can) in (12). Modals have lost the ability to express present and past tense. Thus, the difference between (11) and (12) is not related to when the action happened, but to how likely the event is to happen. Could is more polite since it expresses a more remote possibility; can is more direct and hence seen as less polite:
11. Could I borrow some money?
12. Can I borrow some money?
In English, the modal will (and shall in some varieties of English) is used to express future, as in (13) and (14), the latter of which is the contracted form:
13. He will go to Mars next year.
14. She'll walk on Jupiter next year.
There are special modals, called semi-modals: dare (to), need (to), have to, ought to. They are seen as modals since express obligation, ability, and necessity. Used to is sometimes added to this group, but it is much more a regular auxiliary expressing habituality. They are in flux between auxiliary and lexical verb status. Thus, in (15), T.S. Eliot uses dare as a lexical verb, but in (16), acceptable for some speakers, dare is not a lexical verb but an auxiliary:
15. Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
(The Love Song of J.A.P, l 122)
16. Dare I eat a peach?
Dare in (16) is an auxiliary because it moves to the front of the sentence to form a question (see chapter 4 where we used this rule to find the subject; see chapter 11 for a structure). In English, only auxiliaries move, and if the sentence contains just a lexical verb, a dummy do will be used (see section 1.5). Since do is used in (15), it is usually thought that dare in (15) is a lexical verb. Some people use (16) in very formal situations. The other semi-modals allow a variety of constructions as well. For instance, ought in (17) is very much an auxiliary since it moves, but in (18), it is not. Both occur in 19th century texts (see the Oxford English Dictionary):
17. Robert Browning, Agamemnon 796
How ought I address thee, how ought I revere thee?
18. He didn't ought to go.
In class, we will go through several options for these auxiliaries.
1.2 Perfect have
Have is the perfect auxiliary. It does not make the meaning perfective or finished though. It is used to indicate that a past action still has relevance. For instance, in (19), the speaker still lives here:
19. I have lived here for ages.
When have is used, the next verb (if it is regular) is marked with an -ed ending, e.g. lived in (19), through `affix-hop'. The form of the verb that is the result of affix-hop is called the past participle. In (20), the ending related to have appears on be, which is an irregular verb (like see, go, do, etc.):
20. Zoltan may have been playing a terrible game.
1.3 Progressive beThe progressive indicates that the action is or was in progress, as in (21) and (22). This is called the aspect of a verb, as opposed to the tense of a verb which tells you whether the action took place in the present, past, or future. In (21) to (23), the aspect is progressive, but the tense is present in (21), past in (22), and future in (23). Since the progressive indicates that an action is or was in progress, it is incompatible with verbs that express a state, as shown in (24) and (25):
21. Zoya is walking.
22. Zoltan was playing the piano, when a noise disturbed him.
23. He will be walking the dog.
24. *He is knowing the answer.
25. *The book is being blue.
To form the progressive, a form of to be is used, as in (21), where the progressive be forms are in bold. The verb that follows has an -ing ending through affix-hop, and is called a present participle. The verb to be is the most irregular in `standard' English, and for ease of reference, I provide the forms in table 6.2:
|we, you, they||are||were|
TABLE 6.2: Forms of to be
Some people argue that sometimes the forms of be are not auxiliary verbs but lexical ones, and that the -ing forms are adjectives. I mention it here as a possible analysis in some cases. For instance in (21) above, one could argue walking is like nice, since like nice, it can be used to modify a noun in (26):
26. My nice walking shoes are very light.
My own feeling is that walking in (21), where it refers to an action, is very different from walking in (26), where it describes the qualities of a noun. Thinking back to the distinctions made in chapter 2, walking would be a verb in (21), but an adjective in (26). The same ambiguity occurs with passives, as will be shown in 1.4.
Beginning of chapter
1.4 Passive be
As seen in chapter 4, passive constructions, as in (27b), are made from active ones as in (27a) by switching the subject and the object around and by adding a form of to be. The verb immediately following this be has a past participle ending, in this case -en, because of the affix hopping from the auxiliary to the next verb:
27 a. I see him.
b. He is seen by me.
The stylistic effects of passives will be discussed in chapter 11. For now, some comments on the form suffice. In (28a), the Verb Group consists of a modal, a perfect, and a lexical verb. Because of the perfect have, the form of the verb see is a past participle. In (28b), the passive be is added and now its form is that of past participle (namely been) because it follows have. Seen appears as past participle as well because it follows the passive be. If this sounds too complex, just look at the ending of the verb on the immediate right of the auxiliary and table 6.3 below:
28. a. Zoya may have seen Zoltan.
b. Zoltan may have been seen by Zoya.
Passive participles can often be analyzed as adjectives (known, mixed, written) and are then not part of the Verb Group. Then, the form of be is not an auxiliary either, but a copula. It is up to the reader to decide whether delighted in (29) is a passive participle or an adjective. Most linguists would argue that (29) is not a passive construction since (a) adding a by-phrase, as in (30), is awkward, and (b) delighted appears after copula verbs such as seem, as in (31), which is typical of adjectives (see chapter 3):
29. She was delighted to get chocolate.
30. *She was delighted by Edward to get chocolate.
31. She seemed delighted to get chocolate.
As we'll see in the next section, if there are two be auxiliaries in a row, the second one is the passive auxiliary. Note that the latter auxiliary gets the affix of the preceding one through affix-hop, in this case that of the progressive. Seen is a past participle because of the preceding passive be:
32. He may be being seen.
1.5 The dummy do
Lexical verbs, such as know cannot be used in questions and negative sentences, as (33) and (34) show33. *Knows he not the answer?
34. *He knows not the answer
To form a question or a negative, dummy do is needed. Do does not appear together with the other auxiliaries but is typically only inserted in questions, as in (35), or negative sentences with n't/not, as in (36), or for emphasis, as in (37). This do only occurs if the sentence does not contain a regular auxiliary, hence the name `dummy':
37. Oh, but I DID know the answer.
In earlier English, dummy do does not appear in this way. In Shakespeare's time, for instance, (38) to (40) were quite common:
38. 2 Henry IV, IV, 1, 98
Westmoreland: Or if it were, it not belongs to you
39. Hamlet, I, i, 55
What think you on't?
40. Hamlet, III, i, 106
What meanes your Lordship?
Beginning of chapter
2. The order of auxiliaries and affix hop
The auxiliaries dealt with in sections 1.1 to 1.4 occur in a particular order: modal, perfect, progressive, and passive. As mentioned, the verb that immediately follows a particular auxiliary bears the ending, also called affix, of that auxiliary. Since the affix associated with a particular auxiliary does not appear on the auxiliary but on the next verb, this process is called affix-hop. The auxiliaries and affixes are listed in the table below (please note that irregular past participles are not listed, e.g. the intransitives swum, lain):
|Name||auxiliary||afiix that appears on the next verb|
must, may, etc
TABLE 6.3: Auxiliaries and their affixes
A sentence that includes all four types of auxiliaries sounds a little contrived:
41. That thief may have been being observed.
In (41), there is a modal may, a perfect have, a progressive be marked with -en because of have, a passive be marked with -ing because of the progressive immediately to its left, and a lexical verb observe that bears the affix of the passive auxiliary immediately to its left.
As shown in (6) above, the structure of a sentence with a number of auxiliaries is not very insightful, i.e. it is very flat, since all the auxiliaries are part of the Verb Group. The negative in English must be included in the Verb Group as well since it is an affix on the finite auxiliary. A structure for (42) is (43):
42. He hasn't been doing his homework.
Other structures have been suggested with a less flat structure (see further reading) but they are still controversial and would lead us into a new set of arguments.
The sentences we have discussed so far have been complete sentences, not sentence fragments. A complete sentence consists of a subject and a finite verb. A finite verb agrees with the subject (in the present tense) and indicates present or past. Its subject is nominative, which can only be seen in the case of pronouns in Modern English, i.e. the subject pronoun of finite verbs must be nominative I, you, he, she, it, we and they, not accusative me, him, her, us or them (you and it are both nominative and accusative).
Finite sentences such as (43) have a Verb Group with a finite verb as its first (or only) member. In (44), have is the finite verb that makes the entire Verb Group finite and as a result the sentence is finite:
44. I [have been going] there frequently.
Have is finite because it shows subject agreement (have rather than has, as in (45)), indicates present tense (have rather than had, as in (46)), and has a nominative subject (I rather than me, as in the ungrammatical (47)):
45. He has been going there frequently.
46. He had been going there frequently.
47. *Me have been going there frequently.
Note that in some varieties of English (47) is grammatical.
Modals, as in (48), are finite even though (for historical reasons) they never display subject-verb agreement:
48. I might have done that.
Only finite sentences are complete sentences. Sentence (50) is not a complete sentence but is a sentence fragment. These fragments are sometimes effective in speech and writing, e.g. the poetry of John Keats in (49):
49. Ode on a Grecian Urn
Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness!
Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape?
What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstacy?
Generally, however, they are frowned upon in formal writing. How can (50) be fixed?
50. Mentioning that point about finite sentences yesterday.
Sentence (50) can become a full sentence by adding a subject and a finite verb as in (51):
51. I was mentioning that point about finite sentences yesterday.
As will be shown in a later chapter, non-finite sentences can only be part of other sentences. How many lexical verbs are there in (52)? Which are the finite Verb Groups?
52. I have heard her sing too often.
In (52), there are two lexical verbs, heard and sing, but only the first Verb Group is finite since have is finite (e.g. the subject of have is nominative I whereas the subject of the non-finite sing is accusative her). Other sentences that include a non-finite Verb Group are (53) and (54), with the non-finite Verb Groups in bold. Note that the infinitive marker to is part of the Verb Group:
53. Seeing the beautiful sunset in her rearview mirror, she missed her exit.
54. She forgot completely to go to the store.
In (53), seeing and missed are lexical verbs, but only missed is finite. In (54), forgot and go are the lexical verbs, but only forgot is finite.
A sentence can contain many Verb Groups, a (potentially) indefinite number if the speaker had enough energy and could continue (55). Sentences such as (55), containing more than one Verb Group, are discussed in chapters 7 and 10:
55. I noticed that she mentioned that he was saying that she should tell him ...
In summary, this chapter has classified the different kinds of auxiliary verbs: the modal, perfect, progressive, and passive which occur in this order; do is added in questions and negative sentences when an auxiliary is not available. Finiteness is discussed: a verb is finite if it agrees with the subject and if this subject bears nominative case. Key terms are auxiliary and lexical verb; affix; participle; modal, perfect, progressive, and passive; finite and non-finite; nominative case and tense.
Beginning of chapter
A. Identify the auxiliary/ies in (56) to (59), e.g. are they passive, or modal?:
56. Rigobertha has been meeting Carlos.
57. Belo and Horta were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
58. Indonesia was not too happy with the decision.
59. They may be bringing about a peaceful solution in East Timor.
B. Identify the auxiliaries (e.g. modal, passive) in the passage from chapter 2, repeated here:
Granny was waiting at the door of the apartment. She looked small, lonely, and patient, and at the sight of her the children and their mother felt instantly guilty. Instead of driving straight home from the airport, they had stopped outside Nice for ice cream. They might have known how much those extra twenty minutes would mean to Granny.
C. Think up a sentence with a perfect and a passive auxiliary.
Add a progressive auxiliary to: He might go. Now add a perfect as well.
D. Take out the perfect in (60):
60. He could have been going.
E. Identify the auxiliaries and verbs that are finite in A and B above.
F. Read the two poems below. Then, compare the use of the verbs: lexical as opposed to auxiliary, and finite as opposed to non-finite. What is the effect of this different verb use?
As the cat
the top of
first the right
then the hind
into the pit of
william carlos williams
Fire and Ice
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.
Robert Frost (1874-1963); www.bartleby.com
Keys to the Exercises
A. has (perfect) been (progressive) in (56); were (passive) in (57); nothing in (58); may (modal) be (progressive) in (59).
B. Granny was (progressive) waiting at the door of the apartment. She looked small, lonely, and patient, and at the sight of her the children and their mother felt instantly guilty. Instead of driving straight home from the airport, they had (perfect) stopped outside Nice for ice cream. They might (modal) have (perfect) known how much those extra twenty minutes would (modal) mean to Granny.
C. He has been seen.
He might be going.
He might have been going.
D. He could be going.
E. In (56), has; in (57), were; in (58), was; in (59), may. In the text, was, looked, felt, had, might, would.
F. In the first poem, there are 2 finite lexical verbs; in the second, there are 12 lexical and 4 auxiliary verbs, and only 1 Verb Group is non-finite. Note also that in the second poem, a number of nouns are somewhat verbal, e.g. hate, destruction, fire, desire. They are either based on a verb or can be used as a verb. Discuss the effects of the verb use on the tone of the poems.
Special Topic: Reduction of have and the Shape of Participles
The prescriptive rule can be formulated as follows: "In formal writing, do not contract auxiliaries".
Most people do not fully spell out the auxiliaries in speech or informal writing. Thus, have in (61) becomes `ve or a, as in (62), or even of, as in (63):
61. I should have done that sooner.
62. I shoulda done that sooner.
63. I should of done that sooner.
Reduction of have is typically done by speakers when have is in fact an auxiliary as in (62) and (63), not when it is a main verb, as in (64), formed from (65):
64. *He shoulda books in his office.
65. He should have books in his office.
Reduction of auxiliaries has occurred since medieval times. Sentences (66) to (70) are from the 15th and 16th centuries, and the reduced forms of have are in bold:
66. Paston Letters, #131 (1449)
it xuld a be seyd
`It should have been said'.
67. Idem, #176 (1464)
3e wold a be plesyd
`You would have been pleased'.
68. Idem, #205 (1469)
there xuld not a be do so mykele
`There should not have been done so much'.
69. Shakespeare, Hamlet, IV, 5, 65 (First Folio Edition 1623)
So would I ha done by yonder Sunne.
70. Shakespeare, 2 Henry 4, II, 1, 126
I know you ha' practised vpon the easie-yeelding spirit of this woman.
Hence, even though the reduction of have to of and -a is common in speech nowadays (and was common in writing in earlier times), it is now not done in formal writing.
As mentioned, the perfect auxiliary have and the passive auxiliary be are followed by a past participle. This rule is often violated. For instance, the past participle bitten and gone is often replaced by the past tense, as in (71) and (72), but this use is not prescriptively correct even though it occurs in writers such as Milton, as in (73), Dryden, Pope, Addison, and Swift (see Finegan 1980:25-6):
71. Some mosquito has bit me.
72. I should have went to Medical School at the U of A. (overheard on ASU campus)
73. Paradise Lost, X, 517-8
According to his doom: he would have spoke,
But hiss for hiss return'd with forked tongue.
In earlier stages of English, the affix was often not present, as in (74) and (75):
74. Chaucer, Miller's Tale, 3739
What have I do?
75. Idem, Wife of Bath's Prol. 7
If I so ofte myghte have ywedded be.
For more on auxiliaries in general, see McCawley (1988, chap 8); Quirk et al (1985: 120-171); for more on a non-flat structure see van Gelderen (1997b); for more on finiteness, see Quirk et al. (1985: 96-7).Beginning of chapter
REVIEW OF CHAPTERS 4-6
In chapters 4 and 5, functions at sentence level are discussed: subject, direct object, indirect object, phrasal object, prepositional object, subject predicate, and object predicate. These are obligatory parts of the sentence. Verbs are classified in terms of whether or not they have obligatory complements (see table 5.1 above). In contrast, adverbials function to add background and can be added to a sentence optionally and without limitation (except for the speaker's and hearer's level of patience). The difference between direct object, indirect object, phrasal object, and prepositional object on the one hand and subject predicate, object predicate, and adverbial on the other is that the former can be passivized.
In chapter 6, the Verb Group is examined more carefully: a Verb Group contains at least a lexical verb but can also contain one or more auxiliaries. Verbs (and Verb Groups) are either finite or non-finite. If verbs express tense and have a nominative subject, they are finite; if not, they are non-finite.
I. Identify the subjects in (1) to (4). Provide two reasons why in each case:
1. In the rain, it is sometimes hard to see.
2. Only one of these people is happy.
3. The book Chomsky wrote when he was young was reissued last year.
4. Were the Wizard of Oz and Catweazle preparing to go to Alabama?
II. Make a sentence with three adverbials.
III. Explain (using terminology used in class and in chapter 5) why the following sentences are odd:
5. *Up the reference I looked.
6. *On the light I turned.
IV. Add passive auxiliaries to the following sentences (and make the appropriate changes):
7. I may have been eating an apple.
8. I am writing an exam.
EXAMPLES OF MID-TERMS COVERING CHAPTER 4-6
In text A:
A. Please list the lexical verbs.
B. List the adverbials, subjects, and direct objects.
C. Please list the auxiliary verbs. Are the auxiliaries modal, perfect, progressive, or passive?
D. List the finite verbs in the text.
E. Are there any phrasal verbs in the text below? If yes, identify them?
TEXT A (adapted from: The Good Neighbor, by G. Black).
Ever since the US Civil War, the countries of Central America and the Caribbean have occupied a special place in the American psyche. Cuba, Nicaragua, Panama and their neighbors have been a magnet for adventurers and pioneers, a proving ground for grand abstractions of democracy and freedom, and frequently they have given scoundrels a refuge. For most of the twentieth century people knew them as "banana republics"; by the 1980s, a chain of clothing stores serving affluent customers in today's travel-mad world had adopted that name.
This was frontier territory, a land where the whim of the adventurer was often the only law, where Americans had limitless prerogatives, and where people considered outside intruders malicious. Senator Hannegan of Indiana saw something else. He saw Britain hastening `with race-horse speed' to seize all of Central America. Spain was the target of similar suspicion at the end of the century, but was succeeded in turn by Germany, Mexico and the Soviet Union. Each of these foreign powers was charged with importing ideologies alien to the natural order of the region.
In text B:
A. Find all the lexical verbs and classify them (monotransitive, etc.).
B. Find all the complements and classify them (direct object, indirect object, subject predicate, etc.). How are they realized (NP, PP, AdvP, etc.)?
C. Point out the auxiliary verbs and classify them.
D. Find the adverbials.
E. Are there phrasal verbs in this text? If so, which are?
F. List the finite verbs.
Continued hostilities have resulted in catastrophic human rights abuses inside Afghanistan. All warring factions have carried out attacks against residential areas. The factions have targetted civilians. They have killed tens of thousands of people in various parts of the country. The vast majority of the victims have been Kabul residents. Previous attacks against Kabul stopped when the Taleban forces entered Kabul about five months ago. Now, Taleban has threatened a bombardment. This will leave many people dead and many more wounded.
The following text is adapted from an article in Arizona State University's State Press:
New play by Steve Martin hits the mark
Imagine if Steve Martin wrote a comedic concept play with the entirely possible idea that Pablo Picasso and Albert Einstein could have met in Paris at the beginning of the twentieth century in a small bistro. He has succeeded, and the Arizona Theatre Company's production of Picasso at the Lapin Agile is a brilliant success. Martin has created a hilarious and thought provoking look at two geniuses.
The play begins with Einstein and several other patrons discussing the probability that Picasso would venture into the bistro. Einstein is anticipating Picasso's arrival. The players discuss everything from physics to the letter `E'. The play abounds with Steve Martin's bizarre philosophies and even stranger sense of humor.
1. In the text above, list and identify the lexical verbs (transitive, intransitive, etc.) and the auxiliary verbs (passive, perfect, etc.) in the first paragraph.
2. Draw a tree for They met in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. Indicate the functions and names/labels.
3. List the finite verbs in the last paragraph.
4. What is the function and name/label (i.e. realization) of the following phrases in the sentences in which they occur:
a. Picasso's arrival, l. 10
b. a brilliant success, l. 6
c. into the bistro, l. 9
5. Explain (using terminology used in class and in chapter 5) why the following sentence is ungrammatical:
*Down the president she ran.
6. Add passive auxiliaries to the following sentences (and make the appropriate changes):
Picasso may have played a part.
Einstein is looking at Picasso.
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