Verbs and Verbal Groups
A verbal group is typically a group with a verb as its Head. That verb is likely to be modified either before the verb (pre-modification) with auxiliary verbs or after the verb (post-modification or qualification) or both. An example is "has been eaten".
Verbs are words such as "eat", "singing" &"listened". They are defined partly by their form and partly by their position or function.
Verbs usually change their form - that is they inflect. A typical verb such as "eat" has five main forms: "eat", "eats", "eating", "ate" & "eaten". Theses form as often referred to as "base", "-s", "-ing", "-ed", "-en". Regular verbs may have fewer forms. For example "walk" has only four forms: "walk", "walks", "walked", "walking".
With regard to their position, they often fit in the following patterns: "The boy ... the fish", "He ... carefully". "She ... intelligent".
Their main function is Head of a verbal group. There are two main types of verb: lexical verbs and auxiliary verbs.
Finite or non-finite verb
A finite verb - and hence a finite clause - is a verb that is marked for either tense or modality. If the verb-form is not marked for either tense or modality, then the verb is non-finite. The non-finite verb forms are:
- infinitive - be, eat, lock, go
- to + infinitive - to go, to have, to study, ...
- the -ing participle (present participle) - being, eating, looking
- the -en participle (past participle) - been, eaten, locked
Tense is an inflection of the verb that relates to time. English has two tenses: present (study) and past (studied). According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 456) verbs in the present tense account for 70% of verb use in academic texts and verbs in the past tense for 15% of verb use in academic texts. It is therefore important to learn them from an early stage.
A modal verb is a type of auxiliary verb. Its function is to modulate the meaning of the verb. They have grammatical functions, helping to form complex verbal groups. Examples are “can”, “may”, might”, “must”. According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 456) modal verbs account for 15% of verb use in academic texts. It is therefore important to learn them from an early stage.
A passive clause has the basic form “The distribution was studied.” It includes a passive verb. According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 477) verbs in their simple form account for 25% of verb use in academic texts. The short passive (without “by …”) is much more common than the long passive with “by …”). It is therefore important to learn passive forms from an early stage. Some verbs in academic texts occur mostly in the passive form.
Aspect refers to the way an action denoted by a verb should be viewed with respect to time. Perfective aspect is realized by “have” + past participle of a verb. According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 461) verbs in their simple form account for 94% of verb use in academic texts; perfective aspect for 6%.
The perfective aspect, however, is commonly used in citations when making general statement about previous research, especially when lists of studies are cited.
- Previous studies on the work-study balance of part-time business students (Campbell, 2004; Guthrie, Logan, & Tuomy, 2003; Smith, 1999) have concluded that most students prioritize work over study.
On a short course, it might not seem to be an efficient use of time to concentrate on these forms.
Aspect refers to the way an action denoted by a verb should be viewed with respect to time. Progressive aspect is realized by “be” + present participle of a verb. According to Biber, Johansson, Leech, Conrad & Finegan (1999, p. 461) verbs in their simple form account for 94% of verb use in academic texts; progressive aspect for 2%. On a short course, it would not seem to be an efficient use of time to concentrate on these forms.
An ergative verb is a verb that can be either transitive or intransitive. However, when it is intransitive, its subject corresponds to its direct object when transitive. This is particularly important when the passive is used. An example is "increase". It is possible to write:
- Inflation was increased.
- Inflation increased.
Students often write "Inflation was increased." when it would be more appropriate to write: "Inflation increased."
These verbs are very common in academic language and other examples are: "accelerate, begin, bend, boil, break, broaden, bruise, burn, burst, change, close, combine, connect, cool, condense, crack, decrease, deflate, develop, diminish, disperse, drop, dry, end, enroll, evaporate, expand, finish, float, flood, fracture, freeze, grow, harden, ignite, improve, increase, industrialize, inflate, join, lengthen, lock, loosen, lower, melt, mend, merge, move, multiply, open, plunge, reload, reunite, revolve, rewind, rock, roll, run, scatter, separate, shake, shut, spill, spin, split, stand, start, stiffen, stop, strengthen, stretch, swing, tear, terminate, tighten, toughen, transfer, turn, twist, vaporize, weaken."