What Is a Verb Phrase? With Examples - Language Resources

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This is a guide for teachers to use in order to facilitate instruction regarding the identification and use of verb phrases in English. Primarily, it should serve as a complete list of the basic rules and structures that surround verb phrases. We will write this guide with both middle school and high school English classes in mind. Although native speakers can certainly benefit from more knowledge on this topic, we will use easy-to-understand examples that many ESL students should be able to follow. Some of the knowledge or rules we describe here may need sufficient building blocks in order for students to understand everything, but teachers at this level should be able to build on previous experience.

verb phrase examples

How To Identify a Verb Phrase

By this point, native English and ESL students should know that the language uses verbs to describe particular actions that subjects undertake. For example, regular infinitive verbs might include such terms as to work, play, sleep, or think. These are not verb phrases, however. Verb phrases still describe actions but include more than one part in their structure. In the following sections, we will figure out the rules for looking at and constructing proper verb phrase examples.

It might be helpful for instructors to explain to students that there is an identification key to verb phrases right in the name itself. Unlike a verb, which we can typically think of as a single word denoting an action of some sort, the phrase means that there is more than just a single word involved here. Of course, there can be several words in a sentence that contains a just a single verb in English. However, this kind of phrase has some help from other types of verbs. We can create some simple verb phrase examples in order to illustrate this point more clearly.

The first part of the phrase includes the main verb. Examples of this might include

  • Thomas is there.
  • Cindy likes that.
  • Mary saw the bird.
  • We ate dinner.

We’ve developed some examples in the preceding list that include only simple sentences with main verbs. In truth, these are also verb phrases. However, they have some limitations. We’ve created phrases that do not use any kind of help from other verbs. While this is possible and acceptable in English, it also means that we must set the phrases in only the past or present. Students will notice that the first two simple phrases take place in the present, and the latter two happened in the past. These examples are valid, but they are not how a writer will usually structure a verb phrase.

Most students at this level should already know that constructing good sentences in English requires them to use at least a subject and a verb. However, to make a verb phrase, we need to do a bit more. The main verb is an important component of the phrase, but you also need to include more verbs that help the main one. We call these other verbs helping, linking, or auxiliary ones.

Explaining How Auxiliary Verbs Form Verb Phrases

Some of the most common linking verbs that can help writers make proper phrases include different forms of the terms to be, to do, or to have. Once students know what to look for, it should be relatively easy for them to notice how the linking verbs work. They are short but important parts of the sentence that help it to establish a correct subject, mood, and tense. Further, these verbs won’t make sense mechanically if they are on their own.

Consider this phrase:

  • Joe is educating his baby brother.

We have a complete verb phrase that we can examine. In our example, ”is educating” is the part that acts as the phrase. As students can see, this part of the sentence cannot stand on its own and still make sense. Further, this is a variation of to be, one of the common linking verbs we referenced in the preceding paragraph. The subject here is Joe, and he is a speaker in the singular form.

When we talk about the mood of a sentence, we aren’t necessarily talking about feelings. In the mechanics of the English language, a mood tells us about the specific form that a verb takes. It also denotes its quality. The subjunctive, imperative, and indicative make up the three main mood types that students will probably encounter. In our example, the mood is indicative. This is because the verb expresses a simple and factual statement. Joe is indeed educating his younger brother. It is an action that is taking place between the two. We can tell from the structure of the phrase that the action happens in the present.

How Should You Use Verb Phrases?

One of the most common ways you might use these phrases in writing is as the predicate part of a clause within the structure of your sentences. When we use them in this way, they typically get help from linking verbs. If someone tells you that you aren’t allowed to go there, you have an example of a verb phrase that is in its predicate form. The phrase "aren’t allowed" follows the word "you", the subject of this example. Further, the phrase provides the action for the sentence. Depending on how writers decide to use the phrases, they may only include main and auxiliary verbs.

Differences Between Verb Phrases and Verbal Phrases

The two might sound very similar, but verb and verbal phrases are different. The former is a bit more restricted, and it is something you can only use as a verb. In contrast, a verbal phrase is something you can use as an adjective, noun, or adverb. You can do this as long as you use the verbs and some of the words that come after them. The usual types of verbal phrases in English include gerunds, participial, and infinitive phrases.


In short, verb phrases are sentences that still show action. However, the verb part of the sentence is longer than others that might contain just a single primary verb. The phrase can get some help from several other linking verbs to make its point stronger.

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