Catenatives or complex VP - the debate about specific verbs in English

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

17 Pages, Grade: 1



1 Introduction

2 Catenative Verbs
2.1 Definitions
2.2 Auxiliaries, modals, modifier, operator, quasi-modal
2.3 From finite to non-finite VP
2.4 Simple vs. complex verb phrases

3 Simple and complex catenatives
3.1 Simple catenatives
3.2 Complex catenatives

4 Classes and classification
4.1 Criteria for classification
4.2 Syntactical or semantic grouping

5 Conclusion / Summary

6 References

1 Introduction

Most linguists agree that there is a particular feature of certain verbs like e.g. want, begin, try or seem that sets them apart from other verbs: their ability to be combined into chains of verbs, to 'catenate' (Lat. catena: chain).

(1) I don't want to have to be forced to begin to try to make more money. (Palmer 1987: 172)

The term usually used for these verbs is 'catenative verbs'. There remains some form of disagreement about almost every aspect of these verbs, however, ranging from the question which verbs actually are catenative, to the problem of how to analyse or categorise them. Some linguists even question the need to define a class of catenative verbs in the first place. Huddleston concedes that:

"This is one of the most difficult areas of English grammar and despite a great deal of intensive study over the last twenty years there remains much disagreement over the most basic aspects of the analysis."(Huddleston 1997: 209)

The treatment of the grammatical phenomena is further complicated by the fact that linguists tend to introduce their own categories or descriptions for existing categories. This is particularly evident in the argument of modals vs. auxiliaries vs. operators.

An approach differing from that traditionally taken by grammarians is that presented by Dieter Mindt who bases his observations on the analysis of a corpus of actual language.

This paper will try to give an overview of the theories concerning catenative verbs, their relation to the auxiliaries and their features of clause complementation. Due to the scope of work that has been published, only the main approaches will be considered. The field of semantics in particular would merit a much closer look on the effects of sentence taxis1.

And indeed there has been a rather fervid debate about this between Huddleston on the one side and Matthiesen and Martin on the other, conducted largely in the 'Occasional papers for systemic Linguistics'.

2 Catenative Verbs

Here, the main definitions of catenative verbs will be presented, noting their different approaches to certain features and their treatment of the auxiliaries.

2.1 Definitions

Richard Hudson defines catenatives as "verbs that combine with a following non - finite verb". He includes "verbs like get, keep, start, help as well as the traditional auxiliary verbs". (Hudson 2002) Sample sentences given by him include:

(2) a) She was/got chosen for the job.

b) She was/kept talking.

Huddleston and Pullum state that a catenative is present in "most cases where a non-finite clause is an internal complement of a verb". They illustrate this by giving cases of non-catenative complements: predicative complements (3a), objects (3b) and PP complements (3c).

(3) a) Kim seemed a keen student.

b) Kim began the journey.

c) Kim hoped for a successful outcome. (Huddleston 2005: 215)

Gramley and Pätzold agree by defining verbs which are followed by nonfinite verb forms but which are not operators as catenative verbs. (Gramley & Pätzold 1992: 132)

Palmer defines catenatives as verbs that combine with a full verb into verb phrases of theoretically unlimited length. (cf. 1) Although he applies the term 'complex phrase', he contrasts complex phrases utilising catenative verbs against examples such as:

(4) I bought the boat to sail the world. (Palmer 1987: 172pp.)

In (4), there is hardly any semantic relationship between the clauses, whereas catenatives usually imply some semantic restriction on the following verb. Palmer sees a much tighter semantic and syntactic relationship, similar to auxiliary verbs, exemplified by the impossibility of certain constructions:

(5) a) *He kept to talk.

b) *He has talking. (Palmer 1987: 172pp.)

He specifically excludes infinitives of purpose and of result, only the usage in

(6a) being catenative.

(6) a) I promise to make you happy.

b) I promise, to make you happy. (Palmer 1987: 206)

Palmer rejects the approach of analysing the subordinate clause as a nominal that is the object of the catenative verb, thereby setting the catenatives alike to transitive verbs. While this analysis may be applicable to certain constructions, it is by no means a valid description of sentences like (7a). This is obvious from the fact that a subordinate clause can appear with verbs that do not allow an object.

(7) a) He decided to go.

b) *He decided the plan. (Palmer 1987: 212)

The easiest method of distinguishing between catenatives and full verbs are the TNP tests, namely tense, negation and passivisation. While a catenative can be marked for tense and negation simultaneously with its main verb, a full verb only allows this once. This is shown by the following:

(8) a) have remembered seeing...

b) remembered having seen...

c) have seen...

(9) a) have not remembered seeing...

b) remembered not having seen...

c) have not seen... [INT1]

The passivisation test helps to distinguish catenatives from transitive verbs with an object complement. While a transitive verb with a direct object can be passivised easily, this is not true for catenatives.

(10)a) The girl liked working.

b) Working was liked by the girl.

(11)a) The girl kept (on) workig.

b) *Working was kept on by the girl. [INT1]

2.2 Auxiliaries, modals, modifier, operator, quasi-modal

Often, the definition of a separate class of catenative verbs requires some redefinitions and further distinctions to be made amongst the auxiliaries. These are of course different with each approach taken towards the catenatives.

Hudson's decision to include the traditional auxiliary verbs amongst the catenatives leads him to establishing a class of non-catenative operators, allowing him to distinguish between catenative and non-catenative uses of be and have. While the use in (2) is termed catenative, that in (12) is not. (Hudson 2002)

(12)She is ready. - Is she ready?

Despite the fact that "there is no clear line between auxiliaries, catenatives and other verbs that may have subordination" (Palmer 1987: 29), Palmer dismisses the suggestion to treat all auxiliaries as full verbs. He argues that, although here "[t]he TNP tests are ... rather inconclusive" (Palmer 1987: 31), a distinction can be made on semantic grounds. While the auxiliaries do not cause semantic restrictions on the choice of subjects, restrictions may occur based on the first full verb. He contrasts:

(13)a) The water may run down the street.

b) *The water intended to run down the street.

Thus, the auxiliaries are only modifiers to the full verb which is the main verb of the verb phrase. (Palmer 1987: 31)

Huddleston, in his 2005 collaboration with Pullum, revised his position on the auxiliaries that had been criticised by Palmer (Palmer 1987: 28) stating that "auxiliaries, when used as markers of tense, aspect, mood or voice, are catenative verbs, entering into the simple catenative construction", generally taking raised subjects. (Huddleston 2005: 219) Already in 1997 he had explained his position of "not applying the term auxiliary to what [he is] calling the operator class". (Huddleston 1997: 143)

In their 'Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language', Quirk et al. argue for a gradient of modality, ranging from the central modals consisting of one verb phrase (can, may, shall &c.) to main verbs with non-finite clauses that are analysed as two verb phrases (e.g. hope with to-infinitive). The catenatives occupy a position between the semi-auxiliaries (have to, be about to ...) and the main verbs. (Quirk 1985: 137) While they resemble the auxiliaries in that most of the catenatives share the independence of subject, they are "nearer to main verb constructions than are semi-auxiliaries, patterning entirely like main verbs in taking do-support". (Quirk 1985: 146)

2.3 From finite to non-finite VP

There are four basic non-finite forms of main verbs: the bare infinitive, the to- infinitive, the -en and the-ing form (the latter summarising gerunds and present participles). These occur in simple as well as in complex catenative verb phrases.

A rather isolated position towards the to-infinitive is taken by Richard Hudson who suggests the analysis of to as a non-finite auxiliary verb on its own. (Hudson 1998: 68)

2.4 Simple vs. complex verb phrases

A rather straightforward definition for the distinction between simple and complex VP is given by Quirk et al. who define the finite verb phrase as being simple when it consists of one word and complex when it consists of more. (Quirk 1985: 151)

According to Palmer, the three criteria that can be used to distinguish between simple and complex verb phrases are: tense, negation and passivisation; called the TNP tests. In a simple verb phrase both tense and negation can occur only once and a simple phrase can be passivised without problems. Sequences of such phrases are then complex verb phrases. (Palmer 1987: 28) He summarises that:

"Phrases involving primary auxiliaries are fairly clearly simple, while those with catenatives are complex (though not all pass all the tests). Phrases with modals lie somewhere between the two, sharing characteristics of both simple and complex phrases." (Palmer 1987: 28)


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Catenatives or complex VP - the debate about specific verbs in English
University of Marburg
Problems of English Grammar
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This paper deals with a spercial class of English verbs: the catenatives and what distinguishes them from, say, modals or auxiliaries. Different views of how co define verbs along these classes (or even wheter these definitions are at all fesible). The concept of graded progression from the auxiliary over modals, modifiers, so-called operators and quasi-modals to the catenative is explored. The difference between simple and complex catenative verbs is explored, all with extensive examples.
Catenatives, English, Problems, English, Grammar
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Jan Niehues (Author), 2005, Catenatives or complex VP - the debate about specific verbs in English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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