Grammatical and semantic functions of verbs in the English language

Seminar Paper, 2006

19 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents


1. Verb Types
1.1. Main Verbs
1.2. Auxiliary Verbs
1.2.1. Grammatical Constructions
1.2.2. Style
1.2.3. Modification
1.3. Semi-Auxiliaries or Lexical Auxiliaries

2. Verb Forms
2.1. Infinitives
2.2. Bare Infinitives
2.4. Past Participles
2.5. Infinitive vs. Present Participle

3. Verbs determining sentence structures

4. Phrasal Verbs vs. Prepositional Verbs
4.1. Phrasal Verbs
4.2. Prepositional Verbs

5. Text analysis: main verbs, auxiliaries, semi-auxiliaries

6. Text analysis: infinitives

7. Text analysis: present participles/gerunds, past participles

8. Text analysis: verbs determining sentence structures

9. Sentence analyis: phrasal verbs, prepositional verbs




The focus of this paper is on the different types and forms of verbs and especially on their semantic and grammatical function. Verbs can convey lexical meaning or solely be used for grammatical constructions without conveying meaning. First of all, their will be given a possible classification of verbs depending on their function either as conveyers of meaning or elements in grammatical constructions. Then, the functions of different verb forms will be looked at. Finally, the verb’s role in a sentence and the distinction between phrasal verbs and prepositional verbs will be analyzed. In a more practical part the theory will be applied to texts and proved by that. The analysis of the texts is intended to provide a concrete understanding of the abstract theory that is depicted in the chapters at the beginning.

1. Verb Types

First of all, verbs can be distinguished by focusing on their function either to convey lexical meaning or to serve as a key element in grammatical constructions.

1.1. Main Verbs

Main verbs

- carry lexical meaning,
- can stand alone in a sentence without being accompanied by other words,
- “convey the key meaning in any group of verbs” (Parrot, 94).

Main verbs can describe either an event or a state or both (cf. Parrot, 95). We can also talk about static verbs, which express a state, and dynamic verbs, which describe an action. There can be made further distinctions within the field of static verbs and verbs that can describe both an event and a state. These different types of main verbs and some examples are shown in the following table:

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

(cf. Parrot, 96)

This distinction is important because state verbs or static verbs are generally not used in continuous tenses.

1.2. Auxiliary Verbs

Auxiliary Verbs

- do not carry lexical meaning (exception: modals)
- cannot stand alone in a sentence
- must be accompanied by at least one main verb in a complete sentence
- 1. can be used to build grammatical constructions
- 2. can be used for stylistic reasons
- 3. can be used to modify an utterance

1.2.1. Grammatical Constructions

The following grammatical constructions can be built with auxiliary verbs (cf. Parrot. 97-99):

Tenses: We use the inflected form of the tense auxiliaries be and have to form “all tenses other than the affirmative form of the present simple and the past simple” (Parrot, 97). These tenses are:

- present perfect: inflected present form of have + past participle
- present continuous: inflected present form of be + present participle
- past perfect: inflected past form of have + past participle
- past continuous: inflected past form of be + present participle

Questions: There are two different ways of building questions depending on the tense that is used in a sentence:

- present/past perfect or progressive: the usual order of the subject and the (first) auxiliary is changed (cf. Parrot, 97). (e.g. You have been crying? à Have you been crying?)
- present/past simple: since no auxiliary verbs are used for these tenses, there must be introduced one, namely do, to build the question. The question is introduced by the inflected form of do in the present or past tense (depending on the original tense) being followed by the subject and the infinitive form of the main verb. The rest of the sentence does not change. (e.g. She went skiing last Tuesday. à Did she go skiing last Tuesday.)
- Additionally, a question word can be put at the beginning of the sentence. (e.g. Why/where/when did she go skiing?)

Negation: Again, there are two ways of building negative sentences depending on the tense of this sentence. Here the construction of clauses of statement is shown. Questions and tenses are built as mentioned above.

- present/past perfect or progressive: not or n’t is added to the (first) auxiliary verb (cf. Parrot, 98). (e.g. He is playing the guitar. à He is not playing the guitar.)
- present/past simple: Does not/doesn’t or do not/don’t is added before the main verb (cf. Parrot, 98). (I like chocolate. à I do not like chocolate.)

1.2.2. Style

Auxiliary verbs can also be used for stylistic reasons.

Emphasis and Contrast: Auxiliary verbs can be used to emphasise an utterance especially when we are contradicting. In spoken language the following elements are stressed to create emphasis and contrast. We use

- the (first) auxiliary verb in grammatical constructions containing auxiliary verbs (cf. Parrot, 98). (e.g. He has not called her yet. – He has !.)
- do/does/did plus the infinitive of the main verb in grammatical constructions without auxiliary verbs (cf. Parrot, 98) (e.g. I did help him!)
- the inflected form of be when the main verb is a form of be (e.g. Why weren’t you here? – I was here!)

Substitution/ellipses: Auxiliary verbs provide the possibility to avoid repeating a whole phrase and to make an utterance shorter by that (cf. Parrot, 98). The auxiliary verbs are used in the same way as described above (Emphasis and Contrast). (e.g. I had never wanted to hurt her but I did [= I hurt her].); (e.g. They all regarded me as a brave man but in fact I wasn’t [= I wasn’t a brave man]).

1.2.3. Modification

The big group of modals also belongs to auxiliary verbs. Modals are verbs like can, could, may, might and should. The infinitive of the main verb is added to these modals which modify the overall meaning than. They can express certainty, probability, possibility, ability etc. Since the topic of modals is a really vast one, there will be no closer description here.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Grammatical and semantic functions of verbs in the English language
University of Innsbruck  (Department of English)
Language Awareness III
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
541 KB
Grammatical, English, Language, Awareness, Verbs, Tense, Active, Passive, Aspect, Continuous, Progressive
Quote paper
Stefan Hinterholzer (Author), 2006, Grammatical and semantic functions of verbs in the English language, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Grammatical and semantic functions of verbs in the English language

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free