Verb Structure: the basics

ALL verbs include a LEXICAL (main) verb.

Now, we can get into all sorts of discussion about just what a “lexical” verb is, but as noted in other sections, definitions don’t do writers much good. Use does.

For those of you in search of a linguistics explanation of lexical verbs, hop on over to this glossary and read what it has to say. For those of you who are just trying to figure out how not to mess up using verbs in your speech and writing, keep reading.

In a nutshell

In the simplest terms, the lexical verb is the part of the verb that most of us think of as the verb. The action. (Or in the case of a linking verb, the non-action.)

Okay, so now for AUXILIARY verbs.

An auxiliary verb “helps” the main verb. Together with the lexical verb, it makes up the verb. Just in case it hasn’t sunk in: A sentence cannot have an auxiliary verb without a lexical verb. After all, it is pretty hard to help something if that something doesn’t exist.

The simple past and simple present tenses are a good place to start examining verb structure because they have a LEXICAL verb only.

  • The woman ran the marathon.
  • He gives his money to charity.
  • The kangaroo hopped quickly toward the fence.

In these more complicated tenses, auxiliary (helping) verbs and lexical (main) verbs make up the complete verb:

  • Susan Raymond was resting in the shadow of a canyon oak tree.

While Susan’s action is resting, it is supported by the auxiliary verb was.

  • With everything going on, the captain might decide to resign his commission.

The captain’s action is decide and might helps or is auxiliary to that action.

  • For the past 10 years, President Marcos has given several awards for bravery.

The President’s action is given and is helped by has.

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