A lexical verb is the main verb of the sentence. All verbs include a lexical verb.
As noted in the discussion of the structure of verbs, we can get into all sorts of discussion about just what a “lexical” verb is, but definitions really don’t do writers much good. Rules for use do.
So, for our purposes, 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.) Think of the lexical verb as the main action the subject is engaged in.
A lexical verb does not require an auxiliary verb, but an auxiliary verb exists only to help a lexical verb. It cannot exist alone.
[In the following examples, the auxiliary verb is underlined and the lexical verb is bold.]
- Susan Raymond rested in the shadow of a canyon oak tree.
Susan’s action, which occurred in the past, is RESTED. RESTED is the lexical verb and has no auxiliary verb
- Tim was organizing the award dinner last week.
Tim’s action, which occurred in the past, is ORGANIZING. ORGANIZING is the lexical verb and WAS acts as its helper.
- Every Friday this year, Gloria has taken her dog to obedience training.
Gloria’s action, TAKEN, is the lexical verb and HAS is auxiliary.
- Taking any chance to avoid work, Carlton will pretend to be asleep.
Carlton’s action, which will occur in the future, is PRETEND. PRETEND is the lexical verb and WILL is the auxiliary verb. Do not be tricked by TAKING. It is not a verb. It is a participle.
- Ellen Castro will be attending the movie premiere this evening.
ATTENDING is Ellen Castro’s main action. The other parts of the verb (WILL BE) simply help out.
- Alfred should give his jacket to someone who will wear it.
Alfred’s action, which is conditional, is GIVE. GIVE is the lexical verb and SHOULD helps it and is auxiliary.
- The barber has been giving that man a haircut every month for 30 years.
The barber’s action, which has continued to occur over time, is GIVING. GIVING is the lexical verb. HAS and BEEN help it and are auxiliary.
Linking verbs (those indicating a state of being rather than an action) can include lexical and auxiliary verbs.
- Danny Lee is not a member of the legal team.
Danny is not engaged in an action. He is simply BEING. The lexical verb IS has no auxiliary verb.
- If he pleads guilty, the prosecutors will be surprised.
The prosecutors are not engaged in an action. The complete verb WILL BE links them to their state of being. BE is the lexical verb and WILL helps. It is the auxiliary.
- The actress has felt nervous since she was chosen for the part.
The actress is not engaged in an action. The complete verb HAS FELT links her to NERVOUS. FELT is the lexical verb and HAS helps it and is auxiliary.