INTRODUCTION TO VERBS AND VERBALS
ENGLISH LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

INTRODUCTION TO VERBS AND VERBALS

When we talk of verbs and verbals in English, we loosely refer to finite and nonfinite verbs respectively. FINITE VERBS are of three kinds – transitive, intransitive and auxiliary. NON-FINITE (or INFINITE) VERBS are also of three kinds – gerunds, infinitives, and participles. But primary auxiliary verbs can also reflect non-finite forms. It may also be said that a lexical verb can be used as a finite or as a non-finite verb. Notably, the presence of a preceding subject makes the verb finite while the absence of a preceding subject, coupled with a change in verb form and function, makes the verb non-finite.

 

Examples

  • I read the Bible. (Finite Verb: lexical)
  • I am reading the Bible. (Finite Verb: verb phrase).
  • Reading (the Bible) is very rewarding. (Non-finite verb: gerund).
  • To read the Bible is to hear from God. (Non-finite verb: infinitive).

 

For pedagogic convenience, we shall examine each of the two concepts VERBS AND VERBALS separately.

 

VERBS

Verbs are words which denote actions, states, or happenings. They may be transitive, intransitive, or auxiliary.

1. A Transitive Verb is a verb that has a direct object, and it shows that the action of the subject passes on to an object or has some grammatical relationship with the complement. E.g. elect, enjoy, feel, hate, love, teach, abhor, choose, etc. (I chose the second option.)

 

2. An Intransitive Verb is a verb complete in itself, taking no direct object. It shows that the action or state of the subject remains with the subject and does not affect any object. E.g. swim, sleep, fly. (I sleep well.)

 

3. An Auxiliary Verb is a verb that helps main (or lexical) verbs to form their tense. There are two kinds of auxiliaries, namely “primary” (have, be, do ) and “modal” (shall, will, should, would, may, might, dare, dared, etc). There are only three primary auxiliaries – be, do, have – in English and each of them ends in `s’ in the third person singular present and appears as a lexical verb in some sentences (It is/ she has/He does the work) and as auxiliary in others (It is finished/she has gone/He does not eat fast.)

 

These primary auxiliaries have their non-finite forms as follows:

  • infinitive: be, have, do.
  • present participle: being, having, doing.
  • past participle: been, had, done.

 

But the finite forms of auxiliary verbs are 24 in number. They are usually called ANOMALOUS FINITES or the 24 little friends of NOT because they can be joined to the contracted form of not as in isn’t, wasn’t, haven’t, can’t, oughtn’t, etc.

These anomalous finites have two major functions in English. First, they are used as structural words: to form negative and interrogative structures (e.g. He didn’t come/Didn’t he come?); to avoid repetition in short answers and tag questions (e.g. Do you know the answer? No, I don’t/ You will not leave me; will you? No, I won’t); and to decide the position of certain classes of adverbs in sentences.

(Okey is not always around). Second, some of these anomalous finites are used to form moods to reflect the mood of the speaker towards his subject; they are thus termed modal auxiliaries/verbs – shall, will, should, would, can, could, may, might, dare, dared.

 

Below are other subcategories of finite verbs recognised by their unique features:

1. Defective Verb

A Defective Verb is a verb which is not used in all moods and tenses, for some of its parts are missing. Thus, must has no infinitive and no participle. Other examples of defective verbs are: will, shall, can, may, ought, dare, need beware, etc. (Beware, the road is bad.)

 

2. Factitive Verb

A Factitive Verb is a verb that requires additional word(s), besides its own object, to make a complete sense. E.g. made, caused, elected, etc. (The news made him happy)

 

3. Stative Verb

A Stative Verb is a kind of automatic verb which the speaker has no control over. It is naturally in the progressive aspect and does not need ` -ing’ to show its continuous tense. It neither initiates activity nor occurs in embedded sentences. Besides, it cannot be used in the imperative. E.g. hate, have, hear, know, love, own, perceive, posses, see, taste, understand, etc. (I see/understand you, not I am seeing/understanding you.)

 

4. Causative Verb

A Causative Verb indicates that the subject of a sentence causes an action to be done, or expresses that the subject causes an agent to perform an action. E.G. stop, make, etc. are causative verbs (He stopped the car. He made her swear.)

 

5. Copula or Copulative Verb

A Copula or copulative Verb is a linking verb which does not take any object. It takes only complements and serves as a link between subjects and complements. Its complements are either adjectives or nouns. Examples of copula verbs are: be, seem, appear, feel, become, taste, smell, look, sound, etc. in all their forms. All the forms of `be’, for instance, require complements; e.g. I am good./ He is John.

 

6. Verb Phrase

A Verb Phrase is made up of a main/lexical verb and its auxiliaries. E.g. will have gone, had been removed, shall have finished, etc. (I will be eating! I shall have finished eating before you return.)

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