Verb phrases

Level: beginner

Verbs in English have four basic parts:

Most verbs are regular: they have a past tense and past participle with –ed (worked, played, listened). But many of the most frequent verbs are irregular.

 Base form   -ing form    Past tense   Past participle 
work working worked worked
play playing played played
listen listening listened listened

Basic parts

Verbs in English have four basic parts:

 Base form   -ing form    Past tense   Past participle 
work working worked worked
play playing played played
listen listening listened listened

Most verbs are regular: they have a past tense and past participle with –ed (worked, played, listened). But many of the most frequent verbs are irregular.

Verb phrases

Verb phrases in English have the following forms:

  1. main verb:
  main verb  
We are here.
I like it.
Everybody saw the accident.
We laughed.  

The verb can be in the present tense (are, like) or the past tense (saw, laughed).

  1. the auxiliary verb be and a main verb in the –ing form:
  auxiliary be -ing form
Everybody is watching.
We were laughing.

A verb phrase with be and –ing expresses continuous aspect. A verb with am/is/are expresses present continuous and a verb with was/were expresses past continuous.

  1. the auxiliary verb have and a main verb in the past participle form:
  auxiliary have past participle  
They have enjoyed themselves.
Everybody has worked hard.
He had finished work.

A verb phrase with have and the past participle expresses perfect aspect. A verb with have/has expresses present perfect and a verb with had expresses past perfect.

  1. modal verb (can, could, may, might, must, shall, should, will, would) and a main verb:
  modal verb main verb
They will come.
He might come.
The verb phrase 1

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The verb phrase 2

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Level: intermediate

  1. the auxiliary verbs have and been and a main verb in the –ing form:
  auxiliary have been -ing form  
Everybody has been working hard.
He had been singing.  

A verb phrase with have been and the -ing form expresses both perfect aspect and continuous aspect. A verb with have/has expresses present perfect continuous and a verb with had expresses past perfect continuous.

  1. a modal verb and the auxiliaries be, have and have been:
  modal auxiliary verb
They will be listening.
He might have arrived.
She must have been listening.
  1. the auxiliary verb be and a main verb in the past participle form:
  auxiliary be past participle  
English is spoken all over the world.
The windows have been cleaned.  
Lunch was being served.  
The work will be finished soon.
They might have been invited to the party.

A verb phrase with be and the past participle expresses passive voice.

The verb phrase 3

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The verb phrase 4

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Level: advanced

We can use the auxiliaries do and did with the infinitive for emphasis:

It was a wonderful party. I did enjoy it.
I do agree with you. I think you are absolutely right.

We can also use do for polite invitations:

Do come and see us some time.
There will be lots of people there. Do bring your friends.

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Hello manglavipul1,

'Perfect' refers to the aspect (rather than tense) of the verb. You can find out more about perfect forms on this page.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ammu1986 on Mon, 30/03/2015 - 21:17

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Hello sir Please explain me about,how to use the "be" verb in English (I didn't mean be forms like am is are was were)I mean only "be" word uses in english. Thank you sir

Hello ammu1986,

'Be' is an infinitive, and is used the same way all infinitives are used. It is also used in some verb forms, such as the passive. You can see these verb forms on this page.

It's not really possible for us to give long explanations in these sections of broad areas of language, such as all the ways in which 'be' is used in English. If there is a particular example you wish to ask about then please post it in reply and we'll be happy to explain, of course.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ujma on Thu, 19/03/2015 - 10:53

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Why "when I have finished my work, we can celebrate". why not "when I shall have finished my work, we can celebrate".

Hello Ujma,

The future perfect ('shall have + past participle') is not used in this way in English. In a time clause with 'when' that refers to a completed action in the future, we use the present perfect ('have + present participle').

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by sidlfc on Tue, 30/12/2014 - 05:52

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Hello Mr Kirk, Hope you're having a great week! Well I've been trying to figure out two things from the following sentence, ''We should be practicing English very often'' 1. I see the formation of 'Modal verb + be + continuous form' but I have no clue which tense or form is it? 2. What would your strategy be in teaching it to the students ? Your feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in full faith! Sid

Hello Sid,

As you know, modal verbs are followed by infinitive forms without 'to'. Usually this is a base form:

We should practise English.

However, we can also use a continuous infinitive, which is formed with [be + verbing]:

We should be practising English.

When teaching this I simply present it as another form of the infinitive, which they can use just as the normal (simple) infinitive is used. We often think of the infinitive as a fixed form but in fact it is possible to show that there are several kinds of infinitive:

He should call now. [simple infinitive]

He should be calling now. [continuous infinitive]

He should have called by now. [perfect infinitive]

He should be called now. [passive infinitive]

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Hello Peter, Why "when I have finished my work, we can celebrate". why not "when I shall have finished my work, we can celebrate".

Hello Ujma,

I've already answered this question above. Please ask your questions only once. We moderate all comments before they are published, so it can take a few hours for your comment to appear.

All the best,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Abdulgafar on Thu, 25/12/2014 - 02:38

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Sirs, good morning. Pls i need you to express the correctness of this sentence: "I'm sorry, you might have been disturbed by my calls"

Hello Abdulgafar,

That sentence is quite correct. However, if you intend to apologise for something which may have happened (but you are not sure) then using 'if' would be the most natural way:

I'm sorry if you were disturbed by my calls.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

 

 

Submitted by colonyhari on Sun, 16/11/2014 - 07:35

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Hello sir, Your website is very helpful for English learners, thanks for teaching English. I have a doubt, They have completed the work (or) They have been completed the work This is the big confusion among many students. So kindly explain the sentence with examples. Thanks, Hari prasath.T

Hello Hari,

The first sentence is correct; the second one is incorrect. The first is a basic sentence in the active voice. If you converted it to the passive voice, it would be 'The work has been completed by them'.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by ericabonsu on Mon, 27/10/2014 - 15:42

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I will eat chicken soup rather than die. I will eat chicken soup than die

Submitted by vishak mv on Mon, 27/10/2014 - 14:44

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hi i have doubt about 'have been and had been' could you help me and ex plane with one example

Submitted by Subhashine Gun… on Fri, 05/12/2014 - 05:43

In reply to by vishak mv

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I'm the same.Very difficult to use have been and had been.pis help me .

Hello Subhashine Gunawardana,

Take a look at Kirk's answer to the question, which you can find below. I think the links he provides will help you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Kamran Ibragimov on Tue, 21/10/2014 - 07:02

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Thank you Mr. Kirk. Best wishes.

Submitted by Kamran Ibragimov on Mon, 20/10/2014 - 18:12

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Dear Sirs. Could you clarify some statements. I read that we can ommit IT,and that would be more academic style. Which one of these is correct,or give your own correct sentence please. Having compared data given by graph,is transparent that global consumption increased. or Having compared data given by graph ,it is transpaarent that global consumption increased. Please correct any punctiation mistakes, if any were made. Thanks beforehand. Best wishes, Kamran

Hello Kamran,

The first sentence is not correct because the verb 'is' needs a dummy subject in such a construction. By the way, although I understand what you mean, 'transparent' isn't used this way in English - I might suggest saying it is 'clear' or 'evident' instead.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by SHUBHAM KANT DUBEY on Mon, 06/10/2014 - 11:25

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hi,sir please tell me it is passive or active "The intruder (had left) muddy footprints on the floor" According to me it is passive because it have auxiliary verb+past participle but in answer has given it is active

Hi SHUBHAM KANT DUBEY,

This is indeed an active form. Passive forms are made with 'be' and the past participle. This is a past perfect form, using 'have' and the past participle. You can find more information on the past perfect here, and more on passives here.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Chada on Fri, 19/09/2014 - 14:36

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Hi, I'm Thai, I'm not so good at English. I would like to learn English especially speaking and writing. The most difficult part for me is "Tenses" I'm confused between the two sentences below which one is correct. I've been living here for five years. or I've lived here for five years. Thanks
Hi Chada I've been living... is correct because you are still living there. The other would be I lived because (I think) you're talking about the past. Everything depends on what you want to say

Hi Chada,

Both sentences are correct; the difference between them is more a matter of emphasis or context. The first one emphasises the fact you're still living here more than the second one. You can read more about the difference between the present perfect simple and present perfect continuous forms on our page on this topic.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by thanhyen on Wed, 10/09/2014 - 06:18

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Hi teachers, I will have a presentation about verbs and the verb phrases next week. After reading theory above, i confuse that is "want to go" a verb phrase? i see it doesn't belong to any categories above. For example, in the sentence "i want to go to school" the verb phrase is "want" or "want to go?"

Hello thanhyen,

Verb phrases can be quite long and can include other verb phrases, noun phrases and so on in them. In this sentence, everything after 'I' forms one verb phrase, which can then be broken down further into noun phrases, smaller verb phrases and so on.

It's not really our aim to get into linguistics and parsing on this site, which is a site for language learners rather than linguistic analysis. If you want to analyse a sentence in this way then Berkeley University provides a useful onine tool which you can find here.

I hope that helps to clarify it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by rita yl on Thu, 31/07/2014 - 10:36

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Hi teacher, Pls advise if the following letter makes sense: This letter confirms that Ms Mary has worked as a Secretary for the company from ...to ,... Ms Mary decided to develop her career elsewhere after contract end. Wish wish her every success in her future endeavours. Yours faithfully

Submitted by Portillanat on Tue, 15/07/2014 - 21:28

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Hello, I don't see the topic of defective verbs on the page, could tell me what it is and how is it used?

Hello Portillanat,

I have answered this question for you on another page.  Please post questions once only; we will answer them as soon as we can but posting the same question multiple times only slows the process down.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by nidhin13 on Thu, 12/06/2014 - 15:58

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Hi Teachers, Can we have a discussion on modal verbs ? Please let me know the exact differece in the meaning of the below sentences He will be going for the Party He would be going for the party. Or He will go there. He would go there. Please tell me how these sentences are different in terms of will & would. Thanks, Nidhin

Hi Nidhin,

Please see our will or would page for an explanation of these two modal verbs. If you have any questions, you're welcome to ask them, but please be sure to include the context, i.e. a sentence or two before the sentences containing will or would so that we can better answer your question.

Best wishes,
Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by fasikashite on Tue, 29/04/2014 - 11:05

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thank you for your replay! I would like to tell that Will continue to with you.

Submitted by ankita2219 on Wed, 23/04/2014 - 11:40

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In the exercise for Active Passive section, "had been proceeding" is mentioned as "Active", shouldnt it be passive? Again "had been smashed", "had been broken" are mentioned as "Passive." I am unable to understand the difference. Can you please clarify my doubts?

Hello ankita2219,

The phrase 'had been proceeding' is an example of the past perfect continuous form [had been + verb-ing]; 'had been smashed' and 'had been broken' are examples of the past perfect passive form.

The past perfect continuous passive form is a very rare form in English, but it would look like this:

It had been being debated for as long as a I could remember. [had been being + past participle]

As you can see, it is a rather unwieldy form and there are usually better (more elegant) alternatives.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Thanks for the reply but how do I differentiate between active and passive? Is there any thumb rule?

Hello ankita2219,

All passive forms are formed with [be] (in an appropriate tense) + [past participle]. Active forms may use past participles, but they will have a different auxiliary verb such as 'have' or 'had'.  Continuous forms are formed with [be] (in an appropriate tense) + [verb-ing], so you can see they are different.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by taibaYoucef on Thu, 03/04/2014 - 14:21

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thank you a lot of.

Submitted by liana2014 on Tue, 18/03/2014 - 08:37

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hi there thanx very very much about this site for learning English ?

Submitted by ONavas on Fri, 03/01/2014 - 09:13

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Hello and Happy New Year dear Team,

My question is about the third line of the last paragraph it says "was open" in that case,  is it right to write "was opened" ? I thought that  it was the correct verbal form.

Best regards, Olena

 

Hello ONavas,

Both of these forms are correct, but the meaning is different.  If we say 'was opened' then we mean 'someone opened it'; if we say 'was open' then we mean 'not closed' (i.e. perhaps someone opened it, perhaps it opened itself, perhaps it was never closed...).  In grammatical terms, the first version is a passive form, with the past participle 'opened', while the second form is with the adjective 'open'.

I hope that clarifies it for you.

Best wishes,

 

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by Ogewrites on Mon, 11/11/2013 - 13:57

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Hi Editor. Can i say that the passive voice is more like a reported speech? please kindly explain it once more... Thanks

Hi Ogewrites,

The passive voice and reported speech are two different features of language. Please take a look at the explanation of the passive voice on our active and passive voice page. If it's still unclear after that, please ask your question again on that page and we'll explain the difference a bit more. If you do that, please explain how you see the two as being the same - that will help us better answer your question.

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by mahaorui on Mon, 04/11/2013 - 03:28

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Hi Editor, At third exercise for auxiliary verb, the correct answer of sixth question is "has", shouldn't "has"and "been" are all auxiliary verbs. Thank you and thanks for your very good English learning site.

Hi mahaorui,

You are right: in that sentence, has been is the auxiliary verb. I have changed the answer in the exercises so that it is correct now.

Thanks very much for pointing out this mistake to us. Your and other users' collaboration really help us make LearnEnglish a better site!

Best wishes,

Kirk
The LearnEnglish Team

 

Submitted by Ilham Syarif on Tue, 24/09/2013 - 01:09

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hi.

i am ilham from indonesia..
i just want to ask you about the pattern of Verb Phrases..
should it be like consist of a head + modifiers? while the head is the main verb, and the modifiers could be like the compliment after the head, or auxiliary verb, or modal. is it right?

i am still confusing about that,..
thanks a lot before..

Hi Ilham Syarif,

In the headings of the charts above, you can see that auxiliary verbs generally come before main verbs, and modal verbs generally come before auxiliary verbs.

I'm not familiar with the terminology of a "head" and "modifiers" that you mention. But if you define the "head" as the main verb and "modifiers" as auxiliary or modal verbs, then the pattern "head + modifiers" is not correct.

If that doesn't make sense to you, please let us know.

Best wishes,

Kirk

The LearnEnglish Team

Submitted by skinnypigeon on Wed, 31/07/2013 - 16:55

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Hello Learn English Team! I have asked several questions on different pages of this website. Hoping that you people won't mind my asking so many questions, I'm going to ask one more. It's about the verb "build". There's a teacher in our town who teaches B.A English and he says that you can never say

       "Shah jahan built Taj Mahal"  because he himself never built it, instead he got it built or had it built. I need to know if in modern standard English we could say that "We're building a new house" or "We built this house in 1990". I mean I've seen a lot of movies, and I've never heard anyone saying "we had our house built in 1990"

I'll be really grateful if you could explain. Thanks.