Syntactic Theory

The Verb Phrase (VP)

The distribution of the verb phrase

A VP can occur

  • Following a noun phrase: The teacher __.
  • Following an auxiliary: The teacher can __.
  • Following infinitival to: Chis wants to __.

A VP can be substituted by the pro-form do so

  • Pat [read the newspaper] and Chris did so, too.
  • Pat is [reading the newspaper] and Chris is doing so, too.
  • Pat is reading the newspaper in the kitchen ...
    • ... and Chris is doing so, too. (doing so refers to reading the newspaper in the kitchen)
    • ... and Chris is doing so in the living room. (doing so refers to reading the newspaper)

The internal structure of the verb phrase

  • A VP must contain a verb.
  • A VP can contain:
    • an NP (in accusative)
    • a PP (in particular, a PP starting with to, for, about)
    • a subordinate clause introduced with a complementizer
    • adverbials

The VP has the same relation to the verb as the N' level to the noun. Therefore, there may be several VPs embedded in one another.

Example 1: A VP with an NP and a that-clause.

Example 2: A VP with temporal modifier.


Syntactic theories differ with respect to the way they treat auxiliaries. In GB, auxiliaries are lexical items of a particular functional word class, (Inflection). In HPSG, auxiliaries are considered as a subclass of verb.
Both theories, however, agree that the auxiliary is the central element in such a combination. For the purpose of the Traditional Grammar part, we will simply write AuxP for this constitutent.

Example 3: A combination of an auxiliary and a VP.

Avoiding theoretical discussions, we will assume that the negation particle not (or n't) is a sister of Aux and VP.

Example 4: A combination of a negated auxiliary and a VP:

Read further on the other major phrases, NP, AP, PP.

Related exercises:

Categories: Glossary