In grammar studies the term verb phrase (VP) has been defined in different ways. On the Englicious website we mainly use the first definition.

1. A verb phrase is a phrase in which a lexical verb functions as the Head. The Head can occur alone or together with one or more auxiliary verbs:

  • They [teach] graphic novels in our university.
  • They [will teach] graphic novels in our university next year.
  • They [will be teaching] graphic novels in our university next year.
  • In this conception of verb phrase the direct object and possible adjuncts are not included in the VP.

    Note: The label 'verb phrase' is not used in the National Curriculum. The National Curriculum defines a clause as "a special type of phrase whose Head is a verb".

    2. A verb phrase is a phrase in which a lexical verb functions as the Head; it can also contain elements other than verbs. In the sentence below the verb phrase comprises only the intransitive verb blush:

  • He always [blushes], when he sees me.
  • But in the next two sentences the VP consists of a verb and a following noun phrase taken together:

  • They just [want a cup tea].
  • She [had a really good time].
  • In these sentences the NPs function as Direct Object.

    In addition to an Object a verb phrase may also contain an Adverbial:

  • We [left school at five].
  • See also clause.

    Building verb phrases

    In this resource we’ll look at how verb phrases can be built up by putting auxiliary verbs and main verbs together.

    Building verb phrases: Activity

    In this activity, use the interactive whiteboard to build verb phrases. Can you use all the words and make every verb phrase grammatical?

    Encourage your students to explore the meaning of the verb phrases they construct: how does the use of modal verbs affect the meaning of the main verb, for example? What about the tense?

    Drag words next to each other and they will 'snap' together. Double-click to 'unsnap'.

    Tense and aspect in fiction

    Exploring the use of tense and aspect in a range of literary texts

    In this activity we will examine some short extracts from novels. The idea is to look at the tense and aspect forms used, and think about how they are used to unfold the action of the story.

    Tense and aspect in fiction: Activity

    It was after supper, and I was reading and smoking at the table. Algie was playing patience and drumming a tattoo with his fingers, and Gus was outside checking on the dogs. Suddenly he burst in. 'Chaps! Outside, quick!'

    Verbs in persuasive language

    In this lesson, students will analyse persuasive language in a charity appeal, and then write their own charity appeal. There is a particular focus on the way modal auxiliary verbs can be used to persuade.


    • Identify modal auxiliary verbs.
    • Analyse persuasive language.
    • Practise writing persuasively.

    Lesson Plan

    Activity 1

    Verbs in persuasive language: Activity 1

    Activity 1

    Identify the modal verbs in this extract by clicking on them, then check your score at the end.

    Verbs in persuasive language: Activity 3

    Activity 3

    Write your own charity appeal, using the source material below. It is a statement from a charity about their aims and methods. Make use of a range of persuasive devices, including modal verbs.

    The "Live Not Exist" charity has been set up with the following key aims:

    Identify the type of phrase

    Identify the type of phrase (noun phrase, preposition phrase, etc.) in each of the examples. Although we have included verb phrases as an option, remember that the National Curriculum calls these clauses.


    Identify the verb phrase Head

    Identify the Head in each of the following bracketed verb phrases. Click on the word (or words) that comprise the Head of each verb phrase to select or deselect them.

    Remember that the National Curriculum refers to verb phrases as clauses.


    Perfect or progressive aspect?

    Decide whether the highlighted verb phrase is perfect aspect or progressive aspect?


    Clauses are considered to be very important units in the study of language. But what is a clause? What makes it different from a word, a phrase, or a sentence? Why are clauses so important?

    A clause is a powerful structure because it can express a whole situation. Here’s an example:


    phrase consists of one or more words that belong together. It takes one of the major word class elements (noun, adjective, etc.) as its Head.

    Verb phrases

    The National Curriculum does not recognise verb phrases as such. Instead, the notion of clause is defined as "a special type of phrase whose head is a verb".

    Here at Englicious we use the term 'verb phrase' in a slightly different way. For us verb phrases are phrases whose Head word is a verb, called the main verb (sometimes also called a lexical verb).

    A verb phrase includes a single main verb, either:

    Verbs: Auxiliary verbs

    A key distinction in the word class of verbs is between main verbs (also called lexical verbs) and auxiliary verbs:


    Englicious contains many resources for English language in schools, but the vast majority of them require you to register and log in first. For more information, see What is Englicious?

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