A comparision of verb phrase between english and vietnamese

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Verb phrase 1



Võ Thị Minh Phú

Class 5CQBT.05

Ho Chi Minh city University of Education

Verb phrase 2


For a long time ago, there was the conviction that language was created in order that the communication of human beings meets a demand. Each language, nevertheless, has its own spellings, history, values, and characteristics such as English and Vietnamese, which are two different languages. For instance, they are different with pronunciation, the system of vocabulary, and the system of grammar. Besides, the concept of tense and time stand for English grammar while the meanings of Vietnamese words are more diverse, Vietnamese grammar has no concept of tense, and Vietnamese is a language with a number of marks and six tones: “ ́, ̀, ̉, ̃, ̣̣”

No matter when we mention in any language, we ought to pay attention to syntax of the language like phrase structures such as prepositional phrase, adjective phrase, adverb phrase, noun phrase, and verb phrase. According to Tomasz P. Krzeszowski (Contrasting Languages, 1990: 66), “noun phrases and verb phrases are the two major sentence constituents in a large number of languages.”

Up to now, although a number of research topics about comparisons between English and Vietnamese have been done, I am still interested in doing research on contrasting verb phrase between them. It is not only useful for us to get a general view about the differences and the similarities of verb phrase in two languages, but also effective for us to teach English verb phrase to Vietnamese learners learning English as a second language as well.

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In the first part of this paper, we will have a look at the definition of verb phrase. Then, we discuss English verb phrases and stand comparison with Vietnamese ones to figure out if they have something in common and different.

The second part concentrates on how to apply the comparisons to the teaching English verb phrase to Vietnamese students.

Verb phrase


According to Nguyễn Hoa Lạc, lecturer in English, “In transformational generative grammar, the verb phrase is the part of a sentence which contains the main verb and also any object(s), complement(s) and adverbial(s).” (An outline of syntax, 2004: 53). Besides, a Vietnamese linguist Diệp Quang Ban gives us another definition in Vietnamese, “Cụm động từ là tổ hợp từ tự do không có kết từ đứng đầu, có quan hệ chính phụ giữa thành tố chính với thành tố phụ, và thành tố chính là động từ.” (Ngữ Pháp Tiếng Việt, 2006: 62). Or Phạm Thị Hà, a M.A in Quang Binh University, paraphrased it into English in her paper, “Verb phrase is a free word phrase having main – subordinate relation and containing a verb serve as the central element and many additive elements which modify the meanings for the central element.” In fact, although they are in English or in Vietnamese, they share something in common.

English verb phrase

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In general, “verb phrases come in a variety of shapes” (An Outline of Syntax: 53 – 54). For example:

1. Verb alone

2. Verb + noun phrase

3. Verb + prepositional phrase

4. Verb + Noun phrase + prepositional phrase

5. Verb + adverbial phrase

6. Verb + adverbial phrase + prepositional phrase

7. Verb + noun phrase + noun phrase

8. Verb + quantity

The functional formula of verb phrase is:

(Auxiliary) + Head + (Object) / Compliment + (Modifier)

From the example above, here we have the possibilities:


Auxiliary (ies) + Head

Head + Object(s) / Complement

Head + Modifier(s)

Combinations of the above

However, in this paper, we are going to discuss deeply two common kinds of verb phrase:

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  1. Simple verb phrases

  2. Auxiliaries + Verb Head

We will step by step analyze them with examples and compare with verb phrase in Vietnamese.

Simple verb phrases: Head alone

Simple verb phrase or single-word verb phrases include a headword which is a verb.


(1) Tom walks.

(2) All of the members agree.

The headword of the verb phrase, in traditional grammar, is sometimes named Main Verb, Lexical Verb and Simple Predicate which refers to an action, and process or event in the real world. It may be more than one word.

  • Prepositional verbs (V + prepositions): inseparable

Eg: “to look after”: She is looking after her aged mother.

The preposition is the only one possible in the context and has to come immediately after the verb. Some similar verbs: to look for, sail through, come across, pay attention to, take care of…

  • Phrasal verbs (V + Adverbs): separable

Eg: “to look up”:

(1) He must have looked up the word…

(2) He must have looked the word up…

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Up can come before or after an object if it is a noun.

Up must come after if the object is a pronoun.

Some similar verbs: put down, put on / take off, bring in, break down…


She put down the cup.

Ralph locked up his room.

The mob broke down the doors.

  • Phrasal-prepositional verbs (three-word verbs): transitive verbs

Eg: to come up against, look forward to, put up with, look down on…

Furthermore, there are some exceptions: Two-Words; Three-Word Verbs or Phrasal Verbs.

Two kinds of Two-Word Verbs:

  • Intransitive verbs: don’t take any objects.

Eg: The students dropped out (to drop out)

I caught on (to catch on)

I kept up (to keep up)

I broke in (to break in)

I had to run to catch up (to catch up)

  • Transitive verbs: take direct objects. They consist of two sub-categories: Separable and inseparable.

Separable verbs are transitive verbs when the pronoun object must be inserted between the verbs and the functional words.

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Eg: “to run sb off”

(1) They ran off the dogs.

(2) They ran the dogs off.

(3) They ran them off.

Inseparable verbs are transitive verbs when the pronoun object must follow the functional words.

Eg: “to get through”

(1) I got through the test.

(2) I got through it.

“to take after”

(1) He takes after his father.

(2) He takes after him.

Three-Word Verbs or Phrasal Verbs:

They consist of Two-Word Verbs and Prepositions. When intransitive Two-Word Verbs take preposition, they become transitive Three-Word Verbs and they can take direct objects. In short, Three-Word Verbs are transitive and inseparable verbs.

Eg: to drop out, to catch on, to keep up, to break in, and to catch up.

Auxiliaries + Verb Head

Two kinds of Auxiliary Verbs:

Primary Auxiliaries: be, have, do
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Modal Auxiliaries: can, could, may, might, shall, should, will, would, must, ought to, had to. (Semi-Modals: to need, to dare, used to…)

Use of Auxiliary Verbs:

(1) They help to form a tense or an expression.

(2)They combine with present or past participle or with infinitives to form the tenses of ordinary verbs. Eg: I am coming. / He has finished. / We must hurry.

(3) They combine with infinitives to indicate permission, possibility, obligation, etc. Eg: He can speak Vietnamese. / You may go. / We must hurry.

(4) Auxiliaries serve to realize the grammatical categories of the verb phrase: Tense, Aspect, and Mood.

(5) Modal Auxiliary:

  • is only one in Verb phrase.

  • comes first.

  • followed by the bare infinitive.

(6) Negative Word: comes second.

(7) Primary Auxiliary: be: it has two uses:

  • Be + present participle (- ing) indicates progressive aspect.

  • Be + past part (-ed) indicates passive voice (It was eaten)

(8) Primary Auxiliary: have: It has one use:

Have + past participle (-ed) indicates perfective aspect. (They has eaten)

Combination of Auxiliaries + Verbs:

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In this situation, the verb immediately following the auxiliary take the verb form which that auxiliary should take.

Following is the relative order among auxiliary verbs:

MODAL + HAVE + BE (prog.) + BE (pass)

In the box, the forms they require are: modal requires infinitive, have requires past participle, be (progressive) requires present participle and be (passive) requires past participle.

Eg: He may have sat (modal + have-perfective)

He had been being examined (have-perfective + be-progressive + be-passive)

He will not have been being interviewed (modal + negative + have-perfective + be-progressive + be-passive.)

As we mentioned earlier:

Modal + bare infinitive.

Have + past participle (perfective)

Be + present or past participle.

(progressive) (passive)

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Operator is the first auxiliary in a verb phrase. The following special functions of the operator:

  1. It is marked for tense and indicates the present, past, and future.

Eg: He is coming.

  1. In most questions (except Wh-questions for the subject) the operator changes places with the subject.

Eg: Is she coming?

  1. “not” follows immediately after the operator, before any other auxiliary.

Eg: He has not come.

  1. The operator is repeated in tag questions.

Eg: He is coming, isn’t he?

She hasn’t come, has she?

  1. The operator can take Contrastive Stress.

Eg: He is coming.

She has been seen.

They can’t have been interviewed.

If there is no auxiliary in the verb phrase and the clause is a question, the clause is negated, the clause has a question tag or in which the verb phrase carries contrastive stress, auxiliary do must be used.

Eg: He doesn’t like cream cakes.

Primary auxiliary (be, have, do) may function ass lexical verbs:

Eg: Bert is an engineer.

Verb phrase 11

She is having a lot of visitors.

He did it.

Be, have, do: are the last items in verb phrase. They are lexical verbs. If it is followed by another verb in the same verb phrase, it is an auxiliary verb.

These above things show that, auxiliary components can be optional but main verbs are obligated.

Vietnamese verb phrase

Similarly, in Vietnamese, we also have main verb or lexical verb which includes the headword of the verb phrase such as: đọc, thực hiện, lấy, and đi.

Eg: đang muốn viết thư. (muốn: head verb)

đang mắc bệnh (mắc: head verb)

đang đọc một bài báo hay (đọc: head verb)

However, in Vietnamese, verb phrase consists of three compositions: pre-additive element, central element, and post-additive element.

First, we discuss the first component of verb phrase in Vietnamese, it is central element. It is divided into five groups.

Group 1: Verbs which are belongs to this group never stand alone. They often go with other verbs and they have a number of different types:

(1) Model verbs: phải, nên, cần, dám, có thể, sẽ, định…

Eg: Nó định nghĩ học. (định: central element)

(2) Passive: bị, được, mắc, phải…

Eg: Anh ta bị thầy phạt. (bị: central element)

Verb phrase 12

(3) Verb phrase with two parallel existential actions: đứng khóc, nằm ngủ, đi học, đi chơi, ngồi nghe…

Eg: Anh ta đi chơi phố. (đi chơi: central element)

Group 2: Verbs go with additive elements.

(1) Verb phrase with two actions but the second verb is an additive element in sense: ăn đứng, ngã ngồi, đặt nằm, chết đứng…

Eg: Đặt nằm lên giá sách. (đặt: central element; nằm: additive alement)

(2) Verbs with sense of moving: mở, dậy, kéo, đến, xuống, đi, bưng…

Eg: Anh ta đi ra. (đi: central element; ra: additive)

(3) Verbs with sense of achieving results: hiểu ra, đọc xong, bay mất, nhặt lấy, thu được, tìm thấy…

Eg: Nó để bay mất con gà. (bay: central element; mất: additive element)

(4) Verbs with sense of affecting two objects: cho, tăng, biếu, lấy, mượn, vay, cầm, xin, gửi…

Eg: Lan tặng Nam hai cuốn truyện. (tặng: central element; Nam: object 1; hai cuốn truyện: object 2)

(5) Verbs with sense of governing two objects and objects’ activities are actions of order: bảo, sai, bắt, cho phép, buộc, khiến…

Eg: Thầy giáo bảo Nam lên bảng. (bảo: central element)

(6) Verbs with sense of governing an object and connecting with other objects: trộn, pha, nối, chắp, hòa…

Eg: Trộn bột với đường. (trộn: central element; bột and đường: objects)

Verb phrase 13

(7) Verbs with sense of governing additive element and having the structure A is B and meanings of evaluating: coi, bầu, lấy, xem, cử…

Eg: Tôi coi anh là bạn. (A is B)

Bầu bạn Nam là lớp trưởng. (A is B)

Group 3: Combination verbs: chạy ra chạy vào, bàn qua bàn lại, đi ngược về xuôi, trèo lên tụt xuống…

Group 4: Verbs with sense of the state or a period of an action: bắt đầu học, tiếp tục đi, thôi nói, hết chạy, ngừng học…

Group 5: Verbs with sense of mood: lo lắng, bồn chồn, thoi thóp, thấp thỏm…

Eg: Người mẹ đang lo lắng về đứa con của mình.

Secondly, we move on to the next component of Vietnamese verb phrase: pre-additive element. It contains six groups.

(1) Words with sense of continuing of activity or state: đều, vẫn, cứ, lại, mãi, tiếp tục…

Eg: Họ vẫn ngồi im. (vẫn: pre-additive element of the verb: ngồi)

(2) Words indicate the time of action or state: từng, đã, vừa, mới, đang, sẽ…

Eg: Em sẽ kể anh nghe

Chuyện con thuyền và biển. (sẽ: pre-additive element of the verb: kể)

(3) Words indicate the frequency: thường, hay, ít, đôi khi, thỉnh thoảng…
Verb phrase 14

Eg: Anh ta thỉnh thoảng ghé qua chổ tôi. (thỉnh thoảng: pre-additive element of the verb: ghé)

(4) Words indicate the negation or affirmation: không, chưa, chẳng, chỉ…

Eg: Em ở đây, đời chẳng còn đáng ngại.

Em ở đây, bàn tay tin cậy.

(chẳng: pre-additive element)

(5) Words indicate the order: hãy, đừng, chớ…

Eg: Chớ nói cười, hãy lắng nghe xem đã.

Có rơi chăng trong đáy của tâm hồn.

(chớ and hãy: pre-additive elements)

(6) Words indicate the level: rất, hơi, khí, quá…

Eg: Rất đẹp hình anh lúc nắng chiều. (rất: pre-additive element)

Finally, we discuss the last part of Vietnamese verb phrase: post-additive element. This element is so complex in terms of words, formation and meanings. Words such as noun, verb, adjective, pronoun, adverb, and number, can stand after verb. For example: ăn cơm (cơm is a noun), đi học (học is a verb), đi nhanh (nhanh is an adjective) and ghét nó ( is a pronoun). Besides, about the formation, additive element after verb can be a single word, a word phrase or a sentence. For example: nói chậm (chậm is a verb), nói cho vui nhà (cho vui nhà is a word phrase), and nói chúng ta có nhiều tiến bộ (chúng ta có nhiều tiến bộ is a sentence). Moreover, the meaning of additive element after verb is different.

Verb phrase 15

  1. Words with sense of line of action: đi ra, trở lại, nhìn sang, bay qua, đi tới…

  2. Words with sense of state and process of action: đi ngay, nói liền, trả lời lập tức, ăn nữa, nói hoài…

  3. Words with sense of order: về nào, nói đi, nghỉ thôi, chờ với, ngủ đã, tiến lên, hát lên…

  4. Words with sense of finishing or beginning an action: làm xong, ăn xong, có rồi, hiểu rồi, nghe rồi…

  5. Words with sense of passive, beneficial or damaged results: gặp phải, bay mất, hao đi, đá phải, nhận được, thu về…

  6. Words with sense of mutual interaction or itself: làm lấy, viết lấy, giải quyết lấy…

  7. Words with sense of including two elements connecting A and B: trộn bột với đường.

  8. Words with sense of addition: nói vào, bàn vào…

  9. Words with sense of decreasing: cào ra, bớt đi…

(10)Words with sense of increasing: xông tới, tăng lên…

(11) Words with sense of repetition: nói lại, vặn lại, nhắc lại, xin lại…

We have just discussed how similar and different English verb phrase is when comparing with Vietnamese one. Both English and Vietnamese verb phrase consist of three main components. Nevertheless, English verb phrase is different from Vietnamese one in each element. As we have mentioned earlier,

Verb phrase 16

three elements of English verb phrase are: auxiliaries, main verb, and complements, while in Vietnamese, they are pre-additive element, central element, and post-additive element.

Teaching implication

To some teachers, it is not hard for them to teach English structures and phrasal verb to Vietnamese students. However, it is not easy for students to learn how to distinguish between intransitive and transitive verbs, and phrasal verbs. In this part, we are going to see some advices in teaching English verb phrase to Vietnamese students.

To transitive and intransitive verbs, each teacher has her or his methods to explain how to have a thorough grasp of these verbs to his or her students. The easy way for students to study these verbs is that they have to learn by heart. However, it is hard for them to study these verbs without using and practicing in their real life. Teachers should use examples and phrases to make these verbs clear to learn and easy to remember for the students. An experienced foreigner teacher, Ken Symicek, he said that even English people themselves, they can not learn if they just study separate word lists. Students have to study phrases. He also shows students how to collect phrases, review phrases and remember phrases.

Besides, phrasal verbs are among the hardest elements of the English language for non-native English speakers. The only way to teach them is by giving clear examples. Here is a method of teaching phrasal verb by storytelling.

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First, teachers write a story that uses one instance of each applicable phrasal verb that contains one particular verb. Write a short story for as plenty of phrasal verb as they can. Second, teachers give the story to students and let them read aloud to them. Then, teachers take questions about phrasal verbs that they heard in the story. Next, prompt students as necessary to explain some of the harder phrasal verbs to make sure they have the right idea of the way phrasal verbs are used. Finally, teachers ask students to create their own stories that used the phrasal verb they have covered. By using their own words make them learn phrasal verb effectively. After practicing these stories, students will be able to use phrasal verbs with confidence.


In short, language is the mean to communicate of human beings. It is a bridge to connect people from country to country. However, each country has its own language, so it makes people confused to understand the characteristics, the structures, and the origin of each language because it is so complicated. For example, it contains a number of components which consist of smaller elements. For helping Vietnamese teachers who teach English as a second language convey the knowledge better, this paper focuses on the comparison between English verb phrase and Vietnamese one. It will be useful for them to improve their skills and make students study well because the purpose of the teachers is to help students understand and use English efficiently.

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Nguyen, H.L. (2004). An outline of syntax. Ho Chi Minh city: University of Education Press.

Diep, Q.B. (2006). Ngữ pháp tiếng Việt. Ho Chi Minh city: Education Publishing House.

Phạm, T.H. Some English verb phrases versus Vietnamese verb phrases. Retrieved December, 10, 2009, from http://docjax.cloudapp.net/document/view.shtml?id=796998&title=Some%20English%20verb%20phrases%20versus%20Vietnamese%20verb%20phrases%20Any%20...

Ken Symicek, English Teaching Methods for Vietnam. Retrieved December, 15, 2008, from http://5starenglish.hotels.officelive.com/Documents/5_Star_Teaching_in_Vietnam.pdf

How to teach a phrasal verb with storytelling. Retrieved December, 20, 2009 from http://www.ehow.com/how_2080894_teach-phrasal-verb-storytelling.html

Tomasz P. Krzeszowski (1990). Contrasting Languages. Mouton de Gruyter, Berlin – New York.

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