Ho chi minh city university of education department of english

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Verb Phrase in English and Vietnamese Page of




Instructor: Nguyen Ngoc Vu

Student: Nguyen Thi Ngoc Tho _ 5CQDP

HCMC, 30/12/2009


It is very difficult to understand the structure, sentence, clause or text of any language without analyzing the components which form them. These components are very various and complicated. They may be word phrases such as noun phrase, verb phrase, adverb phrase or adjective phrase... In linguistics, verb phrase is considered a complicated term, especially in Vietnamese. In fact, many Vietnamese authors of grammatical books agree that Vietnamese verb phrase is so various in terms of form and meaning and it is used not only in daily life but also in literature. In different language, verb phrase has different ways to form. English also has its own ways to form verb phrases. Therefore, this paper help us have information about verb phrase in English and Vietnamese in a contrastive view of formation. Furthermore, at the end of this paper, I will discuss some implications for language teaching. I hope that through this topic, readers will know the similarities and differences of verb phrase in English and in Vietnamese.


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 (the information of Giáo trình ngữ pháp Tiếng Việt tập II, 80)


  • verb phrase always contains a verb as the central element.

  • the central element usually governs additive elements.

Verb Phrase in English

Verb phrase in English includes three main components:

  • auxiliaries

  • main or lexical verbs

  • complementation

the formation of English verb phrase is: auxiliary + main verb + complementation

    1. Auxiliaries

Auxiliaries are used to encode the following categories within the verb phrase:

*Aspect is expressed by using either the verb be and the present participle for the progressive aspect or the verb have with a past participle for the perfect aspect.


Progress: to be + V_ing

Is/am/are + V_ing

Eg: He is doing his homework now.

I am thinking of you now.

They are swimming now.

Was/were + V_ing

Eg: He was studying philosophy.

They were having their breakfast at 8 o’clock yesterday

Will/may/must/can/could/should/would/might + be + V_ing

Eg: Tom must be staying at Thang Long Hotel at the moment.

Tom will be coming back tomorrow.

Has/have been + V_ing

Had been + V_ing

Eg: They have been living here for three years.

He has been learning English for four years.

They had been meeting in the zoo.

Perfect: has/have/had + main verb (past participle)

Eg: I have learned English for three years.

He has worked for that company since 1992.

Mai had gone to London before she moved here.

*Modality is expressed with the auxiliaries can, could, may, might, must, will, would, shall, should, ought to, dare and used to

Formation: modal + verb (bare infinitive)

Eg: He can sing

You should stay at home.

You ought to finish your work before going out.

I used to fly a kite when I was a little boy.

*Passive voice is expressed by using the verb be and a main verb in the past participle form.

Formation: to be + verb (past participle)

Is/am/are + verb (past participle)

Eg: He is punished

They are beaten

I am kicked by him

Was/were + verb (past participle)

Eg: The window was broken

Only a few fish were caught by the fishermen.

Has/have/had + been + verb (past participle)

Eg: Wolves have been seen in the streets.

His name has been forgotten

May/will/would/might/can/could/must/should/have to + be + verb (past participle)

Eg: These doors must be shut.

A song can be sung by her.

Is/am/are + being + verb (past participle)

Eg: The bridge is being repaired.

Was/were + being + verb (past participle)

Eg: A house was being built by him.

Has/have/had + been + being + verb (past participle)

Eg: English has been being learned by them.

All these cakes have been being eaten by them.

Rice had been being cooked by my mother.

May/might/will/would/can/could/should/must + have + been + verb (past participle)

Eg: He should have been punished.

All the decorating will have been finished by the weekend.

She should have been informed about the delay.

*Interrogative clauses are using by the auxiliary do/does/did before the subject and a main verb in the plain form.

Eg: Do you want that house?

Did you meet him yesterday?

*Negation is expressed by using the auxiliary don’t/doesn’t/didn’t and a main verb in the plain form

Eg: I don’t want that house.

I didn’t meet him yesterday.

All the auxiliaries I have mentioned can be remembered easily through this table (“hypertextbooks grammar” website)

Some Examples of the Verb Phrase in English



Main Verb





















































Auxiliary Support

Main Verb

    1. Main verb

According to the information of the “grammarpedia” website, the English verb includes following types:

*Intransitive verb: come, go, move...

Eg: He has just come.

*Complex intransitive verb + complement/ adverb: to be, become...

Eg: They became close friends three years ago.

*Transitive verb + object direct: buy, sell...

Eg: They have just bought a new car.

*Complex transitive verb + object direct +complement/ adverb: paint, vote, appoint, elect...

Eg: He painted this door blue.

Ms Giang was appointed the manager last week.

*Distransitive verb + object indirect + object direct: give, offer, bring...

Eg: He gave her a red rose on her birthday.

Distransitive verb: gave

Object direct: her

Object indirect: a red rose

These verbs can be made understandable through this table

(S = subject, V = verb, O = object, Oi = indirect object, Od = direct object, PC = predicative complement)

Transitivity type

Basic Constituents




Sarah sneezed.

Complex intransitive


Sarah is a teacher.



Sarah ate an apple.

Complex transitive


Sarah considers George a genius.


S V Oi Od

Sarah gave Debbie a book.

    1. Complementation

In English verb phrases, the main verb sometimes is followed by the complementation which can be divided into two types: complement and adjuncts.

3.1 Complement

There are three basic types of complements:

  • objects

  • predicative complements

  • complements that express other types of semantic relation such as location


An object is a noun phrase complement required by the verb and is affected by the situation described by the verb. There are two types of objects: direct and indirect objects. They are illustrated in this table.








a cake every birthday.




fifty cents.




the most exaggerated stories about his fishing exploits.

Moreover, objects can sometimes be encoded either by noun phrases (like eggs) or by subordinate clauses (like to play chess)

Predicative complements (PC)

Predicative complements are used to provide additional information about another entity in the clause and they do not refer to a new entity. Verbs that require predicate complements are be, feel, seem, appear. There are different kinds of predicative complements:

  • adjective phrase complement: appear very friendly

  • noun phrase complement: is a friend

  • prepositional phrase complement: appear in good form

  • finite clause: feels she is better than ever

  • non-finite clause: seems to play piano well

Another type of complements is a preposition phrase or adverbial phrase that indicates the direction of the movement.

  • prepositional phrase complement: sat on the chair

  • adverbial phrase complement: sat down

Furthermore, we have to pay attention to phrasal verbs which are also considered verb phrases. Phrasal verbs refer to a number of verbs that include a preposition as a particle.

Eg: turn the light on/ brighten the room up

3.2 Adjuncts

Adjuncts are adverbs or adverbial phrases and clauses that encode adverbial meanings. There is quite a wide variety of semantic and syntactic types of structures that can be used as adjuncts. The following two tables will illustrate these two types:

Semantic types of adjuncts in English:

Adjunct type



Debbie and Jude watched the movie reluctantly.


Debbie and Jude watched the movie at the Nova.


Debbie and Jude watched the movie yesterday.


Debbie and Jude watched the movie for ten minutes.


Debbie and Jude watched the movie every week.


Debbie and Jude watched the movie to find out what happened.


Debbie and Jude will watch the movie if they must.


Although they were reluctant, Debbie and Jude watched the movie.

Grammatical structures of adjuncts:

Grammatical structure



Debbie and Jude watched the movie reluctantly


Debbie and Jude watched the movie at the Nova


Debbie and Jude watched the movie every week

Finite clause

Although they were reluctant, Debbie and Jude watched the movie.

Non-finite clause

Debbie and Jude watched the movie to find out what happened.

Verb phrase in Vietnamese

Verb phrase in Vietnamese includes three elements: pre-additive element + central element + post-additive element.

  1. Pre-additive element

We can divide pre-additive element into the following groups (Giáo trình ngữ pháp Tiếng Việt tập II)

*Words with sense of continuing of activity or state: đều, cũng, vẫn, cứ, lại, mãi, tiếp tục...

Eg: Họ vẫn ngồi im.

vẫn is pre-additive element of the verb phrase “vẫn ngồi”

*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 is the pre-additive element of the verb phrase “sẽ kể”

*Words indicate the frequency: thường, hay, năng, ít, đôi khi, thỉnh thoảng...

Eg: Anh ta thỉnh thoảng ghé qua chỗ tôi.

Thỉnh thoảng is the pre-additive element of the verb phrase “thỉnh thoảng ghé”

*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 is the pre-additive element

*Words indicate the level: rất, hơi, khi, quá...

Eg: Rất đẹp hình anh lúc nắng chiều

Rất is the pre-additive element

*Words indicate the order: hãy, đừng, chớ...

Eg: Chớ nói cười, hãy lắng nghe xem đã

Chớ ,hãy is the pre-additive element of the verb phrase “Chớ nói cười, hãy lắng nghe”

*Words indicate the limitation: chỉ

Eg: Cô ấy chỉ xinh thôi

  1. The central element

The central element is divided into five groups (the information of “English verb phrases versus Vietnamese verb phrases” website)

*Group 1: These verbs do not stand alone, they are usually followed by other verbs. There are many different types:

- Modal verbs: phải, nên, cần, dám, có thể, sẽ, định...

Eg: Nó định nghỉ học

định is the central element

- Passive: bị, được, mắc, phải, chịu...

Eg: Anh ta bị thầy phạt

bị is the central element

- Verb phrase with two parallely existential actions: đứng khóc, nằm ngủ, đi học, đi chơi, ngồi nghe...

Eg: Anh ta đi chơi phố

đi chơi is the central element

- 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 is the central element and nằm is the additive element

*Group 2: Verbs always go with additive elements

- Verbs with sense of moving: mở, dậy, kéo, đến, xuống, đi, bưng....

Eg: Anh ta đi ra

đi is the central element and ra is the additive element

- 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 is the central element and mất is the additive element

- Verbs with sense of affecting two objects: cho, tặng, biếu, lấy, mượn, vay, cầm, xin, gửi...

Eg: My tặng Thọ hai cuốn truyện

central element: tặng

object 1: Thọ

object 2: hai cuốn truyện

- 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 is the central element

- Verbs with sense of governing an object and connecting with another object: trộn, pha, nối, chắp, hòa...

Eg: Trộn bột với đường

trộn is the central element

bột and đường are objects

- Verbs with sense of governing additive element and having the structure A is B and meanings of evaluating: coi, bầu, lấy, xem, cử...

Eg: Coi anh là bạn

Bầu ông Thao là chủ tịch

*Group 3: combination of 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

  1. Post-additive element

Post-additive element of Vietnamese verb phrase is very complicated in terms of word, formation and meaning (the information of “English verb phrase versus Vietnamese verb phrase” website)

*Words: noun, verb, adjective, pronoun, adverb, number can stand after verb

Eg: Ăn cơm (cơm is a noun)

Đi học (học is a verb)

Đi nhanh (nhanh is an adjective)

Ghét nó (is a pronoun)

*Formation: a single word, a word phrase or a sentence can stand after a verb

Eg: nói chậm (chậm is a word)

nói cho vui nhà (cho vui nhà is a word phrase)

nói chúng ta có nhiều tiến bộ (chúng ta có nhiều tiến bộ is a sentence)

*Meanings: additive elements after verbs have many different meanings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Words with sense of addition: nói vào, bàn vào...

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

- Words with sense of increasing: xông tới, tăng lên....

- Words with sense of repetition: nói lại, vặn lại, nhắc lại, xin lại...

Through what I have discussed, you can see all the characteristics of English and Vietnamese verb phrases. Verb phrases in English include three elements: auxiliary, main verb and complementation. Like English, verb phrases in Vietnamese also have three elements: pre-additive element, central element and post-additive element. Within this paper, I would like to discuss the contrast between English and Vietnamese verb phrases in term of the parallel elements in the two formation of verb phrases.

- Firstly, I will discuss the contrast between English and Vietnamese first element of verb phrase. In English, the first element of verb phrase is the auxiliary and in Vietnamese, it is pre-additive element. The auxiliaries mainly focus on grammar. On the contrary, pre-additive elements mainly focus on meanings, just two groups of word belong to grammar. Therefore, like English, Vietnamese pre-additive elements also have the same meaning with auxiliary of tense in English:

He will go to school tomorrow. Ngày mai anh ấy sẽ đi học.

However, because it is said that there is no tense in Vietnamese sentences, the formation of first element of verb phrases of English and Vietnamese has differences although their meanings are the same. For example, không, chẳng, chưa in Vietnamese are similar to not in English

He didn’t do his homework yesterday. Ngày hôm qua anh ấy không làm bài tập.

She hasn’t finished her homework. Cô ấy chưa làm xong bài tập.

I am studying. Tôi đang học the differences of the form

Moreover, many linguistics agree that pre-additive elements of verb phrases in Vietnamese are more various than these in English in term of meaning. They not only have groups of word that have the meaning similar to auxiliary but also have other groups of words with different meanings which English pre-additive elements do not have.

Anh ấy vẫn hát. He still sings

(vẫn is pre-additive element of verb phrase in Vietnamese, but still is not pre-additive element of verb phrase in English)

Cô ấy thỉnh thoảng thăm tôi. She sometimes visits me.

(thỉnh thoảng is pre-additive element of verb phrase in Vietnamese, but sometimes is not pre-additive element of verb phrase in English)

- Second element of English and Vietnamese verb phrase that we continue discussing is the central elements (main verbs). Like English, some Vietnamese main verbs also take two objects (distransitive verbs) and some verbs have the structure of A is B (complex transitive verbs)

Lan gives Nam two books Lan cho Nam hai quyển sách

He considers her a genius Anh ấy xem cô ấy là một thiên tài

However, the forms of two structures are different. In English, there is no word between two objects, but in Vietnamese, we have the word “” between the two objects.

In addition, there is a different between central element in English and Vietnamese. It is the appearance of modal verb passive verb which are considered the pre-additive element of verb phrase in English.

Tôi nên đi nghỉ. I should go to bed.

(nên is the central element, but should is the pre-additive element)

Anh ta bị phạt He is punished

(bị is the central element, but is is the pre-additive element)

Furthermore, Vietnamese verbs are more complicated and interesting than English verbs. The interesting thing is the combination of verbs in Vietnamese, sometimes it is the reduplication (lo lắng, bồn chồn, thoi thóp, thấp thỏm...). Vietnamese verbs are also complicated because of their meanings (đặt nằm, chết đứng, ngã ngồi...). These verbs do not appear in English. This complication may be the result of the variety of Vietnamese language.

- The last element of verb phrase is the post-additive element. Both English and Vietnamese verbs are followed by objects with different types of word (noun, pronoun, adverb, adjective)

They eat fruits Họ ăn trái cây

He hates her Anh ấy ghét cô ấy

He walks very fast Anh ấy đi một cách nhanh chóng

She is very beautiful Cô ấy rất đẹp

However, there is a difference in the case of an adjective after a verb between English and Vietnamese verb phrases. In English, adverb always go with verb (except some verbs: to be, become, feel...), but in Vietnamese, this kind of adverb in English is considered adjective. For instance, He walks very fast (fast is an adverb) - Anh ấy đi nhanh (nhanh is an adjective)

Moreover, there is a special thing in Vietnamese verb. The verb is considered post-additive element of verb phrase. English does not have object as a verb.

Tôi đi học I go to school

+ About the form, both English and Vietnamese verb phrases have post-additive element as a single word, word phrase or a sentence.

We eat apples Chúng ta ăn táo

She appears in a nice dress Cô ấy xuất hiện với một bộ đầm đẹp

She says we have a lot of progress Cô ấy nói chúng ta có nhiều tiến bộ.

+ About meaning, post-additive elements in Vietnamese are more complicated than these in English. This variety of meaning comes from different kinds of expression in Vietnamese and it is also considered the beauty of Vietnamese language (chờ với, ngủ đã, hao đi, nói hoài...) which we can not see in English language.

Through a contrastive view of English and Vietnamese verb phrase, I would like to discuss some implications for language teaching at high school in our country.

- Firstly, most of Vietnamese students have a tendency to translate word by word. Therefore, they should be teach how to translate Vietnamese verb phrases into English verb phrases. For example, some students may translate đi học (go to school) into go study because they think that đi and học are two different verbs. Teachers should give examples to clarify the structure of Vietnamese verb phrases as well as English verb phrases.

- Secondly, teachers should use syntactic diagram tree to help students understand the structure of English verb phrases easily. As a result, they can know what is the main element or what is modifier, which is very useful for students to make sentences easily when they write.

- Finally, teachers should remember that verb phrase is very difficult for students at high school to understand easily, so it is necessary to give students more exercises to practice. In addition, teachers can introduce verb phrase when teaching verbs in vocabulary.

In conclusion, verb phrase is a part in the structure of a sentence. It is used in both daily life and literature. A contrastive analysis between English and Vietnamese is useful because it can help us understand the differences between verb phrase of two languages. Furthermore, some implications for teaching are discussed so that teachers can make the teaching easier. I hope that this paper provides useful knowledge as well as some ideas for teaching English.


Lê Cận, Phan Thiều, Diệp Quang Ban, Hoàng Văn Thung. (1983). Giáo trình ngữ pháp Tiếng việt tập II (93-95). Ho Chi Minh City: Education Publishing House.

Lê Cận, Phan Thiều, Diệp Quang Ban, Hoàng Văn Thung. (1983). Giáo trình ngữ pháp Tiếng việt tập II (80). Ho Chi Minh City: Education Publishing House.

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

The Verb Phrase. Dec 25, 2009, from http://papyr.com/hypertextbooks/grammar/ph_verb.htm

Verb phrases. Dec 15, 2009, from http://www.latrobe.edu.au/linguistics/grammarpedia/verbphrase.htm

Trần Văn Điền. (1998). Văn Phạm Tiếng Anh Thực Hành. Vietnam: Ho Chi Minh City.

There is also quite a wide variety of semantic and syntactic types of structures that can be used as adjuncts.There is also quite a wide variety of semantic and syntactic types of structures that can be used as adjuncts.There is also quite a wide variety of semantic and syntactic types of structures that can be used as adjuncts.

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