Verb Phrase Examples and How to Spot Them

Updated November 6, 2020
Teacher writing report as verb phrase examples
    Teacher writing report as verb phrase examples
    SDI Productions / iStock / Getty Images Plus

A verb phrase is the portion of a sentence that contains both the verb and either a direct or indirect object (the verb's dependents). Take a look at what verb phrases are, and then view some verb phrase examples.

Verb Phrases

Verbs are words that demonstrate an action, such as sing, dance, smell, talk, and eat. When combined with linking verbs, such as is, must, will, and has, they form verb phrases. Verb phrases can consist of one to three linking verbs, and action verbs, and sometimes any complements (such as objects or direct objects).

  • She smells the pizza. (verb is smells)
  • She can smell the pizza. (verb phrase is can smell)
  • He appears on screen as an actor. (verb is appears)
  • He has appeared on screen as an actor. (verb phrase is has appeared)
  • I study Italian. (verb is study)
  • I will have been studying Italian for three years. (verb phrase is will have been studying)

Verb phrases form tenses besides present and past tense, including progressive tenses and perfect tenses. They also demonstrate the sentence’s mood, intention and other information.


Verb Phrase Examples

A verb phrase can be the predicate of the clause or sentence. It functions as the verb in a sentence, even when it has more than one word.

Following are some verb phrase examples where the verb phrase is the predicate of a sentence. In this case, the verb phrase consists of the main verb plus any auxiliary, or helping, verbs.

  • She was walking quickly to the mall.
  • He should wait before going swimming.
  • Those girls are trying very hard.
  • Ted might eat the cake.
  • You must go right now.
  • You can't eat that!
  • My mother is fixing us some dinner.
  • Words were spoken.
  • These cards may be worth hundreds of dollars!
  • The teacher is writing a report.
  • You have woken up everyone in the neighborhood.
  • Will you get me a marker?
  • Rhonda has been asking for help.
  • My little brother will blow out his candles.
  • Are they accusing me of a crime?
  • The team should shake hands with their opponents.
  • Dad has tried to change my tires before.

Verb phrases help to make your text more informative and meaningful. They are essential to clear writing and letting your reader know exactly what you’re trying to say.


Verb Phrases vs. Verbal Phrases

When verb phrases function as anything other than verbs, they’re verbal phrases. Verbal phrases can act like adverbs or adjectives. The phrase would include the verbal (participle, gerund or infinitive) and any modifiers, complements or objects.

Examples of verb phrases versus verbal phrases include:

  • The man was texting on his phone. (verb phrase was texting functions as the action)
  • Texting on his phone, the man swerved into a ditch. (verbal phrase texting on his phone functions as an adjective; swerved is the verb)
  • The cat watched as the two puppies fought over a bone. (verb phrase watched functions as the action)
  • As the cat watched, the two puppies fought over a bone. (verbal phrase as the cat watched functions as an adverb; fought is the verb)
  • The small dog can learn new things. (verb phrase can learn functions as the action)
  • The small dog was reluctant to learn new things. (verbal phrase to learn new things functions as an adverb; was reluctant is the verb phrase)
  • Finally, we can buy a new house. (verb phrase can buy functions as the action)
  • Finally, we can afford to buy a new house (verbal phrase to buy a new house functions as an adverb; can afford is the verb phrase)
  • She was walking on the ice. (verb phrase was walking functions as the action)
  • Walking on the ice, she slipped. (verbal phrase walking on the ice functions as an adjective; slipped is the verb)

All of these different verbal phrases provide important useful information for the reader about the action in the sentence. However, they do not function as the action in your sentence. That’s the verb and verb phrase’s job!


Make Your Verbs Work for You

Verb phrases are great additions to sentences when you need to make your action more precise. Once you’ve mastered verb phrases in your grammar journey, try out more complicated verb forms. A list of phrasal verbs is helpful for both native and non-native speakers who have a harder time sorting out these specific verb forms.