Grammar: Groups & phrases: Verb group: Structure of the verb group
|Double verb constructions|
Combining two verb groups in a verb group complex
Constructions which combine two main verbs are very common in all varieties of English, speech and writing, formal and informal:
Dotty decided to
write a story about her favourite pop
Bozo likes writing stories about
famous sports stars.
The first of the two verbs may consist of a main verb, or an auxiliary verb + main verb, or a modal auxiliary verb + auxiliary verb + main verb, whereas the second verb will always take the to form or the -ing form:
Dotty should have decided
to write her story earlier. [to form]
Mr Gong has liked
writing stories since he was at school. [-ing
Verb group 1 expresses the first clause 'happening' (via the main verb), and relates it to the situation of the speaker (via tense choice in the auxiliary verb or the main verb itself if there is no auxiliary). In addition, it may also express the speaker's judgement of the likelihood or obligation of the event (via the modal auxiliary verb).
Verb group 2 expresses a second clause 'happening' which modifies the happening of the first clause, with the to form (to write) and the -ing form (writing) expressing a subtle difference in meaning:
Kitty tried to do her homework quickly.
Kitty tried doing her homework quickly.
In the example with to, doing her homework quickly is Kitty's goal. By contrast, in the example with -ing, doing her homework quickly is the means to achieve some other goal, perhaps to watch TV.
The most general difference between these forms is 'real' (to form) or 'unreal' (-ing form). More specifically, the difference in meaning may be glossed in a number of different ways, depending on the verbs involved.
|Meanings of -ing form and to form|
to form ('unreal')
|-ing form ('real')|
|initial state||starts to win||ends up winning||final state|
|activating||begins to work||keeps working||maintaining|
|goal||try to relax||try relaxing||means|
|intention||decides to write||starts writing||action|
|proposing to do||would like to paint||likes painting||discussion of doing|
|attempt leading to possible success||struggled to open||succeeded in opening||success following attempt|
In double-verb constructions the first verb group typically provides a kind of gloss for the second verb group, and this may be of various kinds:
|the reality or unreality of an action (seem to do, appear to do)|
|the timing of an action (start to do, continue to do, stop doing)|
|the effort or success of an action (try to do, succeed in doing, manage to do)|
|the cause of an action or event (force to do, help to do)|
|For a summary of the relationship between the forms and the functions of verb group complexes, click here:|
|verb group||verb/verbal phrase|
To give us feedback about this section, click here or on the Comment button at the top of the screen.
If you have any questions about this section, visit the Language Corner.
If you have any questions or suggestions about how to teach this section, send a message to the Teaching Corner.