verb

verb

[vurb]
verb, part of speech typically used to indicate an action. English verbs are inflected for person, number, tense and partially for mood; compound verbs formed with auxiliaries (e.g., be, can, have, do, will) provide a distinction of voice. Some English verblike forms have properties of two parts of speech (e.g., participles may be used as adjectives and gerunds as nouns). Verbs are also classified as transitive (requiring a direct object) or intransitive. In Latin verb inflection, voice and mood are indicated in every form. Most languages have a form class resembling that of English verbs. In many of them, unlike English, these words may form complete sentences, e.g., in Spanish, "I am singing" is expressed by the single word canto. Some languages (e.g., Turkish) can convey a great deal of information through modifications of form in the verb stem and ending, without the aid of auxiliary forms. A single word, for example, can indicate reciprocity, reflexivity, necessity, time, infinitive, number, person, and voice, as well as negative, causative, imperative, and intensive meanings.

For English usage of verbs see the wiki article English verbs.

In syntax, a verb is a word (part of speech) that usually denotes an action (bring, read), an occurrence (decompose, glitter), or a state of being (exist, stand). Depending on the language, a verb may vary in form according to many factors, possibly including its tense, aspect, mood and voice. It may also agree with the person, gender, and/or number of some of its arguments (subject, object, etc.).

Valency

The number of arguments that a verb takes is called its valency or valence. Verbs can be classified according to their valency.

  • Intransitive (valency = 1): the verb only has a subject. For example: "he runs", "it falls".
  • Transitive (valency = 2): the verb has a subject and a direct object. For example: "she eats fish", "we hunt deer".
  • Linking (valency = 3): State of being; does not require an action. The subject complements are related to subject rather than the verb. It simply reports a condition or asks a questions about a condition.

It is impossible to have verbs with zero valency. Weather verbs are often impersonal (subjectless) in null-subject languages like Spanish, where the verb llueve means "It rains". In English, they require a dummy pronoun, and therefore formally have a valency of 1.

The intransitive and transitive are typical, but the impersonal and objective are somewhat different from the norm. In this sense you can see that a verb is a person, place, or thing. In the objective the verb takes an object but no subject, the nonreferent subject in some uses may be marked in the verb by an incorporated dummy pronoun similar to the English weather verb (see below). Impersonal verbs take neither subject nor object, as with other null subject languages, but again the verb may show incorporated dummy pronouns despite the lack of subject and object phrases. Tlingit lacks a ditransitive, so the indirect object is described by a separate, extraposed clause.

English verbs are often flexible with regard to valency. A transitive verb can often drop its object and become intransitive; or an intransitive verb can take an object and become transitive. Compare:

  • I moved. (intransitive)
  • I moved the book. (transitive)

In the first example, the verb move has no grammatical object. (In this case, there may be an object understood - the subject (I/myself). The verb is then possibly reflexive, rather than intransitive); in the second the subject and object are distinct. The verb has a different valency, but the form remains exactly the same.

In many languages other than English, such valency changes are not possible like this; the verb must instead be inflected for voice in order to change the valency.

Copula

A copula is a word that is used to describe its subject, or to equate or liken the subject with its predicate. In many languages, copulas are a special kind of verb, sometimes called copulative verbs or linking verbs.

Because copulas do not describe actions being performed, they are usually analyzed outside the transitive/intransitive distinction. The most basic copula in English is to be; there are others (remain, seem, grow, become, etc.).

Some languages (the Semitic and Slavic families, Chinese, Sanskrit, and others) can omit or do not have the simple copula equivalent of "to be", especially in the present tense. In these languages a noun and adjective pair (or two nouns) can constitute a complete sentence. This construction is called zero copula.

Agreement

In languages where the verb is inflected, it often agrees with its primary argument (what we tend to call the subject) in person, number and/or gender. English only shows distinctive agreement in the third person singular, present tense form of verbs (which is marked by adding "-s"); the rest of the persons are not distinguished in the verb.

Spanish inflects verbs for tense/mood/aspect and they agree in person and number (but not gender) with the subject. Japanese, in turn, inflects verbs for many more categories, but shows absolutely no agreement with the subject. Basque, Georgian, and some other languages, have polypersonal agreement: the verb agrees with the subject, the direct object and even the secondary object if present.

References

  • Gideon Goldenberg, "On Verbal Structure and the Hebrew Verb", in: idem, Studies in Semitic Linguistics, Jerusalem: Magnes Press 1998, pp. 148-196 [English translation; originally published in Hebrew in 1985].

See also

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