Last week, I presented an appreciative letter from a young software engineer who bought my English-usage books six years ago and this time requested two things from me: to critique the English of her letter to find out if she had actually been learning from my books, and to clarify certain grammar terms and usage.
I assured Nina O. that her letter showed she has a very good grasp of English, with grammatically correct and well-written sentences needing only minor restructuring for better, more free-flowing continuity.
Now letâs proceed to the first of her four grammar questions: Whatâs the difference between a verb phrase and a phrasal verb? Are they one and the same thing?
No, they are actually different. A verb phrase is one that consists of a main verb and any auxiliaries but excludes whatever modifiers, objects, or complements are used. A verb phrase can be the predicate of the sentence, as in âThe missing treasure has been found intact in the farmhouse.â Here, the verb phrase consists of the main verb âfoundâ and the auxiliaries âhasâ and âbeenâ; together, these three grammar elements form the present perfect tense of the verb âfind.â
A verb phrase can also function as an adjective phrase, as in âThey found him writhing in pain from a bad fall,â where the adjective phrase âwrithing in pain from a bad fallâ modifies the object âhimâ; and as an adverbial phrase, as in âThe woman was eager to meet her Facebook friend in person,â where the prepositional phrase âto meet her Facebook friend in personâ serves as an adverbial complement of the verb phrase âwas eager.â
On the other hand, a phrasal verb is a combination of a verb and an adverb or a verb and a preposition, or both, that yields a meaning different from those of the component words considered separately; in short, a phrasal verb is idiomatic or figurative. For example, the phrasal verb âmake up forâ means to do something to make a bad situation better, as in âShe attended remedial classes to make up for her absencesâ; and the phrasal verb âface up toâ means to accept and try to deal with a problem, as in âThe company finally faced up to the fact that its technology had become passĂ©.â
About the statement âI look forward to hearing from youâ (gerund version) as opposed to âI look forward to hear from youâ (infinitive version): The latter may sound good to the ears as well, but the former is the widely accepted idiomatic way of saying it. Because the difference is almost imperceptible, thereâs really not much sense to argue to death whether to use the gerund version or the infinitive version.
As to the choice between âI intend to see youâ and âI intend to seeing you,â go tell those TV newscasters and news anchors that itâs bad form and bad sounding to say the latter. Thereâs actually a rule that says use the infinitive form as complement for single action, as in âI plan to visit you,â and not to use the gerund, which is for ongoing action, as in âWe find resting called for at this point.â In the same token, tell them never, never to say âThey met together to sharing their expertiseâ and to simply say âThey met together to share their expertise.â
The same rule aboveâthe infinitive form for single action, the gerund form for ongoing actionâapplies to the choice between âI would be very happy to hear from you againâ and âI would be very happy to hearing from you again.â Itâs grammatically elegant andâas in your experienceâit sounds much better to say âI would be very happy to hear from you again.â
A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all!
This essay appeared in the weekly column âEnglish Plain and Simpleâ by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times in its December 31, 2016 issue, Â© 2016 by Manila Times Publishing. All rights reserved.