Verb Subcategories

In Chapter 3, we saw that some words shared enough structural principles that they deserved to be grouped into a category: verb. Although the members of this category have certain things in common, they do not all behave identically. In particular, verbs differ with respect to what attributes can appear within their phrase. Different verbs require different attributes. Consider, for example, what attributes can appear after a verb like neglect:

(1a) Reginald neglected his hygiene.
(1b) *Reginald neglected.
(1c) *Reginald neglected hygienic
(1d) Reginald neglected his chores.
(1e) *Reginald neglected his hygiene his chores.
(1f) *Reginald neglected his chores unpleasant.

As these examples show, neglected requires exactly one noun phrase to follow it (1a and 1d). It does not permit us to drop the NP (1b) or to replace it with an AdjP (1c). It also doesn't allow two NP's (1e) or one NP and one AdjP (1f). All of these permutations, however, are possible with other verbs:

(2a) Reginald primped. [verb only]
(2b) Reginald seems hygienic. [verb + AdjP]
(2c) Reginald gave his barber a tip. [verb + NP + NP]
(2d) Reginald found his chores unpleasant. [verb + NP + AdjP]

Because the verb determines the rest of the structure, we will say that the verb licenses (i.e., permits) these constituents, which are known as complements. Thus neglected licenses a single noun phrase after it, and no other pattern. In this instance, we could say that the verb requires a noun phrase, rather than simply permitting one. One complement that is required by every verb is the subject.[1] But in many cases, verbs license multiple patterns:

(3a) Susan ate dinner.
(3b) Susan ate.

As the examples above show, eat can be followed by a noun phrase or by nothing at all. To call the complement required, therefore, can be misleading if you assume that "required" means only one pattern is permitted.

Although verbs differ in what complements they license, there are a relatively small number of patterns that occur very frequently. We can, therefore, group verbs into subtypes based on what complements they license. The following patterns are essential to recognize.

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