serial verbs

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Definition

In English grammar, serial verbs are verbs that occur together in a single verb phrase (e.g., "I'll run go get a taxi") without a marker of coordination or subordination.

A serial verb construction (SVC) is one that contains two or more verbs, neither of which is an auxiliary.

The term serial verb, notes Paul Kroeger, "has been used by different authors in slightly different ways, and linguists sometimes disagree about whether a particular construction in a given language is 'really' a serial verb or not" (Analyzing Syntax, 2004).

Serial verbs are more common in creoles and in certain dialects of English than in standard English.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "How do you breathe? How do you dream? No one knows. But you come see me. Anytime. Mother Abagail is what they call me. I'm the oldest woman in these parts, I guess, and I still make m'own biscuit. You come see me anytime."
    (Stephen King, The Stand. Doubleday, 1978)

     
  • "Cassie, run go fetch that shirt for Meely."
    (Ken Wells, Meely LaBauve. Random House, 2000)

     
  • "Who will play with Jane? See the cat. It goes meow-meow. Come and play. Come play with Jane."
    (Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970)

     
  • "I hear tell lotta white folks up dere don't hold with slavery and sets us folk free."
    (Alex Haley, Roots: The Saga of an American Family. Doubleday, 1976)

     
  • "Some speakers find these [serial verb constructions] marginal, but they are well attested in both the BNC [British National Corpus] and the COCA [Corpus of Contemporary American English]. Serial verbs can also occur in other constructions where a bare verb form is appropriate:
    (5) She's the professor I want to go see.
    Don't make me come get you!
    They will come see me tomorrow.
    Serial verbs are clearly monoclausal . . .. However, there is other semantic and structural evidence that they are not compound verbs.

    "First, serial verbs do not consist of a head verb preceded by another verb expressing manner. In other words, going is not a kind of seeing in example (5) . . .. Structurally, unlike verb-verb compounds, serial verbs do not occur in any forms other than the bare form (which, of course, is also the imperative). . . . Verb-verb compounds and serial verbs are two constructions that combine verbs into very 'tight' grammatical constructions. They can be considered 'verb-combining' rather than 'clause-combining' constructions, since the result is a single clause."
    (Thomas E. Payne, Understanding English Grammar: A Linguistic Introduction. Cambridge University Press, 2011)

     
  • Serial Verbs in African-American Vernacular English
    "AAVE is more like other varieties of American English with respect to constructions with fug [<for] and serial verbs. It shares with Gullah such serial verb constructions as I asks him say . . . and Come play with us, in which two verb phrases are sequenced without an intervening conjunction or complementizer."
    (Salikoko S. Mufwene, "African-American English." The Cambridge History of the English Language, Volume 6, ed. by John Algeo. Cambridge University Press, 2001)

     
  • Serial Verbs in Creoles
    "Series of adjacent verbs are frequently found in creoles. In some cases they look like English structures without coordinating elements (especially in mesolects and acrolects), but basilectal sentences display a distinctly different breakdown of the semantic structure of verbs. . . .
    (57) samtain di bebi wan gu walk
    sometimes the baby want go walk
    'Sometimes the baby wants to walk'
    (BelC, Escure, collected in 1999)

    (58a) dey pas kum don dey me de meyt
    they pass come down they PA IMPFV mate
    (BelC, Escure, 1991: 183)"
    (Geneviève Escure, "Belize and Other Central American Varieties: Morphology and Syntax." A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 2, ed. by Bernd Kortmann. Walter de Gruyter, 2004)