Definition and Examples of Verb Phrase Deletion in English

two people riding motorcycles through the desert
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Verb phrase deletion is the omission of a verb phrase (VP)--or part of a verb phrase--that is identical to a verb phrase in a nearby clause or sentence.

The words that remain after VP deletion must include at least one auxiliary verb and often include an adverb such as too, also, or as well.

Examples and Observations

  • "The following sentences are examples of sentences in which a deletion rule has applied:
    Alfie is riding his motorcycle across the desert, and Ziggy is [], too.
    Sally said she would get a llama, and she did [].
    Even though she shouldn't [], Violet stays out late every night.
    In each of these examples, the [] is (unambiguously) interpreted as identical to another constituent in the sentence.
    Alfie is riding his motorcycle across the desert, and Ziggy is [], too.
    ([] = riding his motorcycle)
    Sally said she would get a llama, and she did [].
    ([] = get a llama)
    Even though she shouldn't [], Violet stays out late every night.
    ([] = stays out late every night)
    The missing constituent in every case is a VP. This phenomenon, very common in English, is called VP deletion. VP deletion involves deleting a VP when it is identical to another VP somewhere close by, not necessarily in the same sentence." (Kristin Denham and Anne Lobeck, Linguistics for Everyone. Wadsworth, 2010)
  • "'Come on,' said he, with a jerk of his head towards the tables. He sat down at one, and she did too, in a helpless, lethargic way, but as if she was about to leap up again." (Doris Lessing, "The Real Thing." The Real Thing: Stories and Sketches. HarperCollins, 1992)
  • "Pastry chefs always use unsalted butter in their baking, and you should, too." (Cindy Mushet, The Art and Soul of Baking. Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2008)
  • "He reached up and hit me one on the shoulder, and says:
    "'Land, but it's good! It's im-mensely good! 'George, I never heard it said so good in my life before! Say it again.'
    "So I said it again, and he said his again, and I said mine again, and then he did, and then I did, and then he did, and we kept on doing it, and doing it, and I never had such a good time, and he said the same."
    (Mark Twain, "What Paul Bourget Thinks of Us." How to Tell a Story, and Other Essays, 1897)

A Discourse Phenomenon

"[T]ransformational rules were meant to operate on sentences, but VP deletion appears not to respect sentence boundaries, utterance boundaries, or even speaker boundaries, witness the following natural dialogue between A and B.

A: John can waltz.
B: I know. It's a shame Mary can't.

This would appear to show that the simplest transformational account of VP deletion is in trouble, at least on a standard account of what transformational rules are, that the phenomenon is a discourse phenomenon, albeit one that is grammatically constrained. As May (2002:1095) succinctly puts it, to the extent that VP deletion can be thought of a rule, it would appear to be more of a rule of discourse grammar than sentence grammar." (Stephen Neale, "This, That, and The Other." Descriptions and Beyond, ed. by Marga Reimer and Anne Bezuidenhout. Oxford University Press, 2004)

Language Acquisition and VP-Deletion

"[S]upport for children's knowledge of the constituent structure of VP-deletion sentences has recently come from [Claire] Foley and others, who tested young English-speaking children between 2;10 and 5;8 years of age (Foley, Nuñez del Prado, Barbier, & Lust, 1992). They tested these children using sentences that involved either inalienable or alienable possession, like (18) and (19):

(18) Big Bird scratches his arm and Ernie does too.
(19) Scooter moves his penny and Bert does too.

These children also showed that they understood the underlying representations of these structures . . .

"All in all, it can be concluded that children do have the grammatical competence necessary for understanding VP-deletion sentences."​ 

(Charlotte Koster, "Problems With Pronoun Acquisition." Syntactic Theory and First Language Acquisition: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives: Binding, Dependencies, and Learnability, ed. by Barbara Lust, Gabriella Hermon, and Jaklin Kornfilt. Lawrence Erlbaum, 1994)