What Is a Catenative Verb?

Glossary of grammatical and rhetorical terms

House rented by water
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In English grammar, a catenative verb is a verb that can link with other verbs to form a chain or series. Examples of catenative verbs include ask, keep, promise, help, want, and seem, among many others.

A catenative verb (also called a chain verb) takes as its complement a nonfinite construction (often an infinitive). Huddleston and Pullum point out that the term catenative "is applied to the non-finite complement, and also to the verb that licenses it . . . and the construction containing the verb + its complement" (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 2002).

Examples and Observations

  • "She had a great many engagements, but she usually managed to dine at home with her father, and that was about as much society as he cared for."
    (Willa Cather, "Double Birthday." The Forum, 1929)
  • Where is the politician who has not promised to fight to the death for lower taxes—and who has not proceeded to vote for the very spending projects that make tax cuts impossible?"
    (Barry Goldwater, quoted by Wayne A. Root in The Conscience of a Libertarian, 2009)
  • "Only North Americans seem to believe that they always should, may, and actually can choose somebody with whom to share their blessings. Ultimately this attitude leads to bombing people into the acceptance of gifts."
    (Ivan Illich, Celebration of Awareness, 1969)
  • "She had intended to take the Elevated, and naturally she looked in her purse to make certain she had the fare, and was pleased to find forty cents in the coin envelope."
    (Katherine Anne Porter, "Theft." The Gyroscope, 1930)
  • "Out of the corners of her eyes she saw him sit and pull on his wet shoes."
    (Richard Wright, "Bright and Morning Star." New Masses, 1939)


    "A catenative verb is a verb that controls a non-finite complement. 'Catenative' means 'chaining' and reflects the way that the verb can link recursively with other catenatives to form a chain, as in:
    We decided to try to rent a house near the sea.
  • Here there is a chain of three verbs: decide, try and rent, with to try to rent a house near the sea functioning as the catenative complement of decide, and to rent a house near the sea functioning as the catenative complement of try."
    (Angela Downing, English Grammar: A University Course. Routledge, 2006)

    Complements of Catenative Verbs

    "The term 'catenative' is derived from the Latin word for 'chain,' for the construction is repeatable in a way that enables us to form chains of verbs in which all except the last have a non-finite complement:​She seems to want to stop trying to avoid meeting him.
    Each of the italicized verbs here has a non-finite clause as complement."
    (Rodney Huddleston and Geoffrey K. Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2006)

    Also See

  • Auxiliary Verb and Helping Verb
  • Causative Verb
  • Hendiadys
  • Recursion
  • Ten Types of Verbs
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Catenative Verb?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-catenative-verb-1689832. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). What Is a Catenative Verb? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-catenative-verb-1689832 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is a Catenative Verb?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-catenative-verb-1689832 (accessed February 4, 2023).