What Is a Compound Verb?

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

P G Wodehouse
P G Wodehouse.

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In English grammar, a compound verb is made up of two or more words that function as a single verb. Conventionally, verb compounds are written as either one word ("to housesit") or two hyphenated words ("to water-proof"). Also called a compound (or complex) predicate.

Similarly, a compound verb can be a phrasal verb or a prepositional verb that behaves either lexically or syntactically as a single verb.

In such cases, a verb and its particle may be separated by other words ("drop the essay off"). This structure is now more commonly known as a multi-word verb.

The term compound verb can also refer to a lexical verb along with its auxiliaries; in traditional grammar, this is called a verb phrase.

Examples (Definition #1)

  • "Television has, it would seem, an irresistible ability to brainwash and narcotize children, drawing them away from other, more worthwhile activities and influences."​ (David Buckingham, "A Special Audience? Children and Television." A Companion to Television, ed. by Janet Wasko. Blackwell, 2006)
  • "After lunch Dos Passos and the Fitzgeralds, who had rented a scarlet touring car and chauffeur, househunted on Long Island."​ (Sally Cline, Zelda Fitzgerald: Her Voice in Paradise. Arcade, 2004)

Examples (Definition #2)

  • "[Stella] broke off the engagement, and I got out the dinghy and rowed off."​ (P.G. Wodehouse, "Rallying Around Old George")
  • "I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty."​ (President John Kennedy)

Examples (Definition #3)

  • "And then I was playing over and under and through all of this, and the pianist and bass were playing somewhere else."​ (Miles Davis, Miles: The Autobiography, with Quincy Troupe. Simon & Schuster, 1989)
  • "Although all three musicians had been playing earlier that night, they had not been together."
    (Erik Nisenson, Open Sky: Sonny Rollins and His World of Improvisation. Da Capo Press, 2000)

Observation:

Placement of Adverbs in Verb Phrases
"Although most authorities squarely say that the best place for the adverb is in the midst of the verb phrase, many writers nevertheless harbor a misplaced aversion, probably because they confuse a split verb phrase with the split infinitive. H.W. Fowler explained long ago what writers still have problems understanding: 'When an adverb is to be used with [a compound] verb, its normal place is between the auxiliary (or sometimes the first auxiliary if there are two or more) and the rest. Not only is there no objection to thus splitting a compound verb..., but any other position for the adverb requires special justification' (MEU1)."​ (Bryan A. Garner, The Oxford Dictionary of American Usage and Style. Oxford University Press, 2000)