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In this lecture we turn our attention to the phrase structure rides for predicates. The core elements of predicates are auxiliary elements (AUX) and verb phrases (VP).

The verb system of English can be discussed in terms of its forms—or it can be discussed in terms of how it encodes meaning. Here we present only the forms of the verb.

The tense forms of any language are a selective rendering of the many distinctions— both direct and indirect—that one can make with reference to time and speaker perspec­tive on time, in the real world. The system is selective because tense, in the morphological sense, refers only to the inflections one can use with finite (i.e.. inflectable) verbs. Given this perspective, English has only two tense forms—past and present (or as some like to say, "past and nonpast," where "past" includes reference to remote events as well as past time, while "nonpast" includes references to present and future time as well as cases in which timelessness is intended, such as "two plus two equals four"). If we exclude the irregular verb be for the moment, the past tense may be realized through either regular suffixation:

We walked to school. (walk) or other irregular vowel and consonant changes:

We saw the principal. (see) We bought some books, (buy)

The present tense is explicitly marked only in the case of third person singular subjects:

He walk-s to school. It is expressed implicitly with a lack of marking for all other subjects:

The verb be is more highly inflected than other verbs in English and can express the present through three forms: am, is, are, and the past through two forms: was, were.

Every nonimperative English sentence must have either a modal auxiliary (e.g. ran, must,will) or a grammatical tense—past or present. In addition, English has two optional structural markers of aspect—the progressive and the perfect aspect.


What we need to remember about the progressive and perfect aspects is that the auxiliary verb and the inflection are discontinuous. This is indicated by the three dots in their phrase structure representations. The inflection immediately moves over the following verb to eventually combine with it.

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