Lexical verbs form an open class
We know that lexical words are the main carriers of meaning in a spoken utterance or written sentence. They are the most numerous type of word and they are all members of open classes, i.e. more lexical words can be invented and added – in principle, there is no upper limit.
Like nouns, adjectives and adverbs, lexical verbs constitute an open class. Hence the membership of the class can increase as new verbs are coined and added. Relatively newly added (or used-again) verbs include:
- Refudiate: used loosely to mean ‘reject’. [Came to the world’s attention when Sarah Palin (9th Governor of Alaska) used the word in a Twitter message in 2010.]
- De-friend: to remove someone from your social networking site, such as Facebook.
- Chillax: to calm down and relax.
- Catastrophize: to blow something out of all proportion.
Semantics of lexical verbs
|Craig bought a North Face jacket
|the pears ripened on the tree
|I suppose you’re right
Syntactic role of lexical verbs
Lexical verbs can only function as main verbs (see Verbs). Therefore, syntactically, they assume the central part of a clause. They either appear as (1) a single-word verb phrase or (2) in final position of verb phrases, e.g.
Single-word verb phrase
at him for several minutes
the tickets away
Final position of verb phrase
|could be laughing
|the tickets to me
|might have thought
|about that again
Morphological form of lexical verbs
According to English morphology, the base form of a lexical verb can be inflected (i.e. altered through the addition of an affix) to yield four further verb forms (Table 1).
|3RD PERSON PRESENT
Table 1. English Verb Forms
Another verb form is often added to the list in Table 1 – the infinitive. This form of the verb is easily recognized because a to precedes the base form, e.g.
|I told her to wait in the office
|to kick the ball was silly
|it’s hard to think clearly
|Anne and Carl came to watch the play
Morphologically, lexical verbs make distinctions related to just two aspects of time (tenses): the present and the past.
The simple present (base form) and the 3rd person present (-s form) are frequently used refer to the present time, e.g.
|I push the stroller quite quickly
|she walks non-stop
|we sing in a local choir
|there goes the bus
The simple past tense is frequently used to refer to past time, e.g.
|Bao Yu pushed the stroller yesterday
|they rotated the dial twice
|Kathryn sang in the audition
|she was successful
Whereas lexical verb forms can be inflected to mark present and past tense, they cannot be inflected to mark future tense in English. That is to say, there is no future tense verb form in English. Of course, speakers of English are well able to talk about the future – but it is not achieved through the use of future tense verb forms. Principally, future time is marked with a modal (e.g. will, shall) or semi-modal (e.g. be going to, be about to) in a verb phrase, and through the use of temporal markers (e.g. tomorrow, next week) and if-clauses (e.g. if you fall, you’ll hurt yourself).