Catenative Verbs ⛓

The word catenative comes from the Latin catena meaning "chain". Catenative verbs combine with other verbs and can form a chain of two or three or more verbs.

A main verb (i.e. lexical verb, not auxiliary or modal) that can be followed by another main verb is known as a catenative verb. In the following examples, the verbs want and like are catenative:

The verb following a catenative verb can be in one of the following forms:

Options for simple catenative construction are shown in the table below:

simple construction catenative verb 2nd verb
verb infinitive bare Let go
to I want to play
-ing He hates drinking
past participle He got paid

verb + infinitive

bare infinitive
A very small number of catenative verbs may be followed by the bare infinitive, mostly:
hear (say/tell), help, let (go), make (do)

A large number of catenative verbs may be followed by the to-infinitive, including these common ones:
afford, agree, aim, appear to, apply, arrange, ask, beg, care, choose, claim, condescend, consent, contract, contrive, dare, decide, decline, demand, deserve, determine, endeavour, expect, fail, happen to, help, hesitate, hope, long, manage, mean, offer, prepare, pretend, promise, refuse, resolve, seek, seem to, strive, struggle, swear, threaten, undertake, volunteer, want, wish
More verbs at: to-infinitive OR -ing

verb + -ing

A large number of catenative verbs may be followed by the -ing form, including these common ones:
be used to, (can) face, admit, advocate, anticipate, appreciate, avoid, can't help, can't stand, carry on, consider, contemplate, defer, deny, detest, dislike, enjoy, entail, escape, fancy, favour, finish, get used to, give up, go, imagine, insist on, involve, justify, keep on, look forward to, mention, mind, necessitate, object to, postpone, practise, put off, report, resent, risk, save, stop, suggest, tolerate
More verbs at: to-infinitive OR -ing

verb + to-infinitive OR -ing

A few catenative verbs can be followed by the to-infinitive OR -ing, with/without a change in meaning.

With little or no change in meaning
can't bear, begin, bother, cease, continue, hate, intend, like, love, neglect, prefer, start

With significant change in meaning
come, go on, need, regret, remember, propose, try

verb + past participle

One or two verbs can be followed by the past participle, in particular:


Beware False Catenatives!
One verb following another verb does not automatically make a construction catenative. Consider these cases:
  • She worked to earn some money ("in order to earn" - infinitive of purpose)
  • She wanted to earn some money (catenative)
  • We stopped to chat to the old man ("in order to chat" - infinitive of purpose)
  • We stopped chatting to the old man (catenative)
There is theoretically no limit to the number of catenative verbs in the same chain. Look at these examples:
  • I want to try to sleep
  • I decided to arrange to start learning to speak Thai.