Catenative Verbs ⛓
A main verb (ie 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:
- I want to eat.
- I like eating.
The verb following a catenative verb can be in one of the following forms:
- infinitive (eat, to eat)
- -ing (eating)
- past participle (eaten)
Options for simple catenative construction are shown in the table below:
|simple construction||catenative verb||2nd verb|
|to||I want||to play|
|past participle||He got||paid|
verb + infinitive
A very small number of catenative verbs may be followed by the bare infinitive, mostly:
hear (say/tell), help, let (go), make (do)
- I hear say that she retired
- Could you help wash up, please?
- Don't let go of my hand
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
- We didn't agree to work late
- They seem to like it
- I want to play football
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
- He admitted cheating
- I can't go swimming with you
- Do they keep on asking for money?
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
- Did you bother to report it? = Did you bother reporting it?
- I love to swim in the sea = I love swimming in the sea
- It started to rain = It started raining
With significant change in meaning
come, go on, need, regret, remember, propose, try
- She came to understand the problem [gradual realisation] ≠ She came swimming in the sea [sporting activity]
- I remembered to lock it [I didn't forget to do it] ≠ I remember locking it [I have a memory of doing it]
- I have tried to lose weight, but can't [attempted] ≠ Did you try eating fruit [experiment with]?
verb + past participle
One or two verbs can be followed by the past participle, in particular:
- Get lost!
- He got paid
- It's hard to get started
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)
- I want to try to sleep
- I decided to arrange to start learning to speak Thai.
- English Catenative Verbs (Wiktionary)
- Rodney Huddleston, Geoffrey K Pullum, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (Cambridge University Press, 2005)
- Bas Aarts, Sylvia Chalker, Edmund Weiner, The Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar (Oxford University Press, 2014)