I'm fairly new to the world of linguistics and this is my first post in this forum. I've been helping a friend to learn English and one of her questions has me stumped, even as a native speaker. She is confused about which verb forms to use. She understands all of the tenses and can create simple sentences in each tense, however she struggles with complex sentences and sentences where multiple verb forms are used. Is there a name for this field so I can do some further reading? Can anyone suggest any materials that explain the rules?

An example sentence that I found in an article online:

George Lucas had considered bringing Mark Hamill back as Luke Skywalker.

Upon seeing this sentence, my friend would probably ask why we use "bringing" instead of "brought" or "considered to bring"?

I'm sure there must be rules about which verbs should be used after one another. Any help would be greatly appreciated.


  • 2
    Complex sentences, especially sentences with non-finite (gerund, participle, or infinitive) subordinate clauses are significantly more commplex than simple or coordinate sentences. And the sentences one encounters have always been done things to. For instance, notice that the subject of had considered is also the subject of bringing, although it doesn't occur twice. But if it were not the subject of the gerund, it would have to occur: GL had considered MH coming back as LS. The gerund is the main verb in a complement clause, with a subject; it's the direct object of consider. Feb 28, 2015 at 19:22
  • For rules, try the Logic Study Guide, the Verb Phrase Study Guide, and a handout on How to figure out a sentence, with links. Feb 28, 2015 at 19:25

3 Answers 3


Aside from the rather intricate rules for what to do with the understood subjects of the second verb in these complex sentences, mentioned by Lawler in his comment, there is also a 3 way choice of complement type. What follows "consider" in the illustration you gave is taken to be a sentence, schematically [Lucas consider [Lucas bring back Hamill]], where the smaller sentence is called a sentential complement to the main verb "consider".

The 3 choices for complement type in English are that-clause, for-to, poss-ing. (I hope I didn't forget any.) (1) [Lucas consider [that Lucas will bring back Hamill]], (2) [Lucas consider [for Lucas to bring back Hamill]], (3) [Lucas consider [Lucas's bringing back Hamill]]. So part of what you're asking, I take it, is what principles determine for a given main verb ("consider" in the example) which of the three complement types will be possible, and what nuances of meaning will be expressed by the choice.

I'm sorry to have to report that the answer is unknown, and it may well be that there is no answer. English speakers may have to learn ad hoc for each complement-taking verb which complements are possible and how to interpret them. So for an English language learner, in this particular regard, grammatical study is probably not useful, and lots of experience with interpreting and speaking or writing English is all that can help.

The name of the relevant field of study, following Noam Chomsky in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax, is "the problem of verb subcategorization". It was tackled by George Lakoff in his dissertation Irregularity in Syntax, and there is a very good more recent discussion in McCawley's The Syntactic Phenomena of English.


Verb constructions or verb patterns as Horny called them are no matter of simple rules. What constructions were adopted in the course of time is to a certain degree arbitrary. If in doubt you have to look up the common constructions of a verb in the dictionary. See to consider in OALD:


There is no rule that tells you whether the construction is to avoid doing or to avoid to do. Both construction were theoretically possible, but only to avoid doing is used. We can't give a reason why the gerund is preferred. If you don't know the construction you have to look it up.

Of course, you can read a grammar where you will find lists

1 verbs + to-infinitive

2 verbs + gerund

3 verbs + to-infinitive or gerund without difference of meaning

4 verbs + to-infinitive or gerund with difference of meaning.

But such lists give only a selection of the most frequent verbs.

Added: I found a useful list in English Page



You might also look into contrary to fact situations (Usually involving If...then constructions). While rigid, these do follow patterns and might augment your friend's understanding of the (many) possible verb tenses in English and where/how/when to use them.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.