I know that two verbs joined by a conjunction and referring to the same subject make a compound verb:

  • The dog ran and jumped in the park.
  • I read a book and listened to music while I waited.
  • The boys whispered and giggled as their aunt scolded them.

And I know that to be, to have, or a modal verb paired with a verb is an auxiliary verb:

  • My mother is sleeping.
  • The dog had bitten the mailman.
  • You should watch this movie.

But what about when an infinitive follows a conjugated verb? Are the following sentences compound verbs, auxiliary verbs, or something else?

  • He decided to give them a tour.
  • I need to go to the store.
  • Many older people prefer to write cursive.
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    Well, "compound verb" isn't a very helpful term; it just means Verb and/or Verb. What you're describing is what's called a complement clause governed by a main verb. Complements are much more important than compounds. We say that decide has an infinitive complement clause (for him) to give them a tour and need has an infinitive complement clause (for me) to go to the store, for instance. There are four kinds of complement clause, and infinitive clause is one of them. Which one gets used depends on what the main verb is. Commented May 4, 2015 at 20:58
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    In this case need is lexical verb (when followed by to-infinitive), although it can be semi-modal. Decide and prefer are copulative verbs of incomplete predication that require lexical verb. Commented May 4, 2015 at 21:01
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    @JohnLawler That seems exactly right! If you make that an answer, I'll accept it.
    – Nicole
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 21:12
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    @JohnLawler, we use this term at University and I've found the term now on the internet where you can see some more examples such as seem and appear - verbs of incomplete predication. Although decide and prefer are not on the list, they cannot stand on its own because you cannot just say I decide or I prefer, they require a complement which is, in this case, a lexical verb in its full infinitive form. Commented May 5, 2015 at 8:37
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    @JohnLawler, how would you then call this type of verbs which are lexical, but require some sort of complement in order the sentence to have a meaning? If we can classify all verbs in English as lexical, copulative, auxiliary or modal, into which category would decide, seem, feel belong? For example The velvet felt soft against my skin or I wanted to taste the pie. I'm just writing what they taught us. Whether this should or should not be taught, it is not the matter of my opinion. Commented May 5, 2015 at 15:55

1 Answer 1


When two words are combined without a conjunction to form a single word, that is a compound, in the way the term "compound" is usually used in grammar. None of your examples is like that, and so I would not call any of them a compound.

The Wikipedia article on English compound is pretty good, I think.

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    Compound subjects and compound verbs are not single words. Here's some information about compound subjects (grammar-monster.com/glossary/compound_subject.htm) and compound verbs (grammar.yourdictionary.com/parts-of-speech/verbs/…).
    – Nicole
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 21:03
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    That is true, partly. Using "compound" as an adjective, a compound subject is not a single word (because a subject is a phrase). A "verb compound" is a single word, but "compound verb" is an ambiguous term. It can mean a single word, like "outsource" e.g., but it could also refer to two verbs connected by "and", like your "whispered and giggled" example. I didn't think of the second interpretation when I gave my answer.
    – Greg Lee
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 21:15

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