I need help! Could you please look at this sentence:

When I obtained a credit card, I began spending money recklessly.

I'm doing basic sentence patterns, and I don't know how to analyse this part: began spending money. Is began spending the verb in the sentence or just began without spending? Why?

  • 3
    Began is the verb.
    – Stan
    Oct 30, 2015 at 7:51
  • 1
    Welcome, kate. Have you studied auxiliaries? These are words like do, might, and have that combine with a verb to complete its sense: "do spend" (intensity), "might spend" (uncertainty), "have spent" (present perfect tense), forms of "to be": "was spending" (past progressive tense). (Go here for more ecenglish.com/learnenglish/what-are-auxiliary-verbs) Do any of those fit "began spending"? In the sentence what word answers the question "What was it that you began?" Only a noun can answer that. I hope that gives you enough hints to answer;let us know.
    – deadrat
    Oct 30, 2015 at 7:52
  • Please see also: English Language Learners -- Good Luck.
    – Kris
    Oct 30, 2015 at 12:21
  • What if we changed the word BEGAN to "started," "kept," or "stopped"? I could be wrong and argue that these are being used as adverbs ... To me, "spending" is the obvious verb. However, in all cases, it looks like an infinitive, right?
    – Stu W
    Oct 30, 2015 at 13:38
  • @deadrat Isn't spending in spending money a verb? Oct 30, 2015 at 21:33

12 Answers 12


Aspectual predicates like start, begin, continue, remain, finish, end, and stop can take either gerund or infinitive complement clauses, and they can take either A-Equi or A-Raising.

Here's the Syntax Lab report on start

1-place with A-Raising, infinitive or gerund – aspectual predicate: epistemic inceptive.

2-place with A-Equi, infinitive or gerund – aspectual predicate: volitional inceptive.

And that's the likely story for I began spending money recklessly, too.
How to tell the Equi ("Control") cases from the Raising cases is still a topic of scholarly dispute.

The two possible analyses go like this (in both, the matrix verb is began):

  1. Raising: The real subject of began is actually not I, but my spending money recklessly.
    That gerund clause is the subject complement of began.
    When I obtained a credit card, my spending money recklessly began.
    The gerund subject my changes to I and becomes the subject of began via A-Raising, which moves the subject of a complement clause up to become the subject of the matrix clause,
    and moves the remaining VP to the end of the sentence, like
    There began to be smoke in the halls.
    There is a dummy that has to come from the complement clause;
    it has no meaning as the subject of began, which shows it's been moved up.

  2. Equi: Volitional actions can have beginnings, and volitional predicates tend to take Equi.
    This means there are two separate references to the subject (I) in I began to spend money;
    my in the gerund clause, just as with Raising, but also I in the matrix clause.
    The upstairs I is the subject of began, and the gerund clause is its object complement.
    I.e, 'I am responsible for the beginning of my spending money.'
    This is a specific sense of the sentences, and may not be what is intended.

  • 1
    I hate to ask a "for dummies" kind of question, John, but is the verb "began" or "began spending"? Or is this a case where the question doesn't make sense or can't be asked because the matter is more complex than "what's the verb?" BTW, I started reading the paper you linked. Certainly isn't "bed-time reading". Nov 4, 2015 at 1:50
  • 1
    Nice answer. For the sake of explicitness, what's your analysis of the grammatical relations in terms of the surface structure? Could you add this to your answer? Nov 4, 2015 at 10:13
  • 1
    @JohnLawler I understand this now. I was discussing this with Araucaria and am starting to see this better. Thank you. Nov 4, 2015 at 16:08
  • 1
    @JohnLawler thanks for posting How to figure out a sentence. Nov 4, 2015 at 16:14
  • 1
    It is Perlmutter's analysis in his paper "The two verbs 'begin'" that "begin" can be either a Raising verb or an Equi verb. In my dissertation, "Subjects and Agents", I proposed the interpretation of his analysis that "begin" has an optional subject, which is the same as to say that it has an optional agent, and when there is an agent, the Equi analysis obtains, but when there is no agent, the Raising analysis is correct.
    – Greg Lee
    Nov 6, 2015 at 19:31

It is common for people to confuse participles with verbs in a sentence. Verbs are the words that express the action. "Spending" is not expressing the action. "Began" is expressing the action. This can be further confusing when you think of a sentence such as "I like spending money." Well, which is it? Do you like extra money (as in allowance) or do you like the action of money leaving your pocket? What about "I like having spending money."? Fortunately, your case is similar to the "money leaving your pocket" meaning. Spending is acting as an object.

Let's substitute another word in your sentence to help you see that "spending" is not a verb but a kind of "thing" that we can talk about. (In proper grammar terms, "spending" is a gerund or a an ing form of a verb that can be used as a subject or object in a sentence.)

Consider this sentence: "When I obtained a credit card, I began work on my home." In this case, you can see that "work" is not a verb. It's not a verb for two reasons: it's not preceded by an auxiliary, and in English the progressive tense is formed with an auxiliary as deadrat pointed out in his comment, and a verb cannot follow another verb: *I like love you. *He begins works on the home." By verb, I am not talking about auxiliaries. For example, the future perfect progressive ("I will have been reading") has four verbs together.

So, because it's not a verb it must be "something else." That something else is an object. These "something elses" can be things such as "work" "Bob" "chewing gum" "to watch" "running," "smoking" or "spending."

Once you recognize "ing" forms as objects you will start seeing them everywhere and will see them in many places where they cannot be verbs. For example "He told me that running was good." "He enjoys things such as spending money." or "Government spending is a subject most people love to debate." Also, notice in the opening sentence of this paragraph "seeing" is a gerund. It is not part of "will start." In the same way, "them" is not a verb and is not part of "will see."

Hopefully, this helps clear this up for you.

To go back to the example sentence earlier, "I like having spending money." can you see that the verb is "like"? It is expressing the action and links you with "having spending money." Having is a gerund and spending is a participle telling what kind of money it is.

  • Are participles not verbs? Hmmm, I'd always thought participles could only be verbs ... ;) Nov 2, 2015 at 15:39
  • @Araucaria I don't understand why there is all this debate. It's a participle acting as the object. He asks if began spending is the "verb" in the sentence. Began is the "verb" the thing expressing the action. Am I missing something super obvious here? Nov 2, 2015 at 15:48
  • @michael_timofeev Well, maybe :) There seem to be two verbs in "I began spending money recklessly" and only one noun (not including I ) ... Nov 2, 2015 at 15:51
  • @Araucaria so you are saying that the complete verb is began (recklessly) spending. You feel that recklessly is an adverb? Nov 2, 2015 at 15:54
  • @michael_timofeev But in terms of SVO, there's only one Verb ... (not sure that verbs always describe actions, btw, but that's a different question!) Nov 2, 2015 at 15:54

Here is the sentence in question:

When I obtained a credit card, I began spending money recklessly.

I began spending money recklessly--this is the independent clause of a complex sentence. I is the subject; began is the action verb; spending money recklessly is the gerund phrase with the gerund itself being spending. This gerund phrase functions as the direct object of the verb began. In other words, "I began whom or what?" "I began SPENDING MONEY RECKLESSLY."

  • Nice answer. Before I vote, I'm just wondering whether you regard a gerund as a verb or not? :) Nov 2, 2015 at 19:06
  • As to the question of whether or not I regard a gerund as a verb, no, I do not regard it as a verb. Explanation: In its own "little world" of the gerund phrase, the gerund acts like a verb, but it technically is not a verb. In the previous example (spending money recklessly), the gerund spending acts like a verb--again, only in that gerund phrase--and has a direct object money. The adverb recklessly is an adverb modifying the gerund spending, as if that gerund were a verb.
    – D. Kern
    Nov 3, 2015 at 15:48
  • One might ask then, "Well, if the gerund is not a verb, what is it?" We simply recall that a gerund is a noun in the context of that sentence. In its own "little world," however, it acts like a verb.
    – D. Kern
    Nov 3, 2015 at 15:59
  • @D.Kern Recklessly is not modifying "spending" it is modifying "began." Nov 4, 2015 at 1:18
  • 2
    @michael_timofeev I wouldn't read it that way. To me recklessly modifies spending, and the two aren't the same. See I recklessly began spending money and I began spending money recklessly. "Recklessly began spending" implies that the act of spending money itself is reckless, where "began spending recklessly" implies that the manner in which they spent was reckless, not that spending money itself is reckless. Reckless looks really weird to me now...
    – Tevis
    Nov 4, 2015 at 15:35

There are two verbs in the sentence. The verb began is in a form of "past tense" indicating the action of "begin" occurred in the unknown past, and the other one is in a form of "gerund" indicating the object of the transitive verb "began" is the gerund itself and at the same time it takes "money" as its "own object".

There are clear distinctions between "began" and "spending":

  1. The most notable one is "began" as a main verb can change its form to all tenses assisted by auxiliary verbs (be, have, will and so on). That's why it is called an "finite verb". However, "spending (gerund)" can't change its form as freely as "began". It has only 2 forms, one with "-ing form" and the other with "having + past participle" form. For example:

I regret having said so.

Its past tense form only indicates the action of "say" occurred before "regret". Gerund can't express any other tenses in the sentence. That's why it is called "infinite/nonfinite verb"

  1. "began" can't be subject/object/completment without changing its form to "to-infinitive" or "gerund". However, "spending" can be any of them. That's why you can use "spending" as an object of "began". You can also use "to spend" as an object of "began".

However, there are some similarities. For example, "began" as a transitive verb can take an object in various forms such as "nouns", "to-infinitives", and "gerunds" which all have a "nominal" characteristics. "Gerund" depending upon the verb before "-ing" also can take an object in various forms as in:

I began enjoying skiing.

There are 3 verbs in this sentence, "began", "enjoying", and "skiing". Here the gerund "enjoying" is taking another gerund "skiing" as its object.

Let's take a look at another example:

I began to regret starting to smoke a cigarette.

Then, how many verbs are there in the above sentence? There are 4 verbs, "began", "regret in a to-infinitive form", "starting in a gerund form", and "to smoke in a to-infinitive form". All the above 4 verbs have different functions in just one short sentence.

Began: A main verb of an independent clause in the past tense.

To regret: An object of the verb "began" taking "starting" as an object.

Starting: An object of the verb "regret" taking "to smoke" as an object.

To smoke: An object of the verb "starting" and taking "a cigarette" as an object.

It is wrong to say spending is just an "object" of "began" as "a noun" because "a noun" cannot take any object without help of "prepositions".

Some grammarians coined a word "verbid" to differentiate "other verb forms" from "main verb" as defined below:

a nonfinite verb form; a verbal; an infinitive, participle, or gerund.


Conclusion: There are 2 verbs in different forms. Answering the question of "what is the verb here?" largely depend on "what verb" you are looking for.

  1. If you are looking for one "main verb", it is "began".
  2. If you are looking for finite/infinite verbs in whatever forms including "verbid (or gerund)", they are "began" and "spending".

It might be wrong to ask, "What is the verb here?" It would be more appropriate to ask, "What is a main verb here?" or "What is a finite verb here?".

  • +1 Reasons for my upvote: You point out that there are two verbs, that spending is a verb, not a noun. You explain that there can only be one tensed verb. Thank you! (also I've never heard of a verbid before) Nov 6, 2015 at 12:45
  • It's saying that no-one's voted! I think it must be a jinx when you edited it. I have restored your vote! Nov 6, 2015 at 15:51

It isn't obvious what the best analysis is, because a case can be made that "begin" in this construction is not really a verb, but rather expresses an aspect of the following verb -- we could call it the "inceptive" aspect -- as alternative to the progressive or the perfect aspects. Fritz Newmeyer points out in his dissertation "Aspectual Verbs in English" that "begin" and the following verb with "-ing" cannot have independent aspects:

*"He began having spent money recklessly at an early age."

That could be understood if "begin" was not actually an independent verb here, but rather was an aspect.


"I began spending money" - "began" is the verb, "spending money" is a two-part object with the gerund "spending". "spending" does not look like an infinitive as Stu W guesses. An infinitve would be "(to) spend".

We may assume that the special verb construction "began spending money" derives from " began with the spending of money" with drop of "with" and "of".

  • I'm not so sure as to drop of with and of... I think that the meaning of the sentence would be completely different were those two prepositions added to the sentence. Or am I the one who's wrong?
    – sooeithdk
    Nov 3, 2015 at 22:22
  • @sooeithdk 15 What difference do you see? I don't see any.
    – rogermue
    Nov 4, 2015 at 14:03
  • I'm not sure if other people would interpret it like this, and most likely not, but one possibility is that "I began something with the spending of money", with "something" dropped in the sentence and still understood to be there.
    – sooeithdk
    Nov 4, 2015 at 22:43
  • 2
    @rogermue Begin with is a different idiom altogether. Bare begin VERBing means to start performing the activity VERB; begin with VERBing means that VERBing is the first activity performed, which is presumably followed (or intended to be followed) by performing other activities. Nov 4, 2015 at 23:48
  • @StoneyB Much as I read your comments with interest, it may be your personal view, but I doubt that it is the general one.
    – rogermue
    Nov 5, 2015 at 3:29

began spending

"Began" is a "to be" verb. It is the auxiliary verb that supports the main verb "spend.

So this sentence is in present continuous tense and the verb is "began spending."


The word 'began' is the verb, while 'spending' is the gerund.

They are separate because the verb + gerund and verb + infinitive forms are commonly used, and the verb is clearly differentiated from the gerund/infinitive.

So "began spending" corresponds to verb + gerund, while "began to spend" corresponds to verb + infinitive.


In the sentence, "began" is the principal verb. But "spending" is a verbal that is called participle. Here "spending" is serving the noun "money", thus actin the work of an adjective.


When I obtained a credit card, I began spending money recklessly.

Could be rewritten

...I began to spend money recklessly

so as others have pointed out, began is the finite verb (the verb here in past tense, the to-infinitive has (by definition) no tense/tempus)



These verbs can be followed by either a to-infinitive or a gerund with almost no difference in meaning:

I began to learn languages when I was ten.

He began using this software three years ago.

I started wondering what would happen if I lost my job.

After a while, I started to wonder why she'd said that.

Kate continued wearing her wedding ring after her husband's death.

You continue to surprise me!

Two days later, the screen ceased to function.

They ceased fighting when the commander was killed.

I dread to think what could have happened. (used exclusively in the expression I dread to think/imagine when we don't want to think about something distressing or unpleasant)

I dread asking you this question, but... (I'm afraid to ask you this question, but...)

The list of things he intended to do was getting longer and longer.

We intend contacting the company before taking any action.

I love dancing.

I love to dance.


I've seen a lot of 500+ word answers on here, and not I don't think that's a bad thing at all, but for most of the answers, the point isn't conveyed until halfway through the answer.

Simply put, began and spending are a Verb+Infinite pair, in which 2 verbs are used one after another to convey additional information.


In this pair, began is the infinitive verb and spending is the base verb.
We know this because if we remove began and change the tense of spending to spent, the sentence still conveys the same point but with less detail


Business English Resources

University of WA


(Thanks to @Rathony for helping me to correct my answer)

  • Quite interesting theory. Can you attach a link or source that explains that way?
    – user140086
    Nov 8, 2015 at 15:43
  • Sure - I have added 2 sources per your request.
    – Scott
    Nov 8, 2015 at 19:11
  • Sorry but I couldn't find any usage to justify your assertion that "began" is an adverb.
    – user140086
    Nov 8, 2015 at 19:16
  • My bad - this is what happens when you post answers at 2AM. Began and Spending are verb pairs - I will update my answer accordingly.
    – Scott
    Nov 8, 2015 at 19:20
  • No worry Scott. I already upvoted your answer when I first commented. As long as "began" is assisting "spending", there is no reason why it cannot be considred as an "adverb".
    – user140086
    Nov 8, 2015 at 19:26

I may be confused but isn't aspect still being revealed by the participle in that the finite verb states the action then aspect seems to be projected on to the participle, which is the object functionally, in a way that does demonstrate TAM-like information being conveyed by the verb/object pair on how time flew from the speakers perspective?

This might be confusing but try please make sense of it. I get that there is the finite verb which is exposed due to its versatility. I also understand the gerund verb like form actually functioning as NP as implied by its lack of versatility.

This is very interested but its hard to say that that participle is doing TAM-like work that the finite verb is seemingly unable to do alone. Maybe the verb and object become interdependent much like in a simple declarative sentence "I ran to the store" the subject and verb seem to be one. We can say structure of discourse but it seems the subject is much more intimately involved with the nucleus, especially since subject use is required and I determines the verb form, though english is analytic, as described by the field.

May be bull shit, but I was very interested in the comment of there be 2 verbs employed with "began" alone. It sparked my imagination. that reminded me on how i view subject as verbal pretext in declarative sentences and object as largely free of influence of the nucleus. Though I know in Italian, proximity (valency?) of NP to verb takes on effects of the verb, regardless on subject or object classification. I also know this happens in English, regularly with me. "The corporation I previously worked for are (lousy with) pigs" Valency makes me use verb that agrees with the object. I guess this sentence is complex but that whole part before are could very well be the subject of my declarative sentence.

Guess I have many questions and I'm confused.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

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