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What is the verb(-phrase) and the object in the following sentence:

"Many of them were able to begin buying their own homes."

Case 1: 
    -verb(-phrase): were able
    -object (infinitive clause): to begin buying their own homes

Case 2:
   -verb(-phrase): were able to begin buying
   -object: their own homes

So "Case 1" or "Case 2"?

I would be really grateful for an answer. Thank you very much in advance.

  • I like analysis 1, but I think the verb is able to. "Did they bicycle over?" "No, they were not able to." – Yosef Baskin Jul 13 '17 at 15:50
  • I have no formal training in grammatical analysis, so I'm not proposing this as an answer, but my gut feeling is to say that Case 2 is probably correct. – Jeff Zeitlin Jul 13 '17 at 15:51
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    The verb phrase fills the function of predicate, which is "were able to begin buying their own homes". So your second case is correct. – BillJ Jul 13 '17 at 16:01
  • @BillJ I don't see how the "so" necessarily follows from your first sentence... (not saying your conclusion is wrong necessarily, but that I don't understand your reasoning) – SteveES Jul 13 '17 at 16:18
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    @SteveES Well spotted! The VP includes the object so the OP's second case should include the NP "their own homes" as part of the VP. – BillJ Jul 13 '17 at 16:42
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The sentence Many of them were able to begin buying their own homes contains two clauses, and therefore at least two verb phrases, so asking what "the verb phrase" or "the object" is is problematic.

The first clause in the sentence is the whole sentence. The first verb phrase is:

  • were able to begin buying their own homes.

The pair of words were able by itself is not a syntactic unit, and therefore is not a phrase on its own.

The word able in this clause is an adjective that takes an object, the infinitival clause to begin buying their own homes.

The second clause in the sentence is the infinitival clause:

  • to begin buying their own homes

Technically this clause has two verb phrases:

  • begin buying their own homes

and

  • buying their own homes.

This latter verb phrase contains the verb buying which takes an object, their own homes.

As in the case of were able the strings of words to begin buying or begin buying are not syntactic units, and therefore not phrases on their own.

The word to is not typically considered part of the main verb phrase, since it functions more like an auxiliary verb in terms of its syntactic position.

  • Yes, but the OP was only asking about the upper VP. – BillJ Jul 13 '17 at 16:55
  • I would like to thank everybody for his/her answer. Alan, thank you very much for your very extensive answer. However, I'm not sure if I have understood the answer correctly. If I just perform a "first"-level analysis, analyzing the first clause, which is the whole sentence, is it correct to say: the infinitival clause "to begin buying their own homes" is the object of the verb "were"? – user217372 Jul 13 '17 at 18:28
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    @Sinushyperbolikus No, that's not correct. "to begin buying their own homes" is the object/complement of the adjective "able". The adjective phrase "able to begin buying their own homes" is the object/complement of "were". I'm using object and complement interchangeably here, to mean "phrase that combines with a word to form a new phrase" although some people prefer to distinguish them in various ways. You can see this in StoneyB's tree, which I agree with (although I would use different labels for some of the phrases.) – Alan Munn Jul 13 '17 at 18:35
  • Alan, thank you very much for your reply. I got it now. – user217372 Jul 13 '17 at 18:43
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    @Sinushyperbolikus Not quite. It's the object of the verb "started". "has" is an auxiliary verb that forms its own verb phrase with "started to begin buying new equipment". As a rule of thumb, a string of adjacent verbs never forms a single verb, but forms multiple verb phrases each contained inside the other. – Alan Munn Jul 13 '17 at 18:57
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SUPPLEMENTAL to Alan Munn's EXCELLENT ANSWER:

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