What Are Compound Verbs? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Compound Verbs

A compound verb is a single verb made up of more than one word.

compound verb examples

Examples of Compound Verbs

Compound verbs come in one of three forms.

(Form 1) A Phrasal Verb (A Type of Compound Verb)

A phrasal verb is a multi-word verb made up of a main verb and at least one preposition or a particle that changes the meaning of the verb from the original verb.
  • break up
  • break away
  • take away
  • take out
Read more about phrasal verbs.

(Form 2) A Verb with Auxiliaries (A Type of Compound Verb)

An auxiliary verb (or a helping verb as it's also called) is used with a main verb to help express the main verb's tense, mood, or voice. The main auxiliary verbs are "to be," "to have," and "to do."
  • was running
  • have taken
  • do try
Auxiliary verbs also include the modal auxiliary verbs such as "can," "could," "may," "might," "must," "ought to," "shall," "should," "will," and "would.")
  • could win
  • might agree
  • shall attend
Read more about auxiliary verbs.

(Form 3) A Compound Single-word Verb (A Type of Compound Verb)

  • to flyby
  • to water-proof
  • to babysit

Examples of Compound Verbs in Sentences

Here are some examples of compound verbs in sentences.

(Form 1) Phrasal Verbs
  • I believe in equality for everyone, except reporters and photographers. (Politician Mahatma Gandhi)
  • Take the miseries away, and you take away some folks' reason for living. (Author Toni Cade Bambara)
With phrasal verbs, the word accompanying the main verb word is usually classified as either a preposition or a particle. If the word heads a prepositional phrase, it is classified as a preposition.
  • I will think about the problem.
  • (Here, "about the problem" is a prepositional phrase, so "about" is a preposition.)
  • I will stand in tomorrow
  • (There is no prepositional phrase, so "in" is classified as a particle. The word particle means "nothing in particular." Of note, some grammarians classify particles in phrasal verbs as adverbs.)
(Form 2) Verbs with Auxiliaries
  • It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this. (Philosopher Bertrand Russell)
  • If you can make it as a children's party fairy, you can make it anywhere. (Actress Sarah Snook)
  • (Remember that auxiliary verbs also include the modal auxiliary verbs, e.g., "can," "could," "may.")
(Form 3) Compound Single-word Verbs
  • Knowledge-based apprenticeships kickstart careers. (Entrepreneur Peter Jones)
  • We need to idiot-proof this program against some very talented idiots.

Why Should I Care about Compound Verbs?

If you're learning or teaching English, then understanding compound verbs is important. More specifically:
  • The Importance of Phrasal Verbs. Phrasal verbs are common, and their meaning is not always discernible from the main verb (e.g., "to give in" is not even close in meaning "to give").
  • The Importance of Verbs with Auxiliaries. Using verbs with auxiliaries is how many of the verb tenses are formed in English. Tense tells us whether we're talking about the past, present, or future, and whether the action is ongoing or completed. Being able to use tense is a language essential.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are verbs? What are auxiliary verbs? What are compound adjectives? What are compound nouns? Glossary of grammatical terms