I know that verbs are sometimes called "transitive" and I think that means the can take a direct object.

I'm learning Mandarin and there seems to be some verbs that can only take other verbs. For example start/stop 開始/停止.

You cannot start a book, you must start TO READ the book, and you cannot start a meal, you must start TO EAT the meal. In English we can start/stop both NP and VP (stop what you're doing / stop doing that).

Is there a name for this kind of verb? It seems modal or auxiliary verbs must take other verbs, but these verbs in question don't feel very modal-like to me.

Interested in others' knowledge on this topic.

  • 2
    "Start" can be used transitively as in Start the engine; I've just started a new course and so on. When it takes a VP as complement, it's called a catenative verb as in He started to shout loudly.
    – BillJ
    Jun 28, 2016 at 11:21
  • 1
    It seems that Compound Verb is the term you're looking for,. Jun 28, 2016 at 12:10
  • 1
    @bytebuster I looked it over, and I'm not sure compound verbs are what is happening in this example. "The English lexicon contains a few true compound verbs, such as stirfry, kickstart and forcefeed." This seems more like two verbs that combine in a way to make a specific "compound" verb. I'm referring to a verb that can only take another VP, never an indirect object or NP.
    – pixelearth
    Jun 28, 2016 at 12:28
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    @Luboš Motl Of course; you said that every catenative verb may be a transitive verb, and that's not so. "Hesitate" demonstrates that.
    – BillJ
    Jun 28, 2016 at 15:34
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    I don't think there are any verbs in English (and therefore no formal 'category') that cannot take an object and obligatorily require a catenative complement. What we're looking for here are intransitive verbs that must have a catenative complement to be grammatical. Apart from the auxiliaries, of course.
    – BillJ
    Jun 28, 2016 at 15:36

1 Answer 1


"Catena" is a good start, but a more specific term for this--since "catena," as far as I am aware, can refer to all sorts of strings, not just of verbs--is serial verb construction. ("Verb serialization" and "verb stacking" are other names for this phenomenon.)

The Wikipedia article on serial verb constructions specifically cites Mandarin as a language in which they are to be found. It adds this note:

In Chinese, however, there is often no clear distinction between serial verb phrases and prepositional phrases. The first three "verbs" in the above sentence ("wǒ zuò fēijī cóng Shànghǎi dào Běijīng qù"/ "I sit aircraft depart Shanghai arrive Beijing travel"/ "I travel from Shanghai to Beijing by aircraft") may alternatively be regarded as prepositions (this applies particularly to words like cóng which do not normally appear as independent verbs). Words used in that way in Chinese and in some other languages are commonly referred to as coverbs.

As for the question of whether they exist in English, Wikipedia has this to say:

Certain expressions resembling serial verb construction are found in English (surviving from Early Modern English), such as let's go eat and come live with me.2 In such constructions, the second verb would normally be regarded as a bare infinitive (and can generally be replaced by a "full" infinitive by the insertion of to before it).

Cf. compound verb/complex predicate, a related-but-different idea

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