Let us think of a hypothetical situation where I need to identify a set of verbs, where the set can represent all possible actions that can be performed. For example, run can be tuned as a variation of move (or go) quickly. I can use as much adverbs or nouns to clarify the meaning. But I should be using the minimum set of verbs.

Are there studies in this direction, especially in infant or child vocabulary growth or hierarchy in human cognition. If there are resources where hierarchical arrangement if verbs is done, that's precisely what I am looking for. I am aware of verbnet, but it is not exactly hierarchy.

I am sorry if I am not able put things more cohesively, as I am also looking for better ways of framing my question.

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    I'd guess you could do this with one verb if you really wanted to. if adverbs are allowed then your one verb would be "act" and you would add descriptors until satisfied. Run would be act with movement and quickly with harmonious feet and legs.
    – Slepz
    Sep 7, 2016 at 19:04
  • @slepz that's technically correct . But let's just think of this scenario as a learning environment, then from act/do what will be the next division that a learner will learn Sep 7, 2016 at 19:08
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    You may want to take a look at the Natural Semantic Metalanguage: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_semantic_metalanguage
    – michau
    Sep 7, 2016 at 21:38
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    Just to add to the comment by @Slepz, there are a number of Australian languages (in the non-Pama-Nyungan group) that have a very small number of quite generic (ie light) verbs and use an additional element (sometimes called a coverb) to specify the semantics. Sep 7, 2016 at 22:23

2 Answers 2


Only one: do. to run = do running/do run (run as a noun) etc.

  • -1: seems facetious
    – amI
    Sep 7, 2016 at 23:26
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    Why? The question did not specify anything except the smallest number. How are we supposed to decide whether including "walk" (for example) is overkill or not?
    – Matt
    Sep 7, 2016 at 23:52

It is not entirely clear what you are asking or presupposing, especially whether you are looking for theoretical possibilities in imaginary languages, or actual counts based on English (or some other language). "Teach" is most verb-like and "teacher" is less verb-like, with "teaching" standing between the two (and potentially divisible into the forms in "I am teaching" versus "Teaching is irritating"). Is "teaching" a verb or is it not a verb? In other words, it's not clear what you mean by "verb". You have a couple answers that imply that you just need one dummy verb: actually you wouldn't need any overt thing that you'd label a verb. You wouldn't even need a verb to distinguish stative and active predicates.

All actions involve relations between things ("thing" being a non-technical term meaning "anything you want to talk about"). In English, in order to describe the act of cooking porridge, you need one verb (cook) and a noun that says what you cook. In Logoori, you need just one verb ruga and no object, because the object of the verb is implicit in selecting that particular lexical item (if you want to cook beans or leaves, you would deeka them). The English verbal lexicon is thus somewhat less more compact in not including the "cook+porridge" relationship as a distinct lexical item. So it appears that you're looking for a minimal list of lexical "verbs", shifting the burden to compositional semantics (thus all forms of cooking are "cook + object"). "Fry" would be e.g. "cook with oil", "simmer" would be "cook slowly", "blanch" would be "cook quickly in water" and so on. "Cook" would itself be decomposed into a longer description involving some verbal action plus the nouns "heat" and "food", which in many languages are simply nominalizations of verbs "eat", "be warm". If you count such potential V-to-N nominalizations as not verbs, then you could theoretically eliminate "cook".

So it depends on how you dispose of V-to-N derivations, and on whether you're asking for actual language facts or merely an imaginable scenario.

  • First of all, I was assuming lemmas of words, when I said verbs. So essentailly teaching, teaches taught etc. basically becomes teach. Now teacher is actually a noun derived from verb teach. Since its a noun, It also need not be considered when enumerating verbs. So wth the constraints, can you help out Sep 11, 2016 at 22:10
  • I don't understand why teacher doesn't also become teach if teaching does. Both are derived nouns. What are your criteria for inclusion under a lemma?
    – user6726
    Sep 12, 2016 at 0:22
  • Its because 'ing' is an inflectional affix but 'er' is a derivational affix. http://www.ling.upenn.edu/courses/Fall_1998/ling001/morphology2.html Sep 12, 2016 at 4:34
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    Unfortunately, -ing as in "Teaching is difficult", or as in "do teaching", is not the same as progressive -ing, and is by the category-changing criterion, derivational. That taxonomy is and has long been suspect, but at least it clarifies what you're asking. I seriously suggest that you rephrase the question to make your theoretical premises clearer.
    – user6726
    Sep 12, 2016 at 4:54

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