Would you please exlain to me why can't we have two main verbs in a sentence in syntax?

Thank you so much

  • Are you asking for a technical explanation in terms of Merge? – user6726 Oct 3 '19 at 19:41
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    This question puzzles and perplexes me. – LjL Oct 3 '19 at 23:02
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    If you define a sentence as a sequence of words that begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop, then it is possible (indeed common) for there to be two 'main' verbs This typically occurs in coordination constructions, e.g. [Liz drove to the shops] [and Ed walked to the pub]. The bracketed elements are main (independent) clauses within a single sentence, each with its own 'main' verb. – BillJ Oct 4 '19 at 8:37
  • As many others have pointed out, it's perfectly possible to have two main verbs in a sentence, but I think what you mean is why we can't have two main verbs in a clause or in an intonational unit, which may be a potentially interesting question about the historical development of English. Perhaps you could modify your post this way? – WavesWashSands Oct 6 '19 at 4:00
  • (ignore the 'intonation unit' part in the previous post, I wasn't thinking straight) – WavesWashSands Oct 6 '19 at 4:31

(Making this an answer so that I can include images; I can't do that in a comment.)

"In syntax" is pretty vague: there are many different theories of how English syntax works. But in all the ones I've ever heard of, you can coordinate two VPs to get a new VP.

sample tree

Some theories only allow binary branching, in which case you have to add an extra level of indirection:

another tree

And there are various arguments about why one of these ways is better than another. But I don't know of any theory that doesn't allow combining two VPs into a conjoined VP with a conjunction.

(Depending which theory you're using, your trees may not look like this: the root might be a TP or an IP, for example, instead of an S. But I'm going with the simplest model I can think of to show off the bits that are important.)

  • There's also He sang, and then it rained, until the police arrived, whereupon... – Adam Bittlingmayer Oct 4 '19 at 5:29
  • @Draconis I'm pretty sure you are excused by default for making this an answer instead of a comment. – LjL Oct 5 '19 at 0:17
  • As much as hit and run is a single noun, there is only one VP "sing and dance". There was a thread recently concluding that word boundaries are fuzzy. I had thought syntax theories put VP as the root, perhaps for the reason in question. – vectory Oct 5 '19 at 11:28
  • I'd say that "He [sang] [and danced]" contains a coordination of two VPs. I suppose one could say that "sang" and "danced" are 'main verbs', but it's a pretty meaningless term here. – BillJ Oct 5 '19 at 12:03
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    @Draconis it is freely available online academia.edu/21701877/… – Alex B. Oct 6 '19 at 16:09

Actually, it's perfectly possible to have more than one verb in the same clause: He drank, ate, went to bed, slept well.
What is really impossible is to have more than one verb with more than one subject. I think clauses like: "the dog, the cat, the horse growled, purred, whinnied" are impossible in all natural languages. This is computer syntax. A clause like "the dog, the cat, the horse growled, purred, whinnied" must be unzipped into three simple clauses in natural languages.

  • Thank you. But, for example, how would someone prove the ungrammaticality of: we like traveling running. – User384789 Oct 6 '19 at 10:30
  • Not just verbs but also it didn’t work for nouns or Determiners. For example, why cannot we say the that of book table. Will those be fighting for the same place since they are from the same category ?? – User384789 Oct 6 '19 at 10:31
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    Yes, pretty much: English only allows one determiner per noun phrase, and it also doesn't allow serial verbs. That's just an English thing, other languages do: for instance, I'll say "il mio cane" for "my dog" in Italian, but in English *"the my dog" wouldn't be acceptable, with both words taking up the same slot. As to serial verbs, the Wikipedia article I linked provides example. But, this isn't really the same question as whether you can have two main verbs in the same sentence: you can, as others said, but you need a connective. – LjL Oct 7 '19 at 21:22

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