Feature GB123: Are there verb-adjunct (aka light-verb) constructions?



A light-verb construction is a lexicalized complex predicate with two components: (1) a lexical stem which is not an inflected verb and (2) an inflectable verb, which is called the light verb. It is form-identical with a main verb, but used with a different meaning such that it ‘cannot be said to be predicating fully' (examples in English include give a sigh or take a plunge) (Butt 2003).

Items that can occur as lexical stems in light-verb constructions are: (1) nouns (e.g. do baby in Ivorian English or have sex in English for ‘to copulate’), (2) adjectives (e.g. make beautiful in English), (3) non-inflectable items such as ideophones (e.g. do ssss for ‘to make an ssss sound’), or (4) verbs borrowed from other languages that do not inflect in the target language.

Regular verbs cannot occur as lexical stems in light-verb constructions, in the Grambank definition. This makes light verb constructions different from serial verb constructions and verbal compounding, which involve a sequence of more than one verb. Another difference is that there is a predicate-argument relationship between the light verb and the other lexical stem (e.g. in do baby, baby is the object of do), while in serial verb constructions the verbs do not have a predicate-argument relationship between them since they instead describe a sequence of events.


  1. Code 1 if verbs with a general meaning may combine with a non-verbal element to produce new verbal predicates. If this is not explicitly mentioned in the grammar's chapter on verbs, check example sentences or word lists.
  2. Code 0 if you do not find examples of new verbal predicates formed by a combination of a verb and a non-verbal element, or if all of these instances can be analyzed as serial verb constructions or verbal compounds.


Korafe-Yegha (ISO 639-3: kpr, Glottolog: kora1294)

In Korafe-Yegha, nouns frequently combine with a generic verb to form new predicates. The generic verbs include meanings such as ‘do’, ‘say’, ‘see’, ‘hit’, ‘spear’, ‘do again’, ‘hold’, ‘get’ (Farr 1999: 63–66). Korafe-Yegha is coded 1.

boare de        tattoo hit            ‘tattoo (someone)’
ambe de         sago hit              ‘process sago’
jinogu tam bu   swoon find            ‘swoon’
ata gae         foot spear            ‘spear/sting foot’
bairobo bu      choice of catch get   ‘get first pick of catch’
buri dighi      tether tie            ‘tether’
uvu mindi       liquid consume        ‘drink’
oka bambu       fish get              ‘catch fish’

Mandarin Chinese (ISO 693-3: cmn, Glottolog: mand1415)

Butt (2003: 9–10) describes one construction in Mandarin as a light verb which, however, is not a light verb construction by the definition in Grambank. It would instead be counted as an example of verb compounding ("lexicalized, often non-compositional, constructions which combine two or more verb stems" according to GB122). Languages where the only examples of potential light verb constructions are of this kind should be coded 0.

guān  diào
close fall
‘to switch off (a light)’ (Butt 2003: 10)

guān  shàng
close ascend
‘to close (a door)’ (Butt 2003: 10)

Further reading

Anderson, Gregory D. 2011. Auxiliary verb constructions (and other complex predicate types): A functional–constructional overview. Language and Linguistics Compass 5. 795–828.

Butt, Miriam. 2003. The light verb jungle: Still hacking away. Harvard Working Papers in Linguistics 9. 1–49.

Seiss, Melanie. 2009. On the difference between auxiliaries, serial verbs and light verbs. In Miriam Butt & Tracy Holloway King (eds), Proceedings of the LFG09 Conference, 501–519. Stanford, CA: CSLI Publications.


Anderson, Gregory D. 2011. Auxiliary verb constructions (and other complex predicate types): A functional-constructional overview. Language and Linguistics Compass 5. 795–828.

Butt, Miriam. 2003. The light verb jungle. Harvard Working Papers in Linguistics 9. 1–49.

Farr, Cynthia J. M. 1999. The interface between syntax and discourse in Korafe: A Papuan language of Papua New Guinea. (Pacific Linguistics: Series C, 148.) Canberra: Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University.

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