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What Is a Lexical Verb?

By Mark Wollacott
Updated May 23, 2024
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A lexical verb is a verb that provides information. The opposite of lexical verbs are auxiliary verbs, which provide grammatical structure. Lexical verbs are an open class type of verb and are used to express states and actions. Such verbs are also known as main verbs. Examples of lexical verbs include “study,” “eat” and “listen.”

A lexicon is the number of informational words known by a person. This means all words except pronouns, particles/articles and auxiliary verbs. The total words known by an individual, including both informational and functional words, is known as vocabulary. Lexical density is the proportion of words used that provide information instead of providing syntactic or grammatical structure to a sentence.

Verbs are words used in any language to express an action or state of being. They can be inflected to increase their meaning including deciding if the action is present, continuous, finished or in the future. Inflections control aspect, mood, tense and voice. Each language has its own set of verb rules. Some languages keep them simple and neutral, while others like Latin and Hungarian, will add gender to verbs.

The auxiliary verb is designed to aid grammar instead of provide information. In this sense, it aids pronouns such as “where” and articles such as “to” and “the.” It is called an auxiliary verb because it aids and complements the main verb in the sentence. If there is only one verb in the sentence, such as with “I am a singer,” then “I am” is the lexical verb. If there is another verb such as “I am singing,” then “singing” is the lexical verb and “I am” becomes an auxiliary verb.

The main role of the lexical verb is to be the main verb of the sentence. The verb provides the reader or listener with key information linking the subject and the object. While many auxiliary verbs can also be main verbs, lexical verbs such as “play,” “paint” and “record” stand out because they give very specific information and are always the lexical verb.

A verb’s valence is determined by how many subjects and objects a verb interacts with. In English, the main verb must always interact with at least one subject or object. This is not always the case in other languages. A key example is a lexical verb related to weather. English must always uses an auxiliary verb or dummy verb to indicate a state of being like “It’s raining” or “It’s snowing.” Other languages like Spanish and Chinese can say both of these states without having to use an auxiliary verb to balance the lexical verb.

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