Verb Phrase book published

Why this book?

book coverThe grammar of English is often thought to be stable over time. However a new book, edited by Bas Aarts, Joanne Close, Geoffrey Leech and Sean Wallis, The Verb Phrase in English: investigating recent language change with corpora (Cambridge University Press, 2013) presents a body of research from linguists that shows that using natural language corpora one can find changes within a core element of grammar, the Verb Phrase, over a span of decades rather than centuries.

The book draws from papers first presented at a symposium on the verb phrase organised for the Survey of English Usage’s 50th anniversary and on research from the Changing English Verb Phrase project.

A methodological range

This collection of corpus linguistics studies offers the reader a range of methodological perspectives from linguists such as Doug Biber, Geoffrey Leech and Mark Davies, who present data in terms of frequencies per million words (pmw), to sociolinguists like Sali Tagliamonte and others who operate in a variationist paradigm and who frame their research questions in terms of probabilities of a particular choice.

Chapter 2, by Bas Aarts, Jo Close and myself, discusses why a focus on choice is to be preferred if possible, while exploring how corpus experimental designs can be refined in a series of steps. Papers were shared between authors and not all concurred, ensuring a lively and occasionally controversial ‘edge’ to some of the contributions. The volume is of interest on the basis of its subject matter, but also as a  ‘state of art’ conversation about methodology between contemporary corpus linguists.

Statistical methods used

Papers employ a number of statistical methods discussed in corp.ling.stats, including:


Aarts, B., Close, J, Leech, G. and Wallis, S.A. (eds.) 2013. The Verb Phrase in English: Investigating recent language change with corpora. Cambridge: CUP.


  1. Introduction
    – Bas Aarts, Jo Close, Geoff Leech and Sean Wallis
  2. Choices over time: methodological issues in current change
    – Bas Aarts, Jo Close and Sean Wallis
  3. Recent shifts with three nonfinite verbal complements in English: Data from the 100 million word TIME Corpus (1920s-2000s)
    – Mark Davies
  4. Verb structures in twentieth-century British English
    – Nicholas Smith and Geoffrey Leech
  5. Nominalizing the verb phrase in academic research writing
    – Douglas Biber and Bethany Grey
  6. The verb phrase in contemporary Canadian English
    – Sali Tagliamonte
  7. Recent change and grammaticalization
    – Manfred Krug and Ole Schützler
  8. The progressive verb in modern American English
    – Magnus Levin
  9. I was just reading this article – on the expression of recentness and the English past progressive
    – Alexander Bergs, Meike Pfaff and Thomas Hoffmann
  10. Bare infinitival complements in present-day English
    – Marcus Callies
  11. Operator and Negative Contraction in Spoken British English: A Change in Progress
    – José Ramón Varela Pérez
  12. The development of comment clauses
    – Gunther Kaltenböck
  13. The perfect in spoken British English
    – Jill Bowie, Sean Wallis and Bas Aarts
  14. Changes in the verb phrase in legal English
    – Christopher Williams
  15. Modals and semi-modals of obligation in American English
    – Stig Johannson

Cambridge University Press website

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