What Are Bridge Verbs?

What are bridge verbs? These unique verbs allow us to create complex sentences with multiple layers of subjects.

To understand exactly how these verbs function, we need to get into the nitty-gritty of sentence construction: syntax.

All languages have syntax, which is the different components of a sentence and their order. In English, word order changes the meaning of a sentence in contrast to a language like Japanese, which uses particles to indicate the subject, direct object, etc.

If you’re a native English speaker, you likely use verbs correctly without thinking about it. However, taking a deep dive into how these parts of speech function can help you write more concisely and think critically about complex texts.

What Is a Bridge Verb?

In the simplest terms, bridge verbs are secondary action words that connect two subjects in a sentence. Once we break down the syntax, the explanation gets a little more complicated.

Not every sentence has nor needs a bridge verb. Instead, these verbs are necessary when the speaker wants to create a long-distance wh-movement from the sentential complement.

Oof! What a word salad. Don’t worry — we’re breaking down each idea into layman’s terms.

Sentential Complement

First, let’s talk about complements. Some verbs need additional parts of speech to “complete” their meaning:

  • Gerunds: Gerunds are verbs with the “-ing” ending.
  • That-Clauses: Some verbs require the addition of the word “that” to make sense.
  • Infinitives: Also called “to be” verbs, infinitives have the preposition “to” before the verb.

A sentential complement is a verb clause that serves as an oblique object, indirect object, direct object or subject of another verb.

Long-Distance Wh-Movement

Bridge verbs have a special relationship with wh-words, also known as interrogative words:

  • Who
  • What
  • When
  • Where
  • Why

“How” is another interrogative word, even though it doesn’t start with “wh.”

Wh-movement describes the placement of these words in questions versus answers. In English, wh-words tend to be at the beginning of questions and the end of answers. For example, you ask, “Who was that man?” and answer, “That was Bob.”

The longer a clause is, the further the wh-word moves. In the example above, the wh-word only moved a few words. However, a more complex sentence, such as “Who did you think that man was?” yields a longer distance: “I thought that man was Bob.”

What Is an Example of a Bridge Verb?

“Say” and “think” are common examples of bridge verbs. They connect a second subject to the rest of the clause, providing more information about the scenario:

  • I thought she baked the cake.
  • He says you need to fill out the form.
  • The teacher thought her students understood the assignment.

In the first example, “She baked the cake” is a complete thought. “She” is the subject, “baked” is the verb and “cake” is the direct object. However, “I” is also a subject. The verb “thought” connects the subject “I” to the rest of the clause — bridging the gap, so to speak.

Why Use Bridge Verbs?

Varying your sentence structure keeps your writing fluid and engaging; bridge verbs are an essential tool for building complex sentences. What other tools do you use to spice up your syntax? Let us know in the comments!


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