Verb serialization is the asyndetic coordination, in a clause, of verbal complexes which share dependents.1 f illustrate the construction from Mandarin.

Mand Iusescissorscutpaper
I cut paper with the scissors.
Mand youlendgiveheumbrella
You lend him an umbrella.

In both examples, the two verbs share their subject. In , each verb has its own object. In , the two verbs may be taken as a compound verb which takes its dependents as a whole.

Clause level operators such as tense, mood, aspect and polarity apply to a verb series as a whole; their values cannot change in a verb series or be attributed to only one verb of the series. Instead, in accordance with word order patterns, they are marked either at the start or at the end of the series. Consequently, such operators may be used in a test to determine the verb-series status of a construction:

By this criterion, the verbal complexes that constitute a verb series are at a lower level than the clause level.2 This is why the above definition mentions “verb complexes”.

A verb in a series may introduce a further actant. The next verb in the series may then take, in principle, any of the preceding actants as its own subject. The first case was seen in and is again illustrated by .

Sook brought the wood.(Foley & Van Valin 1984:193)

The second case is illustrated by . As the example shows, this may lead to ambiguity.

John drove the car, collided with a buffalo,

  1. and it [the buffalo] died.’
  2. and it [the car] stalled.’
  3. and he [John] died.’
(Foley & Van Valin 1984:194)

The internal syntactic structure of a verb series may differ even within a given language:

  1. The series may have a flat, serial structure. One may then freely add further verbal complexes, as in .
  2. The construction may consist of definite syntactic slots (“attractor positions” according to Bisang 1992). The verbs occupying these slots fall into semanto-syntactic classes such as verbs of body position, movement, transport, object manipulation etc.

A verb series may lexicalize, or one of its verbs – typically one occupying a certain attractor position – may grammaticalize. More on this in the section on reduction.

1 Foley & Van Valin (1984) argue that the relation between the verbs in a series is not coordination, but cosubordination. This term will occasionally be used here.

2 Aikhenvald (2003:1) defines a serial verb construction as “monoclausal”. This excludes such verb series which consist of full lexical verbs and are formed by rules of syntax; i.e. it limits the concept of ‘serial verb constructions’ to reduced constructions in the sense of the pertinent section.