Sometimes a word or phrase appears to be a verb when, in fact, it’s something else. It’s important to look at the function that a word or phrase plays in a sentence before determining its part of speech.
What Is a Verbal?
A verbal is a verb form that acts as another part of speech—either as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Participles, gerunds, and infinitives are the three types of verbals.
A participle is a verb form that functions as an adjective. It modifies nouns and pronouns and can be either a present participle or a past participle. A participial phrase includes the participle, plus any modifiers and complements.
(Applauding is the present participle. It modifies audience.)
(Running is the present participle, and running toward the finish line is the participial phrase. The participial phrase modifies Kelly.)
(Burned is the past participle. It modifies toast.)
(Chopped is the past participle, and chopped into large pieces is the participial phrase. The participial phrase modifies wood.)
A gerund is a verb form that functions as a noun. It always ends in -ing. A gerund phrase includes the gerund, plus any modifiers and complements. By functioning as a noun, gerunds and gerund phrases can act as subjects, direct objects, indirect objects, predicate nominatives, or objects of a preposition in a sentence.
A good way to determine whether a word or phrase is functioning as a gerund versus a present participle is to replace it with the word something. If the replacement works, then the word or phrase is a gerund.
(Painting is the gerund. It acts as a subject in the sentence.)
(Voting is the gerund. It acts as an object of the preposition of in the sentence.)
(Visiting is the gerund, and visiting historical sites is the gerund phrase. The gerund phrase acts as a direct object in the sentence.)
(Flying is the gerund, and flying helicopters is the gerund phrase. The gerund phrase acts as a predicate nominative in the sentence, identifying job.)
An infinitive is a verb form that typically begins with the word to. An infinitive phrase includes the infinitive, plus any modifiers and complements. Infinitives and infinitive phrases can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. When they function as nouns, they can act either as subjects, direct objects, or predicate nominatives.
Infinitive Noun Examples:
(To ski is the infinitive. It functions as a noun in the sentence, acting as a direct object.)
(To finish is the infinitive, and to finish a marathon is the infinitive phrase. The infinitive phrase functions as a noun phrase in the sentence. It acts as a predicate nominative, identifying goal.)
Infinitive Adjective Examples:
(To visit is the infinitive. It functions as an adjective in the sentence, modifying city.)
(To find is the infinitive, and to find hidden treasures is the infinitive phrase. The infinitive phrase functions as an adjective phrase in the sentence, modifying place.)
Infinitive Adverb Examples:
(To scuba dive is the infinitive. It functions as an adverb in the sentence, modifying must get certified.)
(To be is the infinitive, and to be on time is the infinitive phrase. The infinitive phrase functions as an adverb phrase in the sentence, modifying should leave.)
Why Are Verbals Important?
Writers can use verbals to help make their writing more varied and concise and to give it better flow.