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Understanding Verbals

Use this online grammar lesson on Verbals for Grade 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 elementary, middle school, high school students and teachers to learn and understand verbals and the use of verbals in English grammar.


Verbals are verbs that have lost their subjects, their capacity to indicate definite time, and their capacity to indicate definite time and their capacity to express such ideas as necessity, obligation, and possibility.

Infinitive Verbals

The infinitive is the most versatile of the three verbals. It can be both active and passive, perfect and progressive.

          To live happily is not so hard. [present active form indicating present time]

          To be living today is not so bad. [present progressive active form indicating a continuous action in the present]

          He was pleased to have been recommended. [perfect passive form indicating two different times in the past]

          To have been recommended would have pleased him [perfect passive form indicating that a past action could have happened, but didn't. this is a subjective use of the infinitive.]

The to in the infinitive is sometimes omitted. Compare: Ask me to do it, Let me do it; He was made to confess, They made him confess. Note that dropping to creates a more informal sentence.

Present Participle Verbals

The name of this participle is misleading. It can indicate not only the present but also the past and the future.

          Arriving early, they smiled with embarrassment [The actions are both in the past.]

          Arriving tomorrow, they will be met at the airport. [The actions are both in the future.]

The present participle has a perfect form in which the auxiliary have plus the -en or -ed form of the verb is used.

          Having arrived early, they decided to wait for their host. [The actions are at different times in the past.]

Gerund. The gerund is a present participle that functions as a noun and therefore names an action or a state of being. Like the infinitive, it may have modifiers and complements.

          Swimming is good exercise.

          Eating too much is bad for one's health.

          Bowling on the green was his favorite sport.

Past Participle Verbals

The past participle can indicate past, present, and future meanings.

          Thus deceived, he will be outraged. [both actions in the future]

          Baffled by your attitude, I cannot help you. [both actions in the present]

          Baffled by your attitude, I cannot help you [both actions in the past]

The past participle has both perfect progressive forms.

          Having been discovered, the thief confessed.

          Being watched, he could only pretend to mow the lawn.

Functions of Verbals

Because they have lost their subjects and their tense, verbals never function as do finite verbs. Instead, they function as nominals (structures that behave like nouns) or as modifiers and verb completions.

When the present participle works as a nominal, it is called a gerund. The infinitive working as a nominal is still called an infinitive. Some of the more common uses of the verbal follow:

1. Verbals as nominals:    Being watched made him nervous [gerund as subject]
2. Verbals as modifiers of nouns:     His desire to recant was urgent. [modified desire]
3. Verbals as modifiers of verbs:    He went to the mountains to meditate. [modifies went]
4. Verbals as modifiers of adjectives:    He was anxious to cooperate. [modifies anxious]


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