October 20, 2014

Verbals: The basics

A verbal is the form of a verb used as a noun, adjective or adverb.

Identifying verbals can be somewhat tricky. While verbals are forms of verbs, they are NOT the action associated with the subject. In other words, they are not verbs.

  1. Gerunds are forms of the verb that function as nouns. They always end in “ing.”
  2. Participles are forms of the verb that function as adjectives. They can end in “ed,” “en,” or “ing.”
  3. Infinitives are forms of the verb that may acts as adjectives, adverbs or nouns. They include “to” plus the base form of the verb, as in “to run.”

As noted, verbals do not act in conjunction with the subject as a verb. They may modify the subject, and in fact, they may be the subject, but they don’t act as the verb for the subject.

When considering a word that may look like a verb but could be a verbal, much confusion can be eliminated by following three simple steps:

1. Find the subject of the sentence. (Every sentence has one)

  • The subject is the person, place thing or idea that is “doing” or “being” in the sentence.

[In the following sentences, the subject is underlined.]

  • Susan soaked her tired feet in the cool creek.

SUSAN is the subject. She is the one who SOAKED.

  • Daniel gave his donation to someone dedicated to making a difference.

DANIEL is the subject. He is the one who GAVE

  • Does donating to charity give Conrad a sense of purpose?

In this sentence, DONATING is the subject. It is the thing that DOES GIVE.

2. Find the verb of the sentence. (Every sentence has one)

  • The verb is the action associated with the subject.

[In the following sentences, the subject is bold and the verb is underlined.]

  • Susan soaked her tired feet in cool creek.

SUSAN, the subject, SOAKED. SOAKED is the verb.

  • Daniel gavehis donation to someone dedicated to making a difference.

DANIEL the subject, GAVE so GAVE is the verb.

  • Does donating to charity give Conrad a sense of purpose?

DONATING, the subject, DOES GIVE, the verb.

3. Find the verbal of the sentence. (NOT every sentence has one)

  • The verbal is a form of the verb acting as an adverb, adjective or noun.

[In the following sentences, the subject is bold, the verb is underlined and the verbal is bold and underlined.]

  • Susan soaked her tired feet in cool creek.

SUSAN is the subject. SOAKED is the verb. TIRED is a form of the verb TO TIRE acting as an adjective modifying FEET.

  • Daniel gave his donation to someone dedicated to making a difference.

DANIEL is the subject. GAVE is the verb. DEDICATED is a form of the verb TO DEDICATE acting as an adjective modifying SOMEONE.

  • Does donating to charity give Conrad a sense of purpose?

DONATING is the subject. DOES GIVE is the verb. DONATING is a form of the verb TO DONATE acting as a noun–in this case the subject.

So, as you can see, a word we might want to identify as a verb may be a verbal, depending on its function in the sentence.

Look at the following sentences and how the forms of the infinitive “to work” change identity as they change function within the sentence.

  • Charlie was working at a factory.

In this sentence, the subject is CHARLIE and he was working, which means that was working is a verb.

  • Working at a factory changed Charlie’s view of the production system.

In this sentence, WORKING is the subject and changed is the verb. The form of the verb ending in “ing” and acting as a noun is a gerund.

  • As a working man, Charlie had plenty of time to contemplate the production system.

In this sentence, the subject is once again Charlie and he had, which makes had the verb. WORKING describes what kind of man Charlie is, so it is an adjective. The form of the verb ending in “ing,” “ed” or “en” and acting as an adjective is a participle.

  • Charlie contemplates ways to work on the production system.

In this sentence, the subject is once again Charlie and contemplates is the verb. TO WORK describes the “ways,” so it is an adjective. The unconjugated form of the verb is an infinitive

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