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What Are Verbals? (with Examples)

What Are Verbals? (with Examples)

A verbal is a verb form which functions as a noun or an adjective. In English, there are three types of verbals:

Verbals (Participles)

A participle is a verb form which functions as an adjective.

There are two types of participles: the present participle (ending ing) and the past participle (usually ending -ed, -d, -t, -en, or -n).

Here are some participles being used as adjectives:

The VerbThe Present ParticipleThe Past Participle
To bakethe baking breadthe baked bread
To printthe printing documentthe printed document
To lowerthe lowering prices the lowered prices

Here are some real-life examples:
  • A stirring dwarf we do allowance give before a sleeping giant. (William Shakespeare, 1564-1616)
  • (Two present participles)
  • Food is an important part of a balanced diet. (Fran Lebowitz)
  • (A past participle)
Often, a participle will head up a participle phrase which functions as an adjective. In the examples below, all participles are in bold and the participle phrases are shaded.
  • Drooling saliva over the day's mail, the barking boxer quickly singled out the parcel from the bills and junk mail.
  • (This example has two present participles. The first heads up a participle phrase that describes the barking boxer. The second modifies boxer in the normal way.)
  • Baked in the oven for over six hours, the roast was ruined.
  • (This example has two past participles. The first heads up a participle phrase that describes the roast. The second describes the roast as a subject complement.)
Read more about participle phrases.

Verbals (Gerunds)

Even though gerunds look like present participles (i.e., they also end -ing), a gerund is a noun not an adjective. Here are some examples of gerunds (shaded):
  • You don't stop laughing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop laughing. (Michael Pritchard)
  • Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. (Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, 1893-1986)
  • I have never taken any exercise except sleeping and resting. (Mark Twain, 1835-1910)
A gerund will often appear in a gerund phrase. A gerund phrase consists of a gerund, its object, and all modifiers. For example (gerunds in bold with the gerund phrases shaded):
  • Singing the words out loud helped him with his stammer.
  • I started by photographing birds in my garden.
Read more about gerund phrases.

Verbals (Infinitives)

An infinitive is a verb form (often preceded by to, e.g., to dance, to sing) which can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. For example:

An infinitive as a noun:
  • To win was everything.
  • (The infinitive is the subject of was.)
Compare it to this:
  • Winning was everything.
  • (This proves that the infinitive to win is being used a noun.)
An infinitive as an adjective:
  • It is an appropriate saving to propose.
  • (The infinitive modifies saving. This means it is functioning as an adjective.)
Compare it to this:
  • It is an appropriate saving that he proposed.
  • (The clause that he proposed is an adjective clause. This proves that the infinitive to propose is being used an adjective.)
An infinitive as an adverb:
  • The man paid to watch.
  • (The infinitive modifies the verb paid. This means it is functioning as an adverb.)
Compare it to this:
  • The man paid so he could watch.
  • (The clause so he could watch is an adverbial clause. This proves that the infinitive to watch is being used an adverb.)
Read more about infinitives.

An infinitive will often appear in a infinitive phrase. An infinitive phrase consists of the infinitive and any objects and modifiers. For example (infinitives in bold with the infinitive phrases shaded):
  • She needed to find a lot of money quickly.
  • (The infinitive phrase is being used as a noun.)
  • I showed her the best way to make a Yorkshire pudding.
  • (The infinitive phrase is being used as an adjective.)
  • He set the camera to film whatever was eating his chickens.
  • (The infinitive phrase is being used as an adverb.)
Read more about infinitive phrases.
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