Using Verbals and Verbal Phrases for Better Writing

by | Nov 18, 2015 | GrammarSpot | 0 comments

Our very first grammar lesson in Mrs. Allinson’s 2nd grade class was about verbs. I can still remember her telling us: “A verb is an action word.”

The cat sat on the mat.

Verbs are more than just action words. They are such versatile words that they can function as many different parts of speech. This quick guide to verbals and verbal phrases will help you learn more about everything that verbs can do.

What Are Verbals?

When a verb acts as some other part of speech (a noun, an adjective, an adverb or even an interjection), it is called a verbal. The name verbal shows that the verb is being used as a different part of speech.

– The cat enjoys sitting on the mat. (“Sitting” is a noun—it’s the thing the cat enjoys.)

– While sitting on the mat, the cat saw a mouse. (“Sitting” is an adjective, modifying “cat.”)

Once you know about verbals and how they work, you’ll start seeing them everywhere!

What Are Verbal Phrases?

Verbals don’t usually stand alone. They’re most often part of a larger phrase, together with objects, modifiers or other complementary words. This whole phrase is called a verbal phrase.

– The cat enjoys sitting on the mat.

There are three basic types of verbal phrases: infinitive phrases, participial phrases and gerund phrases.

Infinitive Phrases

The infinitive form of a verb is the form using “to”:

To read

To walk

Infinitive phrases use the infinitive form, along with modifiers if necessary, to create a verbal phrase. Infinitive phrases are the most versatile of all verbal phrases. You can use them as nouns, adjectives or adverbs.

– NOUN: Alex likes to collect books about gardening. (“To collect books about gardening” is the object of the main verb “likes.”)

– ADJECTIVE: Do you have any food to bring to the party? (“To bring to the party” is an adjective modifying “food.”)

– ADVERB: Aaron flew to Arizona to visit his grandmother. (“To visit his grandmother” is an adverb modifying “flew.”)

Participial Phrases

Participial phrases use the past or present participle of a verb to make an adjective in a sentence. You can usually spot participles by their endings. All present participles have the ending -ing. Many past participles have the ending -ed. Be careful, though! Lots of common past participles in English (gone, seen, eaten …) have irregular forms.

Here are some participial phrases. Note that they all function as adjectives.

– ADJECTIVE: Playing his ukulele, Richard sang a sad song.

– ADJECTIVE: Frightened by the zombies, Catherine ran into the nearest house.

– ADJECTIVE: Emitting clouds of black smoke, Mark’s toaster suddenly died.

Gerund Phrases

Gerund phrases use the gerund form of a verb, along with the necessary modifiers, to create a noun. Gerunds are nouns made from verbs. Like present participles, they always end in -ing:

– Seeing is believing.

– Knowing is half the battle.

Gerund phrases often look like participial phrases. The big difference is that they’re always nouns, while participial phrases are always adjectives.

– NOUN: I love writing custom content.

– NOUN: Mel enjoys going to class.

– NOUN: John makes a living by fighting zombies.

Making the Most of Verbals and Verbal Phrases

Smart use of verbals and verbal phrases can make your writing more colorful and more precise. Have you seen any great examples of verbal phrases lately? Let us know in the comments section!

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