A verbal is a noun or an adjective formed from a verb. Writers sometimes make mistakes by using a verbal in place of a verb or by confusing different types of verbals. There are three types of verbals: the participle (acts as an adjective), the gerund (acts as a noun) and the infinitive (also acts as a noun).
The fundamental difference between verbals and other nouns and adjectives is that verbals can take objects, as in the following example:
The noun phrase a house is the direct object of the verbal building, which acts a noun rather than a verb.
There are two types of participle: present and past.
The second type of participle, the past participle, is a little more complicated as not all verbs form the past tense regularly. The following highlighted words are all past participles:
A gerund is a noun formed from a verb and the suffix ing just as is the case for present participles. The fundamental difference is that a gerund is a noun, while a participle is an adjective:
There are two common difficulties associated with verbals. The first is that since verbals look like verbs, they are sometimes used to write sentence fragments, as in the following examples:
The second difficulty is a very fine point that many editors no longer enforce. Although they have the same form, gerunds and present participles are different parts of speech and need to be treated differently. For example, consider the following sentences:
In the first example, finishing is a participle modifying the noun woman: in other words, the writer admires the woman, not what she is doing. In the second example, finishing is a participle modified by the possessive noun woman’s. The writer admires not the woman herself but the fact that she is finishing the report.
© Department of English, Faculty of Arts, University of Ottawa, 2014