A verbal is a verb that doesn’t mind its own business. It is a verb in form with a different function—it’s a verb behaving like another part of speech. (The nerve of some verbs.) A verbal can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.
While verbals are used as other parts of speech, they retain some of the important qualities of verbs. For example, they can take direct objects and indirect objects and other complements, and they can be modified by adverbs. Because they’re versatile, verbals are enormously useful to writers who understand the power of verbs and want to work as much action into their sentences as possible.
There are only three kinds of verbals, and in this chapter we’ll discuss the two simplest kinds: gerunds and participles. The infinitives will come next.
GERUNDS: VERBS AS NOUNS
A gerund appears only in the present participle form (the –ing
form) and it’s always used as a noun:
I enjoy baking. And I enjoy hiking.
And I also enjoy reading.
Once, I tried reading and hiking at the same time, and it did not go well.
In all the sentences above, the gerund phrase (underlined) functions as a direct object. Some gerunds, created from transitive verbs, can also take their own direct objects.
In both of the following sentences, the underlined portion includes the gerund, which is the direct object of the sentences, and another noun phrase, which is the direct object of the verbal:
I enjoy baking cakes. I enjoy reading books.
Gerunds can also take indirect objects:
I enjoy baking my friends cakes. I enjoy reading my son books.
Notice that these last examples are each, in a way, a combination of two clauses. The second example could be said to contain these two ideas:
I enjoy reading.
I read my child books.
We reduced the second sentence above (I read my child books) into a gerund phrase: I enjoy reading my child books.
That’s why gerund phrases (and verbal phrases of all kinds) are sometimes called reduced clauses. They are not true clauses, but the information that they contain could be the basis of a clause.
We can also make gerunds out of transitive verbs with object complements:
We regret making Albert angry.
In this sentence, the entire gerund phrase, making Albert angry, is the direct object of regret. Within the phrase, Albert is the direct object of making, and angry is the object complement describing Albert.
Gerunds created from linking verbs can be used with predicate nouns and predicate adjectives. In the next two sentences, the verbal phrase is a direct object of the transitive verb enjoys:
Stanley enjoys being a comedian. Oliver enjoys being funny.
In both these sentences, the gerund being is created from a linking verb. In the first sentence, comedian is a predicate nomi- native; in the second, funny is a predicate adjective.
Gerunds can be subjects:
Singing is his favorite pastime. Becoming a musician is his goal.
(The phrase a musician is the predicate nominative of becoming.) Below, singing has a direct object:
Singing hymns is his favorite pastime. And here, gerund phrases are appositives:
His pastime, singing hymns, has made him many friends.
His other pastime, telling naughty stories, has lost him a few friends.
A gerund phrase can also be the object of a preposition:
He always has time for singing hymns.
He has talked about becoming a musician
PARTICIPLES: VERBS AS ADJECTIVES
Now we need to remember two forms of verbs: The present participles of verbs (the –ing forms) and the past participles of verbs (the forms used with have, as in have known or had seen).
These forms are used to create adjectival phrases that precede the noun. In some sentence structures, with the right punctuation, they can also follow the noun:
The soaring airplane roared overhead. The airplane, soaring, roared overhead.
Walking quickly to the door, the detective threw it open. The detective, walking quickly to the door, threw it open.
We watched the snow falling softly. We watched the softly falling snow.
Shaken from his fall, the old man sat for a moment. The old man, shaken from his fall, sat for a moment.
Heard across the street, the scream disturbed the neighbors. The scream, heard across the street, disturbed the neighbors.
As these examples illustrate, the participle can be accompanied by adverbs. And the participle phrase should usually be close to the noun it modifies.
Participles created from transitive verbs can have their own direct objects:
Shoveling snow, Mr. Lochenhocher grew tired.
Reading the poem aloud, Mrs. Mays grew emotional. Taking his time, Bill is recovering from the accident.
Participles can also have indirect objects as well as direct objects: Reading my daughter a book, I grew sleepy.
Giving my friend the news, I chose my words carefully.
Participles can also have direct objects and object complements:
The committee, electing Mrs. Klomstok chairwoman, enraged Mr. Lochenhocher.
Participles created from linking verbs can have predicate nomina- tives or predicate adjectives:
Mr. Dusenberg, being a wise man, refused to argue.
Becoming angry, Mr. Lochenhocher yelled across the street at Ruthie.
Remaining calm, Ruthie continued practicing the bagpipes. (Notice that practicing the bagpipes is a gerund phrase.)
POINTS FOR WRITERS
As you’ve just seen, we usually put participles close to the nouns they modify, either before or after. Avoid the infamous dangling participle, a carelessly used participial phrase that doesn’t apply logically to a nearby noun. The result is often nonsense:
Rowing across the river, the boat struck the ice.
Dancing to the jazz, the orchestra played its closing number. Falling softly, we watched the snow.
Drinking noisily, Grandmother watched the thirsty dog.
Please don’t do this. Please?