The Printable KISS Grammar Workbooks 
Before the
Edgar Degas
Identifying Verbals

      Any verb in a sentence that does not function as a finite verb has to function as one of the three verbals:

Gerunds always function as nouns.

      Subject: Swimming is good exercise.
      Object of Preposition: Mary was thinking (about playing golf.)
      Predicate Noun: The best hobby is reading.
      Direct Object: They love skiing.
Notice that you have already been explaining gerunds. You have simply been considering them subjects, etc., without knowing that they are also gerunds.

An Example of Gerunds That Function as Objects of Prepositions

Image courtesy of Shelagh Manton (in Australia)

Gerundives "always" function as adjectives.

      Having rested, the students went to the dance. ["Having rested" modifies "students."]
      The book was on the table, closed and covered with dust. ["Closed" and "covered" modify "book."
Infinitives function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

     Most textbooks refer to gerundives as "participles," but to do so is confusing. "Participle" designates the form of the word -- the "-ing," "-ed," "-en," etc. ending. Both gerunds and gerundives have participial form. Infinitives do not.

      Noun: To eat is what I want to do.
      Adjective: This is a good place to rest.
      Adverb: They came to play.
The easiest way to identify infinitives is by the principle of exclusion: if a verb is not finite, not a gerund, and not a gerundive, then it has to be an infinitive. There is no other choice left. (The "to" with many infinitives helps, but not all infinitives include the "to.")

      The similarity of verbals to finite verbs is often overlooked in pedagogical grammars. Verbals are condensed, or reduced versions of the basic sentence pattern. Like finite verbs, they have subjects and complements. We'll look at the subjects later, but first consider the easily understood complements.

Complements of Verbals

       Logically, complements of verbals would seem to need little discussion, but I have found that people well-trained in traditional grammar are often surprised to realize that verbals can have complements just as finite verbs have and that these complements can be found and distinguished in the same way that one finds and distinguishes the complements of finite verbs, i.e., by making a question with "what or whom" after the verbal. Their surprise is another indication of the categorizing, rather than conceptualizing approach usually taken toward traditional syntax. Instead of looking for similarities, traditional grammarians have stressed differences. Note that the conceptual approach not only simplifies, it also suggests the relative importance of concepts: the subject/verb/optional complement pattern is basic not only to every main and subordinate clause, but also to every verbal. It is truly the fundamental pattern of the language!

Tenses of Verbals

     Helping verbs are used to create tenses for verbal phrases. For now, you need not remember the names of the tenses. Just remember that a verbal can consist of more than one word. (In other words, it can be a verbal phrase.)


Tense Active Voice Passive Voice
Present Helping Being helped
Perfect Having helped Having been helped


Tense Active Voice Passive Voice
Present Helping Being helped
Present Progressive Having been helping -
Past - Helped
Past Perfect Having helped Having been helped


Tense Active Voice Passive Voice
Present (To) help (To) be helped
Present Progressive (To) be helping -
Present Perfect (To) have helped (To) have been helped
Present Perfect Progressive (To) have been helping -