The Functions of Verbals

The Functions of Verbals

Although verbals are derived from verbs, they usually take on a different function in the sentence. In fact, the only time a verbal can be part of the main verb is if it’s accompanied by one or more helping verbs:

I would have bought a muffin.

She has written two novels.

Otherwise, verbals tend to take on the role of other parts of speech. Let’s look at a few examples:

Participles as Adjectives

Participles often function as adjectives:

Your caring attitude is rather endearing.

I love your refurbished kitchen.

In the first sentence, the present participle caring modifies the noun attitude. In the second sentence, the past participle refurbished modifies the noun kitchen.

Verbals as Nouns

Present participles and infinitives can take on the role of a noun. Here are some examples:

To collect ice cubes is a foolish endeavour.

Infinitive: To collect.
Main verb: is.

In this sentence, the infinitive is the subject, and so is acting like a noun.

Here’s another example:

Training takes time.

Present participle: training.
Main verb: takes.

Again,¬†training¬†is the subject and functions like a noun. Note that when a present participle acts like a noun it’s called a gerund.

Verbals in Phrases

Verbals can also start phrases. Here are some examples:

To see you happy means a lot to me.

Sue, seizing her chance, stole Mike’s wallet.

Retired recently, Brad spent his days on the golf course:

Note that the first participial phrase contains a present participle and the last a past participle. All these phrases act like parts of speech. For instance, the last participial phrase acts like an adjective, modifying “Brad.”

To find out more about how verbals can be used in phrases, please visit our page on phrases.


To sum up, verbals will never be your main verb unless they have a helping verb. Otherwise they function as other parts of speech (mostly nouns and adjectives) or in phrases.