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Verbals: An Overview

VerbalsVerbals aren't really one of the eight traditional parts of speech, but they are pretty major. Formed from verbs, they become not verbs--ever! If verbs are actions, then the words and phrases formed from those actions are verbals. Verbals are either Nouns or Modifiers: they either describe how things are acting, or they capture a sense of a whole activity or behavior. A good way to remember this is that the word "verbal," itself,is not a verb, but instead can either be a noun (as in "I'm using a verbal") or it can be an adjective (as in "I communicate with verbal expression").

Therefore, verbals are verb-like (hence "verb-al"), but they transform into other parts of speech. A useful way to conceptualize the verbal is as a snapshot of an action. When people say, "Take a picture; it will last longer," they mean that, while a real-time image is fleeting, a still image is something one can look at time and time again. Verbals turn actions into fixed concepts--images of actions, in a manner of speaking.

Verbals answer the question, "What activity is it doing, being, sensing or causing?" Even though they may not be real verbs anymore, because they resemble verbs, they can assume all the properties of the verbs from which they are derived—whether transitive, intransitive, linking, factitive or causative. Some verbals take objects, while others won't, and some will have complements or indirect objects. All of them can be modified inexactly the same way verbs are modified: by adverbs or adverbial expressions. As a result, most verbals are used in verbal phrases in one of the ways outlined in the menu at right.

Last Updated: 02/07/2015


Karl J Sherlock
Associate Professor, English
Phone: 619-644-7871

  • Grossmont
  • Cuyamaca
A Member of the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District