In a previous post, we talked about verbals – words that look like verbs, but act like other parts of speech. We learned that there are three kinds of verbals: participles (verbals acting like adjectives), gerunds (verbals acting like nouns), and infinitives (verbals with to and acting like nouns, adjectives or adverbs).
Sometimes verbals don’t appear alone. They often come with modifiers or objects. These word groups are called verbal phrases. Because there are three kinds of verbals, there are also three kinds of verbal phrases: participial phrases, gerund phrases, and infinitive phrases.
A participial phrase is a participle plus its modifiers or objects.
participle + adverb: Limping painfully, Ivan crossed the finish line.
participle + modifying phrase: The hood of the convertible, scratched and dented in several places, required expensive repairs.
participle + direct object: Swallowing my words, I listened politely to the boss’s reprimand.
Notice that the participial phrases above all modify a noun or a pronoun. That means they are adjectival phrases – phrases that do the job of an adjective. For example, “limping painfully” modifies Ivan, “scratched and dented in several places” modifies hood, and “swallowing my words” modifies the pronoun I.
Participial phrases, therefore, are also a kind of adjectival phrase.
A gerund plus its modifiers or objects is called a gerund phrase. A gerund phrase works all together just like a single noun.
gerund + adjective: The baby’s loud crying kept me up all night.
gerund + prep. phrase: Tom’s talent is standing on one foot.
gerund + adverb: I avoided delay by acting instinctively.
gerund + direct object: Saving money takes discipline.
gerund + indirect/direct object: He spent the day giving Ted a hand.
Because gerund phrases always act like nouns, they are also considered a kind of noun phrase.
An infinitive phrase is an infinitive plus its modifiers or objects all acting together as a single part of speech.
infinitive + adverb: To live simply is my goal.
infinitive + prep. phrase: This is the shortest route to take to Richmond.
infinitive + direct object: I began running to lose weight.
Infinitive phrases, like simple infinitives, can be used like nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. Notice in the examples above, to live simply works like a noun and is the subject of the sentence. To take to Richmond functions like an adjective, modifying route. And to lose weight works like an adverb, modifying the verb began. That means an infinitive phrase can either be a noun phrase, an adjectival phrase, or an adverbial phrase, depending on its function in the sentence.
Fortunately, verbals and verbal phrases are easier to use than to explain. Most of us use them all the time in our speech and writing. Using them correctly is more important than being able to identify them (There are five verbals in this paragraph. Can you spot them?).
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