Double-Duty Words: Verbals



Verbals are small, domesticated rodents. Just kidding. Those are gerbils. A verbal is a verb in disguise.

Technically, a verbal is a word formed from a verb but used as a noun, adjective or adverb. Verbs are the one part of speech that can dress themselves up and act like other parts of speech. A verbal, in other words, is a verb that doesn’t behave like a verb.

There are three kinds of verbals: participles, gerunds, and infinitives.


One kind of verbal is a participle. A participle is a verb that usually acts like an adjective. Present participles end in –ing. Past participles usually end in –ed, but there are many exceptions. All of the adjectives below are participles (they are easy to spot because they look like verbs):

present participle: The cowboy rode into the fading sunlight.

present participle: The wilting flowers hung from the vase.

past participle: The frightened kitten scurried under the bed.

past participle: The team shuffled into the locker room, defeated.

Notice that each of these words are forms of verbs – fade, wilt, frighten, and defeat. But they are not acting like verbs here. They function like adjectives. What kind of sunlight? Fading sunlight. Which flowers? The wilting ones. What kind of kitten or team? Frightened and defeated. All of these words modify nouns, which is the job of an adjective.


A gerund is a verb that functions like a noun. Gerunds end in –ing and can do all the jobs that nouns do:

subject: Fishing can be a relaxing sport.

direct object: I tried bowling, but I didn’t enjoy it.

indirect object: Samuel gave juggling his best effort.

predicate nominative: My favorite pastime is reading.

object of a preposition: Many benefits come with graduating.

appositive: Only one offense, cheating, is cause for expulsion.

Once again, these verbals called gerunds look like verbs, but notice that no one is fishing, bowling, or juggling in these sentences. By putting an –ing at the end, a verb can be transformed into a noun. A verb-noun you might say. That’s what we call a gerund.


The third type of verbal is called an infinitive. An infinitive is easy to spot because it usually begins with the word to. An infinitive can act as a noun, an adjective or an adverb.

noun: To finish well is my goal. (subject)

noun: I tried to listen. (direct object)

adjective: I’ve got lots of bills to pay. (modifies bills)

adverb: The project is simple to explain. (modifies simple)

Verbals can be confusing because they look like verbs but don’t act like verbs. I like to refer to them as double-duty words because they perform two part-of-speech functions at the same time. They are a common and important kind of word, so you should learn to recognize them.


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About the Author

Brian WaskoBrian is the founder and president of One of his passions is to teach young people how to write better.View all posts by Brian Wasko

  1. seth

    seth was here

    • ryan

      heloo their seth this daniel how is your day going

  2. seth

    this is the most boring thing on the face of the planet

  3. seth

    wow cool wow wow wow wow cool wow wow wow wow wow wow ow

  4. American English Plus Language Center
    American English Plus Language Center11-11-2013

    Excellent explanation. Thank you!

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