What Are Verbals and Verbal Phrases?

Updated August 3, 2021
What Are Verbals and Verbal Phrases?
    What Are Verbals and Verbal Phrases

Verbals are verbs that act as another part of speech, such as adjectives, adverbs or nouns. Verbal phrases contain verbals and a couple of modifiers. Key factors such as sentence placement and suffixes can help you identify these amorphous verbs. Keep reading for explanations and examples of the three types of verbals: gerunds, infinitives and participles.

Types of Verbals

Using single-word verbals is an effective way to vary your sentence structure and add descriptive details to your writing. Take a look at the three types of verbals, and see if you can identify them in example sentences.


A gerund is a verbal that ends in -ing and functions as a noun. In the sentence "Reading is my favorite hobby," the -ing word reading is the gerund. You could replace the gerund with another noun, such as "baseball" or "gymnastics," and the sentence would still make sense.

Gerunds often appear as the subject of the sentence. For example:

  • Cooking helps me relax at the end of the day.
  • Practicing will only help you get better.
  • Smoking is dangerous for everyone.
  • Cheating has become much easier with technology.
  • Winning isn't the most important part of the game.

You'll also find gerunds as the object of a sentence:

  • I think cooking is a relaxing activity.
  • Even though you don't like practicing, it will help you get better.
  • Never start smoking because it's dangerous for everyone.
  • Technology has led to an increase in cheating.
  • We don't believe that winning is the most important part of the game.

Notice that in all of these examples, the gerund is functioning as a noun. Whether it's the subject or the object of the sentence, a gerund always ends in -ing.


An infinitive is a verbal that includes "to" and a present-tense verb. In the sentence "Now is the best time to start," the infinitive is to start. Infinitives can function as adjectives, adverbs or nouns in a sentence.

When an infinitive modifies a noun, it's functioning as an adjective. For example:

  • Let's find a game to play. ("to play" modifies "game")
  • France is my favorite country to visit. ("to visit" modifies "country")
  • Your ability to dance is incredible. ("to dance" modifies "ability")

Infinitives function as adverbs when they modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs:

  • To play, we all draw a card. ("to play" modifies "draw")
  • I traveled to France to visit. ("to visit" modifies" traveled")
  • Did you go to Julliard to dance? ("to dance" modifies "go")

Finally, infinitives can function as nouns, either as subjects or objects in a sentence. For example:

  • I'd like to play. ("to play" is the direct object)
  • This is a movie that we really want to watch. ("to watch" is the direct object)
  • To dance is to express yourself with your body. ("to dance" is the subject)


A participle is a verbal that functions as an adjective. Like all adjectives, you'll either find participles right before the noun they modify, or you'll find them functioning as predicate adjectives after a linking verb. There are two kinds of participles: present participles (ending in -ing) and past participles (ending in -ed or -en).

Like gerunds, present participles end in -ing. However, unlike gerunds, they only act as adjectives. For example:

  • This depressing movie makes me feel sad.
  • Tyler is so charming and thoughtful.
  • Did you understand that confusing book?
  • The ending to that episode was surprising!
  • These gloves warm up my freezing fingers.

Examples of past participles in a sentence include:

  • This movie makes me feel depressed.
  • Wendy was immediately charmed by Tyler's thoughtfulness.
  • That last math problem left me so confused.
  • Were you surprised by the ending of the episode?
  • These gloves warm up my frozen fingers.

Types of Verbal Phrases

Verbal phrases include verbals and their modifiers. They’re exactly the same as verbals, except they have a few added words. Just like verbals, there are three kinds of verbal phrases: gerund phrases, infinitive phrases, and participial phrases.

Gerund Phrases

A gerund phrase contains a gerund along with some modifiers. The phrase then functions as a noun. Remember, gerunds always end in -ing.

Examples of gerund phrases include:

  • Cooking dinner helps me relax at the end of the day.
  • Even though you don't like practicing the trumpet, it will help you get better.
  • Smoking in public is dangerous for everyone.
  • Technology has led to an increase in cheating among students.
  • Winning trophies isn't the most important part of the game.

As you can see, gerund phrases can appear as subjects or objects in a sentence. Like gerunds, you can replace these phrases with another noun and the sentence will still make sense.


Infinitive Phrases

When you add modifiers to an infinitive, you create an infinitive phrase. The whole phrase acts as an adjective, adverb or noun. These verbals always begin with the word “to" and a present-tense verb.

Examples of infinitive phrases in sentences include:

  • Let's find a game to play while we wait.
  • I traveled to France to visit my grandmother.
  • To dance on stage is to express yourself with your body.
  • I'd like to watch the new action movie.
  • To be a firefighter, you must go through a lot of physical training.

As long as the phrase begins with "to" and a verb, it's an infinitive phrase. If the phrase begins with "to" and a noun, you're looking at a prepositional phrase.

Participial Phrases

Adding modifiers to a participle results in a participial phrase. These verbal phrases act as adjectives to describe nouns in the sentence. You can put participial phrases at the beginning or end of a sentence.

Examples of present and past participial phrases include:

  • Depressed from the movie, I decided to watch something else.
  • Tyler, charming as always, complimented Wendy's outfit.
  • Confused by the book, we asked the teacher for help.
  • Surprised by the episode's ending, I sat on the couch in shock.
  • My fingers, frozen from the snow, shivered as I put on gloves.

Participial phrases are a nice way to start a sentence. However, make sure that the noun they're describing is very close to the phrase, or you may have a misplaced modifier to edit later.


Verbals: The Alternate Identities of Verbs

Verbals and verbal phrases are multi-faceted parts of writing. While they are technically verbs, they can function as completely different parts of speech to get the point across. Enjoy expanding the standard definition of verbs as you work on sentence variety in your writing. You can also learn more about the difference between verbal phrases and verb phrases to ensure you're using each type of phrase correctly.