Verbal Definition: Examples in English Grammar

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

A die with different parts of grammar
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In traditional grammar, a verbal is a word derived from a verb that functions in a sentence as a noun or modifier rather than as a verb.

Verbals include infinitives, gerunds (also known as -ing forms), and participles (also known as -ing forms and -en forms). A word group based on a verbal is called a verbal phrase

Unlike ordinary verbs, verbals are not inflected for person and tense.

As an adjective, the term verbal can mean (1) relating to words (as in verbal irony), (2) spoken rather than written (as in "a verbal agreement"), or (3) relating to or formed from a verb (as in verbal noun).

Etymology: From the Latin, "word"
Pronunciation: VUR-bul

Types and Examples of Verbals

Infinitives
Infinitives are verbals (often preceded by the particle to) that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs.

- "We can only learn to love by loving."
(Iris Murdoch, The Bell. Viking, 1958)

- "The big thing is to try to be in position when the quarterback throws the ball, and to do that you try to work the angle with the receiver so's you can keep half an eye on the quarterback to see where he let the ball go."
(George Plimpton, Paper Lion, 1966)

Gerunds
Gerunds are verbals that end in -ing and function as nouns.
- "We can only learn to love by loving."
(Iris Murdoch, The Bell. Viking, 1958)

- "From the cookstove came the soft singing of burning wood and now and then a throaty bubble rose from a pot of simmering greens."
(Richard Wright, "Bright and Morning Star," 1939)

Participles
Participles are verbals that function as adjectives.


- "I want a good sensible loving child, one to whom I can tell all my most precious candy-making secrets—while I am still alive.”
(Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Alfred A. Knopf, 1964)

- "From the cookstove came the soft singing of burning wood and now and then a throaty bubble rose from a pot of simmering greens."
(Richard Wright, "Bright and Morning Star," 1939)

- "Our loved ones do not go on forever, in spite of what we may allow ourselves to believe."
(Karen Henderson)

Usage Notes

"To write complete sentences, rather than sentence fragments, use verbs or verb phrases, not just verbals. Although a verbal is formed from a verb, it is a part of speech that functions as a noun, adjective, or adverb, not as a verb."
(Phyllis Goldenberg, Elaine Epstein, Carol Domblewski, and Martin Lee, Grammar for Writing. Sadlier-Oxford, 2000)

"Verbals, such as known or swimming or to go, are verb forms that act as adjectives, adverbs, or nouns. A verbal can never serve as a sentence's main verb unless it is used with one or more auxiliary verbs (has known, should be swimming)."
(Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen R. Mandell, The Concise Wadsworth Handbook, 2nd ed. Thomson Wadsworth, 2008)

"Because they are derived from verbs, verbals retain some of the abilities of verbs. They can carry objects or take modifiers and complements. At the same time, verbals possess abilities unknown to the typical verb, the abilities of other parts of speech. In this way, verbals may perform the duties of two parts of speech simultaneously.

"In spite of these new powers, the verbal must give up one of the abilities of its original verb form. No verbal can assume the role of a true verb to express action or condition in a sentence."
(Michael Strumpf and Auriel Douglas, The Grammar Bible.

Owl Books, 2004)