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1.18: Those Verbing Verbals Gerunds and Participles

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    A verbal is a verb that doesn’t mind its own business. It is a verb in form with a different function—it’s a verb behaving like another part of speech. (The nerve of some verbs.) A verbal can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb.

    While verbals are used as other parts of speech, they retain some of the important qualities of verbs. For example, they can take direct objects and indirect objects and other complements, and they can be modified by adverbs. Because they’re versatile, verbals are enormously useful to writers who understand the power of verbs and want to work as much action into their sentences as possible.

    There are only three kinds of verbals, and in this chapter we’ll discuss the two simplest kinds: gerunds and participles. The infinitives will come next.


    A gerund appears only in the present participle form (the – ing form) and it’s always used as a noun:

    I enjoy baking. And I enjoy hiking.

    Those Verbing Verbals

    Gerunds and Participles

    And I also enjoy reading.
    Once, I tried reading and hiking at the same time, and it did not go well.

    In all the sentences above, the gerund phrase (underlined) functions as a direct object. Some gerunds, created from transitive verbs, can also take their own direct objects.

    In both of the following sentences, the underlined portion includes the gerund, which is the direct object of the sentences, and another noun phrase, which is the direct object of the verbal:

    I enjoy baking cakes. I enjoy reading books.

    Gerunds can also take indirect objects: I enjoy baking my friends cakes.

    I enjoy reading my son books.

    Notice that these last examples are each, in a way, a combination of two clauses. The second example could be said to contain these two ideas:

    I enjoy reading.
    I read my child books.

    We reduced the second sentence above (I read my child books) into a gerund phrase: I enjoy reading my child books.

    That’s why gerund phrases (and verbal phrases of all kinds) are sometimes called reduced clauses. They are not true clauses, but the information that they contain could be the basis of a clause.

    We can also make gerunds out of transitive verbs with object complements:

    We regret making Albert angry.

    In this sentence, the entire gerund phrase, making Albert angry, is the direct object of regret. Within the phrase, Albert is the direct object of making, and angry is the object complement describing Albert.

    Gerunds created from linking verbs can be used with predicate nouns and predicate adjectives. In the next two sentences, the verbal phrase is a direct object of the transitive verb enjoys:

    Stanley enjoys being a comedian. Oliver enjoys being funny.

    In both these sentences, the gerund being is created from a linking verb. In the first sentence, comedian is a predicate nominative; in the second, funny is a predicate adjective.

    Gerunds can be subjects:

    Singing is his favorite pastime.
    Becoming a musician is his goal.
    (The phrase a musician is the predicate nominative of becoming.)

    Below, singing has a direct object:
    Singing hymns is his favorite pastime.

    And here, gerund phrases are appositives:
    His pastime, singing hymns, has made him many friends.

    His other pastime, telling naughty stories, has lost him a few friends.

    A gerund phrase can also be the object of a preposition:

    188 | Brehe’s Grammar Anatomy

    He always has time for singing hymns.
    He has talked about becoming a musician


    Now we need to remember two forms of verbs: The present participles of verbs (the –ing forms) and the past participles of verbs (the forms used with have, as in have known or had seen).

    These forms are used to create adjectival phrases that precede the noun. In some sentence structures, with the right punctuation, they can also follow the noun:

    The soaring airplane roared overhead. The airplane, soaring, roared overhead.

    Walking quickly to the door, the detective threw it open. The detective, walking quickly to the door, threw it open.

    We watched the snow falling softly. We watched the softly falling snow.

    Shaken from his fall, the old man sat for a moment. The old man, shaken from his fall, sat for a moment.

    Heard across the street, the scream disturbed the neighbors. The scream, heard across the street, disturbed the neighbors.

    As these examples illustrate, the participle can be accompanied by adverbs. And the participle phrase should usually be close to the noun it modifies.

    Participles created from transitive verbs can have their own direct objects:

    Shoveling snow, Mr. Lochenhocher grew tired.

    Reading the poem aloud, Mrs. Mays grew emotional. Taking his time, Bill is recovering from the accident.

    Participles can also have indirect objects as well as direct objects: Reading my daughter a book, I grew sleepy.

    Giving my friend the news, I chose my words carefully. Participles can also have direct objects and object complements:

    The committee, electing Mrs. Klomstok chairwoman, enraged Mr. Lochenhocher.

    Participles created from linking verbs can have predicate nominatives or predicate adjectives:

    Mr. Dusenberg, being a wise man, refused to argue. Becoming angry, Mr. Lochenhocher yelled across the street

    at Ruthie.

    Remaining calm, Ruthie continued practicing the bagpipes. (Notice that practicing the bagpipes is a gerund phrase.)


    1. Dangling Participles

    As you’ve just seen, we usually put participles close to the nouns they modify, either before or after. Avoid the infamous dangling participle, a carelessly used participial phrase that doesn’t apply logically to a nearby noun. The result is often nonsense:

    Rowing across the river, the boat struck the ice.
    Dancing to the jazz, the orchestra played its closing number. Falling softly, we watched the snow.
    Drinking noisily, Grandmother watched the thirsty dog.

    Please don’t do this. Please?


    Because students often find verbals difficult, we’ve provided many different kinds of exercises in this chapter and the next to help you learn these concepts. (Don’t thank us; just send money.)

    17a. Identify the functions (subjects, direct objects, and others) of the underlined gerunds in these sentences:

    1. Farming is his business.
    2. His business is farming.
    3. He likes farming.
    4. He likes raising corn and soy beans. 5. He will stay with farming.

    6. His profession, raising corn and soy beans, is a difficult one.

    17b. Now locate the gerunds in the following sentences and identify their functions:

    1. His hobby is biking.

    2. Biking is his hobby.

    3. He is interested in biking.
    4. His hobby, biking, is a popular one.
    5. Biking ten miles a day is a challenge.
    6. His goal is biking ten miles a day.
    7. He makes time for biking ten miles a day. 8. She likes being a police woman.
    9. Being a patrol officer is her ideal job.


    Before we go to the next exercises, let’s have a quick review.

    Gerunds, as we’ve seen, are present participles used as nouns for many nominal functions:

    Running is his hobby.
    (A gerund functioning as a subject)

    He likes running laps.
    (A gerund phrase as a direct object)

    Her hobby is playing the tuba.
    (A gerund phrase as a predicate nominative)

    We also use present participles to create progressive tense verbs, using the verb to be as auxiliaries:

    He is playing the tuba.

    She was always playing the tuba. I have been playing the tuba.

    So gerunds can be distinguished from progressive tense verbs in at least two ways:

    1. Gerunds always function as nouns, in a nominal position in the sentence.
    2. Progressive tense verbs always have an auxiliary, which is some form of the verb to be.

    Back to the exercises:

    17c. Using the guidelines above, classify the gerunds and progressive verbs in the underlined portions of these sentences:

    1. Breathing very cold air can be painful.

    2. I love baking cookies.
    3. He found much joy in singing.
    4. He was singing all the time.

    5. You learn a lot from reading books.

    6. When you are driving, time passes quickly.

    17d. Do the same thing in the following sentences, in which the gerunds and progressive tense verbs are not marked for you:

    1. He made a career of programming computers.

    2. I was programming computers.

    3. Programming is my job.
    4. I love juggling.
    5. I am juggling all the time.
    6. Juggling is what I love to do. 7. Once my hobby was juggling.


    Here’s another short review concerning verbs and participles: You will recall that the progressive tense verbs, which use present participles to build verb phrases, use the verb to be as


    He is driving.
    She was always playing golf. I will be knitting a sweater.

    We also use past participles or present participles to create adjectival phrases that usually appear just before or after the nouns they modify:

    Sleeping for hours, John recovered from his cold. The dog, barking madly, wouldn’t be quiet. Driven to exhaustion, Bob had to rest.

    They can also appear after linking verbs:

    He seemed disappointed by the news. He became interested in the new book.

    So we can distinguish participles from progressive tense verbs or perfect tense verbs in at least two ways:

    1. Participles always function as adjectives and usually appear before or after a noun phrase, or after a linking verb.
    2. Progressive tense verbs always have some form of be as an auxiliary; perfect tense verbs always have some form of have as an auxiliary.

    Back to the exercises:

    17e. Using the guidelines above, classify the underlined portions of these sentences as participles, as perfect tense verbs, or as progressive tense verbs.

    1. Bob was sleeping for hours.
    2. Bob, driven to exhaustion, had to rest.
    3. Martha has driven Bob to work all week.
    4. Swimming laps, Bob begins his day briskly.
    5. Bob, biking for miles, was exhausted.
    6. Exhausted, Bob nevertheless became intrigued.

    7. Driving to work, Martha saw a red fox.

    17f. Do the same thing in the following sentences, in which the participles and verbs are not marked for you:

    1. Snoring loudly, Susan slept through her history class.

    1. Susan was snoring loudly in Calculus.
    2. Driven mad by the noise, Claude threw everything in sight.
    3. Claude had not slept for two days.
    4. Claude appeared worn and worried.
    5. Playing the sax, Al woke up the neighbors.
    6. Written for Susan, the instructions ordered her to drop her history class.

    17g. Using the guidelines discussed in this chapter, classify the underlined portions of the following sentences as gerunds, as participles, as perfect tense verbs, or as progressive tense verbs.

    1. His hobby is reading Shakespeare.
    2. He is always reading Shakespeare.
    3. Reading Shakespeare aloud, he entranced the audience. 4. Alicia, reading Shakespeare, ignored the speaker.
    5. Driving at night can be dangerous.
    6. I don’t like driving at night.
    7. Driving late at night, Ed was exhausted.
    8. Exhausted, Ed drove on.

    9. Ed was driving three nights a week.

    10. He has exhausted himself with the driving.

    17h. In these sentences, the gerunds, participles, and verbs are not marked for you. Locate and classify the gerunds, participles, perfect tense verbs, and progressive tense verbs:

    1. Seen through the window, the room was a mess. 2. We have seen the traffic through the window.
    3. My hobby is playing the tuba.
    4. Bob is playing the tuba.

    5. Playing the tuba, Bob disturbed the library patrons. 6. Feeling sick, Gloria went home.
    7. Gloria was feeling sick.
    8. Her remarks were about reading Poe.

    9. Sailing on the lake is Cal’s hobby.

    10. I like sailing on the lake.
    11. I am sailing again this summer.

    1.18: Those Verbing Verbals Gerunds and Participles is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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