Functions of Verbals: Gerunds, Participles, and Infinitives

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  • 0:01 Verbals
  • 0:24 Infinitives
  • 2:17 Gerunds
  • 3:49 Participles
  • 6:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kara Wilson

Kara Wilson is a 6th-12th grade English and Drama teacher. She has a B.A. in Literature and an M.Ed, both of which she earned from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Sometimes verbs are cleverly masked as different parts of speech and are known as 'verbals.' In this lesson, we will learn the function of verbals (gerunds, participles, and infinitives) and look at how they operate in different types of sentences.


A verbal is a verb that acts like a different part of speech. Sometimes verbs will act as the subject of a sentence, an adjective, or as a direct object, so we call these verbs 'verbals.' Identifying verbals isn't hard to do, as long as you're paying attention to exactly how they are being used in each sentence. Infinitives, gerunds, and participles are all types of verbals.


An infinitive is a verbal consisting of to + a verb, and it acts like a subject, direct object, subject complement, adjective, or adverb in a sentence. Infinitives are easy to identify because they're written with to + a verb. Some examples of infinitives are 'to skate,' 'to swim,' 'to giggle.' The tricky thing about infinitives is once you spot them, you have to figure out what their function is in the sentence. Let's look at some examples to make this clearer.

'To wait seemed challenging since it required a great deal of patience.' The infinitive in this sentence is 'to wait' because it has 'to' plus the verb 'wait,' and it functions as the subject of the sentence.

'Lilly agreed to give me a ride.' The infinitive used here is 'to give,' and it functions as the direct object of the verb 'agreed' because it is the recipient of the action of agreed.

Let's look at how an infinitive can be used as a subject complement. 'His dream is to play basketball in the NBA.' The infinitive in the sentence is 'to play,' and it comes after the verb 'is' and describes what his dream is, so 'to play' is a subject complement.

Just like regular adjectives, an infinitive used as an adjective always describes a noun. 'This is the best time to practice.' The infinitive here is 'to practice,' and it directly describes the word 'time,' so this infinitive is acting as an adjective.

An infinitive used as an adverb usually occurs at the beginning or at the end of a sentence. 'We must carefully observe to understand.' The infinitive 'to understand' directly describes the verb 'observe,' so this infinitive is functioning as an adverb.


A gerund is a type of verbal that ends in -ing and is used like a noun. Examples of gerunds include actions like chewing, writing, whispering, and snoring.

Similar to infinitives, gerunds can also function as the subject of the sentence, the direct object, or as the subject complement. Gerunds can also act as an object of a preposition. Let's look at some examples to better understand these four different ways to use gerunds.

'Hiking Mt. Kilimanjaro is quite a challenge.' The gerund here is 'hiking,' and it is being used as the subject of the sentence.

'I thoroughly enjoy kayaking.' The gerund 'kayaking' is being used as a direct object because it answers what is enjoyed after the action verb 'enjoy.'

'My favorite exercise is running.' In this sentence, 'running' is the gerund, and it functions as the subject complement because it describes the subject after the verb 'is.'

Using a gerund as an object of a preposition means we're using a preposition like 'in,' 'before,' or 'after' and then having a verb ending in -ing that follows it. Here's an example: 'Mariela thanked her teacher for helping her.' The gerund is 'helping,' the preposition used is 'for,' and helping is what Mariela thanked her teacher for, so helping is the object of the preposition.


A participle is a verbal that is used as an adjective to modify nouns or pronouns. There are present participles, which end in -ing, and past participles, which end in -ed, -en, -d, -t, -n, or -ne.

A few examples of present participles are 'whining, 'dancing,' and 'growling.' Some examples of past participles are 'asked,' 'eaten,' 'dealt,' 'gone,' and 'seen.'

Now, you may be thinking that present participles look just like gerunds because they are verbs ending in -ing, but the big difference is that gerunds are used like nouns, while present participles are used as adjectives to modify nouns or pronouns. Let's look at some examples of present participles to better understand this.

'The wailing baby was hungry.' The word 'wailing' is a verb ending in -ing, and it describes the baby. It is also in the present tense, so we can identify 'wailing' as a present participle.

If we wanted to use the word 'wailing' as a gerund instead, then we could say something like, 'They scolded him for wailing.' In this case, 'wailing' would be a gerund used as an object of a preposition because it follows the preposition 'for' and is being treated like a noun by explaining the reason he is being scolded.

Let's look at an example using two present participles. 'Frowning, she scolded the barking dog.' This sentence has two verbs ending in -ing: 'frowning' and 'barking.' Both of these describe nouns. 'Frowning' describes the woman and 'barking' describes the dog. So, 'frowning' and 'barking' are present participles.

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