Verbals in English

Verbals in EnglishFinite and non-finite verb forms. Grammatical categories of verbals.


Finite verb forms have 7 grammatical categories:

person (1st/2nd/3rd)

I write – You write – She writes

number (singular/plural)

He writes – We write

tense (present/past/future)

I write – I wrote – I’ll write

order (perfect/non-perfect)

I‘ve written – I write

aspect (continuous/non-continuous)

I’m writing – I write

voice (active/passive)

She writes – An email is written

mood (imperative/indicative/subjunctive(conditional)

Write! – You write – You should write

To express grammatical categories, verbs use synthetic/analytical forms. Synthetic forms mainly involve endings like –(e)s in the Present Simple 2nd person singular (She writes) or –(e)d in the regular Past Simple (I opened).

But mostly English verb forms are built up analytically – with helping verbs:

will/shall – for future tenses

to be – for the passive and continuous

to have – for the perfect

Helping and notional verbs form grammatical units to be viewed as single words.

I have asked.




There’re 3 non-finite verb forms (verbals) – infinitive, gerund, participle. Verbal is a verb derivative as another speech part.

Infinitives are verb forms as adjectives, adverbs or nouns. They include to + verb base.

Gerunds are verb forms as nouns. They always end in -ing.

Participles are verb forms as adjectives. They end in –ed/en/ing.


Grammatical categories


Unlike finites, verbals have no number/person. Verbals have very common grammatical features. They have order, voice, and aspect (only with infinitive).

Perfect verbal denotes activity prior to another activity.

I’m glad to have helped you.


Passive verbal denotes activity to subjects.

I wanted to be asked that question.

Continuous infinitive denotes activity in progress.

I like to be reading this story now.



Verbals may modify and be subjects but they don’t act as subject verbs. Writers sometimes mistakenly use verbals instead of verbs.

The key difference between verbals and other nouns/adjectives is that verbals can take their own objects.

Building a house is complicated.

There are 2 common problems with verbals. Since they resemble verbs, they sometimes cause students to write fragmentary sentences. The 2nd problem is a very tricky point. Although looking the same, gerunds and present participles are different speech parts needing different treatment.


I saw him passing by.

I saw his passing by.

In the first example, passing is a participle modifying the pronoun him – the passer-by is important. In the second example, passing is a gerund modified by the possessive pronoun his – the passing by is important.