What are Verbals and How Do They Work? | Writing

May 18, 2015 thetasctest

What are Verbals and How Do They Work?

The English language is incredibly complex. In fact, many would argue it is the most difficult language to learn. This is partially because there are so many rules for so many different parts of speech – and all of these rules have exceptions. Because of these rules, the meaning of your writing could change if you don’t follow them. Get to know verbals, a more difficult part of speech, as you prepare for the TASC Test Assessing Secondary Completion™.

According to The Center for Writing Studies (CWS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a verbal is a verb form that functions as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. In other words, a verbal is a verb that acts as another part of speech. There are three types of verbals in the English language: gerunds, participles, and infinitives.


According to the Online Writing Lab (OWL) at Purdue University, a gerund “is a verbal that ends in –ing and functions as a noun.” It can be a subject, direct object, subject complement, or an object of preposition. For example:

Studying can help build confidence for the TASC test.

My family supports my studying.

Lisa’s favorite pastime is studying.

Bryan set aside extra time for studying.

In each example, studying is the gerund. However, the function of the gerund changes. In the first example, it is the subject of the sentence. In the second example, it is the direct object. In the third, it is the subject complement. And in the last example it is the object of a prepositional phrase.

You can identify a gerund, or other verbals, by first identifying the verb at its base. This verb is in addition to the action verb that the sentence depends on. In the examples above, the base verb is to study. You can tell that the verb is a verbal – or, in this case, a gerund – because to study is not the action that’s taking place. In the second sentence, the subject is my family and the action is supports.


CWS defines an infinitive as a verbal “consisting of to followed by a verb and any modifiers, objects, or complements.” Most often, infinitives act as nouns. However, they can also act as adjectives and adverbs. For example:

To complete all five of the TASC subtests is Harry’s main goal.

Jess went to take the Science subtest today.

Do you have any study tips to share with me?

In the first example, the infinitive works as the subject of the sentence. Technically, this sentence is in the passive voice. Consequently, you will probably not be using this type of infinitive as often as you may use the other types.

The second example has an infinitive that is working as an adverb. The infinitive is modifying went. In the last example, the infinitive works as an adjective. It modifies study tips.


OWL at Purdue defines a participle as “a verbal that is used as an adjective and most often ends in –ing or –ed.” Participles modify nouns or pronouns, and there are two types of participles:

  • Present Participles: end in –ing
  • Past Participles: end in –ed, en, d, t, n, or –ne.

Examples include:

The smiling test taker felt confident about her work.

Worried, I took a seat in the test center.

Tim noticed his flashcards helping his memory.

The TASC test, written by experts, has five subtests.

Note that whenever a participle begins a sentence, as in the second example, a comma should be placed after it. If the participle comes in the middle of the sentence, as in the last example, the OWL at Purdue advises to “set off with commas only if the information is not essential to the meaning of the sentence.” If it is essential to the meaning, then you do not need to use commas.

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