Here Come the Hybrids: Verbals
Verbals are called hybrids because they're part verb. However, they don't act as verbs; instead, they act as other parts of speech. This isn't as complicated as it sounds; you probably use verbals all the time without realizing it.
Part This and Part That: Participles
A participle is part verb and part something else, but it's used as an adjective. In the last chapter, you learned that adjectives answer one of three questions: which one? what kind of? or how many? That will come in handy here, too. Some participles consist of a verb plus -ing, as in these sentences:
Sleeping consists of the verb sleep plus the ending -ing, and it acts as an adjective in the sentence. It describes dogs, and it answers the question which ones?
Shivering when they came in, Peter and Sylvia Niblo made a mad dash for the coffeepot.
Shivering consists of the verb shiver plus the ending -ing, and it acts as an adjective in the sentence. It describes Peter and Sylvia Niblo, and it answers the question what kind of? or which one? The previous examples illustrate present participles.
Other participles consist of a verb plus -d or -ed, as in these sentences:
Exhilarated from the victory, the entire team embraced the cheering fans.
Exhilarated consists of the verb exhilarate plus the ending -d, and it acts as an adjective in the sentence. It describes team, and it answers the question which ones?
Stained with both mustard and ketchup, my new shirt went right into the washing machine.
Stained consists of the verb stain plus the ending -ed, and it acts as an adjective in the sentence. It describes shirt, and it answers the question which one? The previous examples illustrate past participles.
So what's the big deal about a participle? Sometimes it's used in the wrong way, and that creates a dangling participle (hanging participle or unattached participle). Take a look at this sentence:
Babbling incoherently, the nurse quickly wrapped his arms around the child.
The way the sentence is written, the nurse was babbling (a participle) incoherently. What the writer means (at least, what we hope he or she means) is that the child was babbling incoherently. The sentence should be rewritten, perhaps this way:
The nurse quickly wrapped his arms around the babbling child.
Here's another dangling participle:
Tired from shopping at the mall, the recliner looked like the perfect spot for Kathy Wethington.
How in the world could a recliner have a tiring day shopping? That participle(tired) and the rest of the words that go with it (its phrase: tired from shopping) should be moved. A better way to word that sentence would be:
The recliner looked like the perfect spot for Kathy Wethington, who was tired from the long day shopping.
The Jolly Gerund
A gerund is a word that begins with a verb and ends in -ing. Wait a minute! Isn't that what a present participle is? Glad you were paying attention. Now for the rest of the story. A gerund begins with a verb, ends in -ing, and acts like a noun (that is, it names a person, place, or thing).
Running up hills for the last six months has improved Cathe's stamina.
Running is a gerund. It's composed of a verb (run), ends in -ing, and is used as a noun.
This rule is often ignored: Use a possessive noun or possessive pronoun (my, your, his, her, its, our, and their) before a gerund. Look at this sentence:
David continues to be amazed by (Susan, Susan's) singing.
Use the possessive Susan's before the gerund singing. The same is true for this sentence:
Steve and Diana weren't happy about (us, our) leaving so early.
Use the possessive pronoun our before the gerund leaving.
Look at the different uses of addressing in these sentences:
Addressing the problem made Pat Davis realize what she must do.
Addressing the audience, Donna and Jim White felt a connection.
Anthony and Ruth Hazelwood mailed the invitations as soon as they finished addressing the envelopes.
In the first sentence, addressing is a gerund (a verb plus -ing, functioning as a noun). In the second sentence, addressing is a participle (a verb plus -ing, functioning as an adjective). In the last sentence, addressing is a verb (showing action).
To Be or Not to Be: Infinitives
The good news is that infinitives are easy to spot — usually. Infinitives are composed of to plus a verb (e.g., to go, to carry). Most often infinitives are used as nouns, but sometimes they crop up as adjectives or adverbs.
“I want to go home!” cried the youngster.
To go is an infinitive acting as a noun.
To bury is an infinitive that acts as an adverb; it tells why we came.
Harry was the first guy in our crowd to marry.
To marry is an infinitive that acts as an adjective; it describes guy.
Now for the bad news. Sometimes the to part of an infinitive is omitted.
“Please help me mow the lawn,” Arthur said to his wife.
That sentence means the same as
“Please help me to mow the lawn…”
Once you get used to looking at sentences in this way, you'll find that recognizing infinitives without the to will become automatic.
Many years ago grammarians decided that splitting an infinitive (that is, inserting a word — an adverb, to be exact — between to and the verb, as in to plainly see and to hastily wed) was wrong. Thankfully, that rule has gone by the wayside for all but the stuffiest editors.
Why was the “no split infinitive” rule created in the first place? In the days when the study of Latin was a mandatory part of the curriculum in many schools, rules of Latin grammar often affected rules of English grammar. Since a Latin infinitive is written as one word, it can't be split; therefore, grammarians said, the English infinitive should never be split either.
Look at the following sentence (with a split infinitive):
Georgia needed to better understand the rules of English grammar.
Now look at this sentence:
To really understand split infinitives, look at their construction.
That sentence constructed without using a split infinitive would be worded like this:
To understand really split infinitives, look at their construction.
Really to understand split infinitives, look at their construction.
Those don't do justice to the meaning of the sentence, do they?
But now take a look at a sentence like this:
You're usually safe to make the split.
In that instance, if you split the infinitive, you'd end up with a sentence like this:
You're safe to usually make the split.
You're safe to make usually the split.
Neither of those sounds right either. Better to leave the infinitive whole in that case. The moral of the story here is that you have to let your ear tell you if a split infinitive works. If it does, then by all means use it; if not, leave the infinitive alone.
Try the interactive quizzes on verbals at these Web sites: