Three types of "verbals" you can use in your writing

The Gerund is a verb that ends in -ing and is used as a noun. Gerund phrases are gerunds followed by an "object." For example:

  • Writing is like painting. (Both nouns are gerunds)
  • Writing a book is difficult. ("Writing a book" is a gerund phrase)

The Participle is a verb that acts like a modifier (i.e., like an adjective or an adverb). Participial phrases are formed by taking a verb's ing -form (present participle) or its ed -form (past participle) and adding a prepositional phrase. For example:

  • The wailing banshee had returned. ("Wailing" is a participle)
  • The overstuffed sofa was in the town dump. ("Overstuffed" is a participle)
  • I listened engrossed by people's responses. ("Engrossed by people's responses" is a participial phrase)

The Infinitive is a simple form of a verb, preceded by "to" that's used as a noun, adjective, or adverb. An infinitive phrase consists of an infinitive combined with a noun object or or some sort of modifying word or phrase. For example:

  • I want to write a bestseller. ("To write" is an infinitive)
  • The state began to inventory its salt stores. ("To inventory its salt stores" is an infinitive phrase)
  • I wanted to go at nine. ("To go at nine" is an infinitive phrase)

When should you use verbals?

Verbals can often be used to change the emphasis in a paragraph. For instance, in this paragraph, notice how the reader's attention is called to the noises.

He couldn't concentrate; the noises were just too distracting. Children quarrelled shrilly in the street. Car horns blared as tires squealed. Dogs barked. A vacuum cleaner hummed. Someone beat on a set of drums, trying to pound them into submission.

Now notice how a little reworking using verbals changes the reader's focus:

His concentration was broken by too many distractions–the shrill quarrelling of children in the street; the blaring of car horns as tires squealed, the barking of dogs, and the beating of drums by someone trying to pound them into submission.

Less emphasis on the noises is the result.

Verbals can often help you cut some wordage. For instance,

The siren shrieked and jolted Sam out of a sound sleep. He rolled out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom. He tried to remember what day it was.

can be shortened up to read:

The shrieking siren jolted Sam out of a sound sleep. Rolling out of bed and stumbling into the bathroom, he tried to remember what day it was.