Verbs and Verbals for English Grammar
Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:
Consistency of Verbs
Shifts of voice, person, tense, and mood should be avoided within a sentence.
Consistency of Voice
- Once I had completed the treatment, I was troubled with pain no longer. (One verb is active, the other passive.)
- Once I had completed the treatment, I experienced no more pain.
Consistency of Person
- We should always study when you are fresh. (The main verb should study is third person, but the subordinate verb are is second person.)
- Students should study when they are fresh. (Both verbs third person.)
- Study whenever you are fresh. (Both verbs second person.)
Consistency of Tense
- An actress usuallys studies new roles during the run of a play, even though she was gainfully employed. (Incorrect shift from present tense studies to past tense was employed. Note too that studies is active voice, but was employed is passive.)
- An actress usually studies new roles during the run of a play, even though she is working. (Both verbs in present tense, active voice.)
Consistency of Mood
- His advice was in two parts: discover what you want to do and then you will find your way toward that goal. (The verb discover is in the imperative mood; the verb will find is in the indicative mood.)
- His advice was in two parts: discover what you want to do and then find your way toward that goal. (Both verbs in imperative mood.)
Verbals—infinitives, participles, and gerunds—are verb forms that can function as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs.
The infinitive is the form of the verb that appears in the dictionary. Outside dictionaries, the infinitive is usually preceded by to: to swim, to play, to ask. The infinitive may often appear without to, especially after can, do, may, must, shall, and will: can swing, may play, must ask. The infinitive has both tense and voice.
The infinitive may function as a noun, as an adjective, as an adverb, or as a complement.
Infinitive as Noun
- To swim is my greatest pleasure. (To swim is the subject of the verb is.)
- They asked to see the patient. (To see is the object of the verb asked.)
Infinitive as Adjective
- Juliet gave me something to read. (To read modifies the noun something.)
- They have a desire to be saved. (To be saved modifies the noun desire.)
Infinitive as Adverb
- I am happy to wait. (To wait modifies the adjective happy.)
- The baby is heavy enough to go home. (To go modifies the adverb enough.)
Infinitive as Complement
- Henry's ambition was to be a playwright. (To be is the complement of was.)
- Ambition is to be expected in young executives. (To be expected is the complement of is.)
In some sentences, the infinitive itself has a subject, object or complement, and modifiers.
Such a construction is called an infinitive phrase, and it may function as subject, object, complement, or modifier of another sentence element.
Consider the following sentences:
To mow the entire lawn required three strong boys. (The infinitive phrase To mow the entire lawn is the subject of the verb required. Within the infinitive phrase, lawn is the object of to mow. The entire modifies lawn.)
Catherine hoped to row the choppy lake. (The infinitive phrase to row the choppy lake is the object of hoped. Within the infinitive phrase, lake is the object of to row, the choppy modifies lake.)
Deirdre is to marry next year. (The infinitive phrase to marry next year is the complement of the copulative verb is. Within the infinitive phrase, next year modifies to marry, and next modifies year.)
They have enough firewood to last the winter. (The infinitive phrase to last the winter modifies enough. Within the infinitive phrase, winter is the object of to last. The modifies winter.)
They wanted the instructor to submit his grades promptly. (The infinitive phrase the instructor to submit his grades promptly is the object of wanted. Within the infinitive phrase, instructor is the subject of to submit, grades is the object of to submit, his modifies grades, and promptly modifies to submit.)
Tenses of the Infinitive
The present infinitive is used if its action occurs at the same time as the action of the main verb or after the action of the main verb. The perfect infinitive is used if its action precedes that of the main verb.
Consider the following sentences:
- She does not want to continue the conversation.
- She did not want to continue the conversation.
In each of these sentences, the present infinitive to continue is used, because its action occurs either, in the first example, at the same time as or, in the second example, after the action of the main verb.
- It is senseless to have told such a story.
In this sentence, the main verb is is in the present tense. The writer of the sentence is stating something he or she believes to be true now and forever. Yet the action that was considered senseless occurred before this statement was made. For this reason, the perfect infinitive to have told is used.
- It was senseless to tell such a story.
The meaning intended here is that telling the story was senseless at the time the story was told. Because the action described by the infinitive occurred at the same time as the action of the main verb, the present infinitive to tell is used.
An infinitive should not be split when the result is awkward.
English teachers and grammarians may have overstressed the idea of keeping the parts of an infinitive together. Such an approach to style probably stems from Latin grammar. In Latin, the infinitive never employs the preposition to, so there is no possibility of splitting an infinitive. In English, however, too strict compliance with the advice never to split an infinitive may result in awkward constructions. At the same time, splitting an infinitive with lengthy phrases or clauses may also result in awkwardness.
You recall that the infinitive has the following forms:
Consider the following examples of good infinitive constructions, awkward infinitive constructions, and impossible infinitive constructions:
- To think clearly on her feet was her goal. (Clearly modifies to think.)
- To clearly think at all times was her goal. (This construction is awkward because clearly appears to modify think rather than to think.)
- To clearly at all times think was her goal.
- They hoped to find the child quickly.
- They hoped to quickly find the child.
- They see no need to be thinking day after day about the problems they face.
- They see no need to be, day after day thinking about the problems they face.
In some cases, a construction may be awkward because care has been taken not to split an infinitive.
Consider the following sentences:
- Their advice was to double more than our energies. (This sentence makes no sense at all. What else besides energies were we supposed to double?)
- Their advice was to more than double our energies. (By placing the modifier more than in the midst of the infinitive, the sentence has some meaning.)
Modifiers can generally be placed in more than one position in a sentence. The writer must seek the best position for modifiers, remembering that long modifiers that split infinitives almost always result in awkward constructions.
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