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chapter 5.4 Embedded Thoughts: From Verb to Verbal

A verb may become a verbal, ready for embedding, by the addition of the word to or by the loss of an auxiliary.

In each set of sentences below, the verb in the first sentence has become a verbal in the last one.

Emily takes out the garbage.
Emily wants to take* out the garbage.

A full moon was glowing. The snow magnified its light.
The snow magnified the light of the glowing* full moon.

Emily had discarded a letter. In the moonlight, she could read the address on the letter.
In the moonlight, Emily could read the address on her discarded* letter.

Each set of sentences above illustrates a different kind of verbal. We'll look at the three kinds one at a time.

First kind of verbal: To + [base form of verb]
This is called an infinitive.

An infinitive may play several sentence roles:

To twitch* at the moment of falling asleep is perfectly natural. (subject, "What is?")

Some people try to control* this motion. (completer, "People try what?")

They lie on their stomachs to suppress* the twitch. (modifier, "Why?")

An infinitive never acts as the verb of a sentence.

Second kind of verbal: [base form of verb] + -ing with no auxiliary in front
This is called a present participle, or in some cases, a gerund.

The present participle, when it stands without an auxiliary, may play the role of modifier:

Willie Loman was a traveling* salesman. ("What kind?")
Sometimes the same verb form is used in one of the roles that a noun could play. Then it is called a gerund:
Losing* his job pushed him beyond the brink of sanity. (subject, "What pushed?")

People focus on some basic elements of the American character by reading* Death of a Salesman. (object of the preposition by)

Whether the -ing form acts as a modifier or plays a noun's role, if it is not preceded by a form of the auxiliary to be, it cannot work as the verb of its sentence.

Third kind of verbal: [past participle of verb] with no auxiliary in front

A past participle, standing alone without an auxiliary, plays the role of modifier:

Ghandi's chosen* strategy of non-violent protest had its roots in Christian as well as Hindu doctrines. ("Which strategy?")

Educated* in Britain, this young lawyer saw the connections between his own Indian traditions and the highest ideals of Western civilization. ("What kind of lawyer?")

Remember that with regular verbs, the simple past and the past participle forms look exactly alike, but that with irregular verbs the two forms may be different. (See Chapter 2.)


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TIP FOR ESL STUDENTS:
Click on the ESL icon at left to visit "Choice between Participles" for help in deciding when to use the past/passive form or the present/active form of this modifying verbal. Practice these forms with a teacher or tutor.

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