What is a Verbal Phrase?
Verbals are words that look like verbs, but are not playing the role of a verb. Take a look at this example sentence: The smell of the flowers reached my nose.” What is the subject of this sentence? Well, our first impulse would be to say that “flowers” is the subject, because it’s right next to the verb “reached”. In fact, I’ll underline “reached” twice because it’s a verb.
However, “flowers” is not the subject of the sentence, because the flowers don’t reach my nose. The smell reaches my nose. This may confuse you, because you think “smell” is a verb, but in this case, “smell” is actually a noun playing the role of the subject of the sentence.
Now, think of another sentence: “I smell cake.” In this case, “I” is the subject and “smell” is the verb. The word “smell” can play different roles. In this sentence, it’s playing the role of a verb, but in the first sentence, it’s a verbal. It’s playing the role of a noun and as the subject of this sentence. Let’s look at another example: “Swimming is enjoyable.” Here, the verb is “is” and the subject of the sentence is “swimming”, but swimming could also be the verb of the sentence. In this case it’s a verbal, so it’s playing the role of a subject.
Verbals can also be the object of a proposition like in this sentence: “I am not pleased about going.” “I” is the subject, and “am pleased” is the verb. “About” is a preposition and “going” is the object of the preposition. So, what is “going” if it is not a verb? Well, “about” is a preposition, and every prepositional phrase has an object of the preposition. So, “going” is the object of the preposition. Why is it the object of the preposition? Because it further explains the preposition.
Let’s look at this sentence: “I hate taking my medicine.” “I” is the subject and “hate” is the verb. Now, the temptation here is to think that “taking” is the verb or that “hate taking” collectively is the verb phrase, but “hate” is the only verb here. “Taking” can sometimes play the role of a verb, but, in this case, it’s a verbal, so it’s the object of the verb. That’s the role that “taking” has.
Last example: “Listen to the soothing music.” “Listen” is the verb, so “soothing” is not the verb. What is “soothing” doing right here? Well, “soothing” is describing the music, because it’s telling you more about the music. It’s describing the music; it’s telling you the music is soothing. So, what is “music”? Well, “music” in this sentence is just a noun, so “soothing” is describing music. Any word that describes a noun is an adjective, so “soothing” is playing the role of an adjective.
Remember, a verbal is just a word that looks like a verb, but is playing a different role in the sentence.