Phrases: Gerund, Adjectival, and Participial Phrases

Phrases II

How to Use Gerund Phrases, Adjectival Phrases, and Participial Phrases

by Owen Fourie

In Part One of this article, we looked at the difference between phrases and clauses, the nature of a phrase, the noun phrase, and the appositive phrase.

Here are more phrases that we need to know:

The Gerund Phrase

The term gerund is applied to a word that is a particular kind of verbal.

The term verbal is applied to a word that comes from a verb, but it does not function as a verb. It has the appearance of being in the verb family, but it acts as something else.

Two verbals that concern us here are the gerund and the participle.

To make a simple distinction between these two verbals, let’s put it this way:

  • A gerund is a verbal that acts like a noun: Their running seems effortless. Running has the appearance of a verb, but here it is being used as a noun. It is a gerund;
  • A participle is a verbal that acts like an adjective: They rested near the running water. Running has the appearance of a verb, but here it is being used as an adjective. It is a participle.

The gerund phrase is a noun phrase that is introduced by a gerund. It can include modifiers and other phrases, and it serves as a unit doing whatever a noun can do. The gerund phrase is italicized below:

  • That special talent, writing stories, is precisely what Justin possesses. (gerund phrase as appositive);
  • Researching for information is absolutely necessary to complete this assignment. (gerund phrase as subject);
  • Justin’s delight is writing short stories. (gerund phrase as subject complement);
  • Ryan enjoyed walking in the park with Heather. (gerund phrase as object; note that gerund phrases can include prepositional phrases);
  • Emma said that she was involved in researching hospitality and tourism. (gerund phrase as object of the preposition in)

The Adjectival Phrase

An adjective’s function is to modify a noun or a pronoun. These italicized adjectives tell more about the nouns that follow them: red hat, curly tail, sharp fangs.

An adjectival phrase serves to modify a noun or a pronoun. Other phrases—prepositional phrases and participial phrases—can serve as adjectival phrases as seen in the italicized examples below.

  • Emma was disturbed by the noise of her brother’s protesting outcries. (prepositional phrase acting as an adjective modifying the noun noise);
  • Ryan put his squash racket on the backseat of his sister’s sedan. (prepositional phrase acting as an adjective modifying the noun backseat);
  • Heather saw Ryan tumbling on the squash court. (participial phrase acting as an adjective describing the proper noun Ryan);
  • Justin tore up the pages used for his draft. (participial phrase acting as an adjective modifying the noun pages)

(There are other prepositional phrases within the above examples, but we’ll give attention to this kind of phrase in a later article.)

Further examples of adjectival phrases may be seen in the following:

  • Justin is really excited about his new story.

The adjective excited is modified by the adverb really. Together, they form an adjectival phrase telling us more about Justin and serving as the complement of the verb is.

  • Heather and Ryan are enthusiastic about squash.

The adjective enthusiastic is followed by the prepositional phrase about squash. Together, they form an adjectival phrase describing Heather and Ryan.

  • The highly skilled mechanic impressed Emma.

The adjective skilled is modified by the adverb highly. Together, they form an adjectival phrase modifying the noun mechanic.

The Participial Phrase

In two examples in the previous section you were introduced to the participial phrase. The first one began with the present participle tumbling, and the second one began with the past participle used.

Participial phrases are combined with modifiers and complements and always act as adjectives in a sentence.

Note again what was said above, under the gerund phrase, about the participle. It is a verbal that acts like an adjective, and it modifies a noun. The participial phrase (italicized below) does that too.

  • Emma’s car, polished to perfection by her brother, rattled ominously down the road. (modifies car);
  • Writing solidly for many weeks, Justin completed his first novel. (modifies Justin);
  • Chuckling happily, he showed us a letter of acceptance. (modifies he);
  • Emma, thinking about the rattle, decided to go to the repair shop. (modifies Emma);
  • The mechanic showed her a better used car, painted silver blue. (modifies car)

In Part Three, we’ll look at verb phrases, infinitive phrases, and adverbial phrases.


Are there any phrases mentioned here that you find difficult to identify? If so, which are they and what confuses you? What are your particular struggles with English Grammar? If you need help with any grammar problem, ask here. Do you have any useful insights? Your comments, observations, and questions are welcome.

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