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Participles, Verbal Nouns and Infinitives

The present participle, the past participle and the infinitive are the three non-finite verb forms in English.

Present participles are used to form continuous tenses:

  • I am coming
  • she is singing

Verbal nouns or gerunds have the same form as present participles, but behave as nouns rather than verbs. For example, a verbal noun can act as the subject or object in a sentence:

  • Playing football is good for you. [subject]
  • I hate telling lies. [object]

Past participles are used in the formation of perfect tenses and passive constructions:

  • I have gone
  • we had finished
  • he was caught
  • they were beaten

Infinitives are often used after other verbs. A modal verb is followed by a bare infinitive [infinitive without to]:

  • we can go
  • they will come

A lexical verb is followed by a to-infinitive:

  • we want to go
  • they like to sing

Some verbs must be followed by a verbal noun, others by an infinitive. Some verbs can be followed by either verbal nouns or infinitives:

  • I like singing
  • I like to sing

Participles and verbal nouns can be used as adjectives:

  • an interesting book
  • frightened child
  • washing machine
  • dining room

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