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In so far as the verbals (infinitive, gerund, and participle) make up a part of the English verb system, they have some features in common with the finite forms, and in so far as they are singled out amid the forms of the verb, they must have some peculiarities of their own.

Let us first consider the system of verbal categories which are expressed in the English verbals. They have some of them, and they lack some others. We must also observe that it is by no means certain in advance that all the verbals are in the same position as regards the verb categories.

It is clear that none of the verbals has any category of person or mood. The English verbals have no category of number either, though this is not so in some other languages. What we must examine is the categories of aspect, tense, correlation, and voice.

With reference to aspect we shall have to examine each of the verbals separately.

In the infinitive, we find an opposition between two sets of forms:

(to) speak — (to) be speaking

(to) have spoken(to) have been speaking,

which is obviously the same as the opposition in the sphere of finite forms between:

speak am speaking spoke was speaking


The conclusion here is quite obvious: the infinitive has the category of aspect, viz. there is a distinction between the common and the continuous aspect. The continuous infinitive is found, for example, in the following sentence: He seems to be enjoying himself quite a lot. (R. WEST)

In our next example the continuous infinitive of the verb love is used: I can recollect yet how I loved him; and can dimly imagine I could still be loving him if — No, no! (E. BRONTE) The variant with the simple infinitive would be: I can recollect yet how I loved him; and can dimly imagine I could still love him, if — The difference in this case seems to be that the continuous infinitive gives more prominence to the idea of the continuity of her love, and this is obviously much stronger than the mere statement that love might still be there now. The stylistic difference is thus unquestionable, but there would seem to be also a grammatical difference. The meaning of the continuous aspect is well brought out here, though the lexical meaning of the verb love would seem to go against it.

Tense and Correlation 131

With the gerund and the participle, on the other hand, things are different. Generally speaking, they exhibit no such distinction. Neither in the one nor in the other do we find continuous forms.

Occasionally, however, a continuous participle is found, as in the following sentence from a novel by Jane Austen: The younger Miss Thorpes being also dancing, Catherine was left to the mercy of Mrs Thorpe and Mrs Allen, between whom she now remained. It is not clear here what exactly is added to the meaning of the sentence by using the continuous participle being dancing rather than the usual participle dancing. Be that as it may, this example shows that a continuous first participle is at least potentially a part of the morphological system of the English verb. But this use appears to be obsolete.

In the following sentence there are even three continuous participles, with one auxiliary common to all of them: Catherine had no leisure for speech, being at once blushing, tying her gown, and forming wise resolutions with the most violent dispatch. (J. AUSTEN) The word order (the phrase at once coming after the auxiliary being) clearly shows that the auxiliary belongs to all three participles (blushing, tying, and forming). The use of the continuous participles seems to be a means of giving prominence to the fact that the actions indicated were actually happening at that very moment.


The problem of the category of tense and that of correlation have to be considered together, for reasons which will become clear immediately.

In the infinitive, we find the following oppositions:

(to) speak — (to) have spoken

(to) be speaking(to) have been speaking,

and in the gerund and the participle the oppositions

speaking having spoken being spoken having been spoken

The question now is, what category is at the base of these oppositions?

The considerations which can be put forward in this matter might be compared to those which were applied to similar phenomena in the forms should speak should have spoken, but here everything is much simpler. If we start from the way these forms are derived we shall say that it is the category of correlation which finds its expression here, the first-column forms having no pattern "have + second participle" and the second-column forms having this very pattern. If we turn to the meaning of the second-column


132 The Verb: Verbals

forms, we shall find that they express precedence, whereas the first-column forms do not express it. Once again we see that in each pair one item is unmarked both in meaning and in form whereas the other (the perfect) is marked both in meaning (expressing precedence) and in form (consisting of the pattern "have + second participle").

If this view is accepted it follows that the category of correlation is much more universal in the Modern English verb than that of tense: correlation appears in all forms of the English verb, both finite and non-finite, except the imperative, while tense is only found in the indicative mood and nowhere else.

Since the verbals are hardly ever the predicate of a sentence, they do not express the category of tense in the way the finite verb forms do. Thus, it seems pointless to argue that there is a present and a past tense in the system of verbals.

We will therefore endorse the view that the opposition between (to) speak and (to) have spoken, and that between speaking and having spoken is based on the category of correlation.


Like the finite forms of the verb, the verbals have a distinction between active and passive, as will readily be seen from the following oppositions:

(to) read (to) be read

(to) have read — (to) have been read reading being read

having read having been read

As to other possible voices (reflexive, reciprocal, and middle) there is no reason whatever to treat the verbals in a different way from the finite forms. Thus, if we deny the existence of these voices in the finite forms, we must also deny it in the verbals.

To sum up, then, what we have found out concerning the categories in the verbals, we can say that all of them have the categories of correlation and voice; the infinitive, in addition, has the category of aspect. None of the verbals has the categories of tense, mood, person, or number.

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