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  • Galina Blankenship

Reconsidering the Classifications of Verbals in English and Turkish: Missing Categories

Updated: Mar 29

Verbals are forms of verbs that are used to replace other parts of speech. While playing a less prominent role in English than in Turkish, they add to the richness and versatility of both literary languages.


Painting of a turtle trainer by Turkish painter Osman Hamdi Bey
Kaplumbağa Terbiyecisi (Turtle Trainer) by Osman Hamdi Bey

In English, verbals are generally divided into three categories:

  • GERUNDS that replace NOUNS

  • PARTICIPLES (PRESENT + PAST) that replace ADJECTIVES

  • INFINITIVES that may replace NOUNS, ADJECTIVES, or ADVERBS

Sometimes, these verb forms are referred to as verbal nouns or verbal adjectives.


They are typically single words or phrases. However, they may occasionally be clauses.


For example:


I intend to voice my objections to their receiving an invitation to our meeting.

Traditional stipulation of the genitive case here is based on the assumption that the -ing form in such clauses is a verbal noun.


That assumption is incorrect, however, as we can see that the -ing form is followed by the direct object an invitation to our meeting. This demonstrates that the -ing form has the force of a verb.


In the current English model, both -ing (present) and -ed (past) participle phrases are defined as adjective phrases that typically modify the subject or object of the sentence.


Again, numerous English sentences with participles convey an ACTION rather than an ATTRIBUTE:

Eating his cupcake, the toddler sighed happily.
[The toddler, who was eating his cupcake, sighed happily.]

Her hair, smelling of the kitchen aromas, spread over her shoulders.
[Her hair, which was smelling of the kitchen aromas, spread over her shoulders.]

Campfires built with your own hands give you a sense of accomplishment.
[When built with your own hands, campfires give you a sense of accomplishment.]

In these sentences, the English verbals function as part of either ADVERBIAL CLAUSES or REDUCED RELATIVE CLAUSES, for which the current English model does not have a proper category. In many other languages, including Turkish, adverbial clauses with verbals are referred to as CONVERBS, which could work for English as well.

 

Turkish verbals (filimsi) are the principal device for creating dependent clauses.


As in English, Turkish verbals are also traditionally divided into three categories:

  • İsim-fiil (verbal nouns): used with the suffixes -mak, -ma, and -iş

  • Sıfat-fiil (verbal adjectives): used with the suffixes -an, -dik, -acak, -miş

  • Zarf-fiil (verbal adverbs): used with the suffixes -ip, -ken, -arak, -inca, etc.

All three of them may describe actions and occur in subordinate clauses of various kinds. They may display morphological properties typical of nouns, e.g., the ability to take on plural and case markers as well as actional, aspectual, and modal markers.


They are typically called PARTICIPLES in English in the sense of sharing certain properties of verbs and nouns, but they are certainly not verbal adjectives.


Therefore, these categories are commonly defined as:

  • Action Nominals describe actions and occur in subordinate clauses: -mak, -ma, -dik, -acak, -iş

  • Subject Participles describe entities acting or undergoing actions, namely, subjects and subject modifiers, carrying the markers -an, -dik, -acak

  • Object Participles describe entities receiving actions, namely, objects, nonsubjects, and their modifiers, carrying the markers -dik, -acak

  • Converbs refer to action adverbs that typically carry markers and/or postpositions such as -ip, -ken, -arak, -inca, -diği halde, etc.

Turkish verbals have multiple markings, including tense, person, number, voice, aspect, etc. They may share the subjects with the main clause, or they may have their own subjects. Their suffixes function as subordinating conjunctions, marking the clauses as embedded, much like English subordinating conjunctions (because, while, as, when, etc.), relative pronouns (who/whom, whoever/whomever, whose, that, and which), or relative adverbs (where, when, why).


 

Finite Verbs vs. Nonfinite Verbs (Verbals)



Structurally, in English and Turkish, all clauses are either finite or nonfinite, which means they have either finite or nonfinite verbs, respectively.


Bir kitap okuyacaksın.
You will read a book.

In Turkish, however, certain verb forms may be identical in their finite and nonfinite uses:


okuyacak bir kitap
a book to read

A Turkish finite verb agrees with the (nominative) subject of a simple declarative sentence, namely, in the subject’s gender, person, number, tense, aspect, mood, and voice markings. Moreover, finite verbs are able to make an assertion:

A nonfinite verb is marked with a non-nominative and non-tensed marking (in English) or a subordinating suffix (in Turkish), and they cannot make an assertion:


kitap okurken
while reading a book

bugün okunmuş kitap
a book read today

Nonfinite verb are the products of the so-called nominalization or relativization process. Through deverbing of verbs, the process produces numerous verbal nouns, adjectivals, and adverbials based on verb stems.


In Turkish, the use of verbals is fundamental in linking clauses and building all kinds of dependent clauses, including COMPLEX (girişik birleşik) sentences, and, just as in English, Turkish verbal clauses are always subordinate.



English verbals act as reduced verbalized forms. As such, they cannot form independent sentences. Unlike Turkish verbals, English verbals don’t indicate tense, person, or number and do not always have a subject.


 

English Verbals: The Missing Category of Converbs



The current English model defines the participles and participial phrases (in bold below) as modifying attributes (adjectives), typically modifying the subject of the sentence.


Yet, in the examples below, the ing and ‑ed participles clearly express separate actions performed by the subject. Each provides an extra “circumstantial” detail that has the force of a verb, thus making them act as adverbials. An applied paraphrasing test supports the adverbial nature of the ‑ing participles.


The applauding audience was stunned. ➜ The happy audience was stunned.
-ing participle used as an adjective

Applauding, the audience cheered. ➜ The audience was applauding and cheering.
-ing participle used as an adverbial clause

The adverbial instances of -ed participles also pass the test:


Get some chopped wood, please! ➜ Get some large wood, please!
-ed participle used as an adjective

The wood, chopped into pieces, sat in a pile. ➜ The wood, after it was chopped, sat in a pile.
-ed participle used as an adverbial clause

 

A gerund can function as a NOUN/ NOUN PHRASE or an ACTIVE PARTICIPIAL CLAUSE of adverbial type, depending on how it is used in a sentence:


GERUND: Jogging is good for you.
ACTIVE PARTICIPIAL CLAUSE: We watched the students jogging round the campus.

The ‑ing participle or ‑ed participle can function as an ACTIVE or PASSIVE ADJECTIVE; or they can be part of an ACTIVE or PERFECT PARTICIPIAL CLAUSES of adverbial type, respectively, depending on how they are used in a sentence:


ACTIVEADJECTIVE: We followed her pointing gesture.
ACTIVE PARTICIPIAL CLAUSE: Pointing at my forehead, she asked if I had been fighting.

PASSIVEADJECTIVE: Accompanied guests arrived on Tuesday.
PERFECT PARTICIPIAL CLAUSE: Accompanied by Professor Saito, she strode round the island.

In some contexts, however, it may be difficult to say whether an ‑ing-form is a gerund or participle, and it is not always important to know the difference. What's important is to recognize that gerunds and participles may have ADVERBIAL functions:


GERUND: Visiting the Exploratorium was such a fun activity.
ACTIVE ADJECTIVE: I've met the visiting delegation.
PASSIVE ADJECTIVE: Please note the visited places in your diary.
PERFECT PARTICIPIAL CLAUSE: Sarah remembered having visited the place before.

 

Although having no clear tense or person markings (except for the active vs. passive distinction), English clauses can, nonetheless, express action in the TEMPORAL terms. They can also express REASON, RESULT, or CONDITION, just as regular ADVERBIAL CLAUSES:

1. GERUNDS ⇒ NOUNS, NOUN PHRASES, NOMINAL CLAUSES


My singing has improved. (subject)
My mom doesn't appreciate my singing. (direct object)
My favorite activity is singing. (subject complement)
The police arrested him for singing in a public place. (object of preposition)
No parking. (≈ Parking is not allowed.)

Bill’s singing the hymn was a big surprise. (gerund as a noun phrase)
Bill singing the hymn was a big disappointment. (gerund-clause)

Despite your reminding me, I forgot. (propositional gerund-clause)
I know that singing is his favorite activity. (complement gerund-clause)

2. -ING & -ED PARTICIPLES ⇒ ADJECTIVES, ADJECTIVE PHRASES, PARTICIPIAL CLAUSES (ADVERBIAL CLAUSES)


The crying baby had a wet diaper. (subject modifier)
I stepped on some broken glass. (object modifier)

  • TIME ⇒ Concurrent actions (the actions in the subordinated and main clauses happen at the same time):

Anna hurt her hand playing volleyball. (≈ when she played volleyball)
Burning, the log fell off the fire. (≈ while it was burning)
He walked away from the wrecked car, feeling shaken. (≈ while he was feeling shaken)

  • TIME ⇒ Successive short and related actions (the action in the subordinated clause, especially if is perfect participle clause, precedes the main clause action):

Playing volleyball, Anna hurt her hand. (≈ after she played volleyball)
Opening the file, the detective took out a newspaper cutting. (≈ right after he opened the file)
Turning the corner, we had a different view. (≈ after we turned the corner)
The power lines, having been damaged by the storm, needed repairs.
The poster having been taken down, he went inside. (absolute clause with perfect participle clause)


The TEMPORAL relations may additionally express the CAUSAL connection between the actions:

  • REASON:

Anna hurt her hand playing volleyball. (≈ because she played volleyball)
Burning, the log fell off the fire. (≈ as it was burning)
Being rather busy, I completely forgot the time.
Growing in most countries, the potato is very popular.
He died at thirty, struck down by a rare disease.
We can't afford luxuries, with prices going up so fast.

  • RESULT:

Playing volleyball, Anna hurt her hand. (≈ after she played volleyball)
They pumped waste into the river, killing all the fish.
The film star made a dramatic entrance, attracting everyone's attention.

  • CONDITION:


We plan to eat outside, weather permitting. (≈ if the weather is fine…)
Taken daily, vitamin pills can improve your health. (≈ if you take them daily…)
All being well, we should be home about six. (≈ if all is well...)
You take the lift to the third floor to get there. (if you want to get there.)


3. INFINITIVES ⇒ NOUNS, ADJECTIVES, ADVERBS, ADVERBIALS


To wait seemed foolish when decisive action was required. (subject)
Everyone wanted to go. (direct object)
His ambition is to fly. (subject complement)
He lacked the strength to resist. (object modifier)
We are here to learn. (purposive adverb)
We are here to learn how for them to survive. (adverbial clause)


Since verbals do not indicate tense, person, or number, they are normally understood in relation to items in the main clause. Typically, they do not have a subject, save for rare cases when a verbal clause allows a subject:


The inquiry left in its wake a number of casualties, I being one of them.

The ADVERBIAL uses of English verbals have no definition in the current English model. The term CONVERBS, already used in other languages for such verbals (for instance, in Turkish) could be a good fit here.


 


The table below shows the difference between the finite (underlined) and the four types of English nonfinite verbs (in bold):





To summarize:




 

Turkish Verbals: More About Participles


Turkish has a prolific use of nonfinite verbals (fiilimsiler), and their uses have been well-studied.


Turkish participles are mostly used to form relative clauses, which modify nouns.


İngilizce bilen sekreter arıyoruz.
We are looking for a secretary who knows English.

Turkish uses the suffixes -dik, -acak, and -an in relative clauses, which are equivalent to the English relative clause complementizers (that, who, which, etc.).


Gönderdiğim mektupları almışlar mı?
Have they received the letters that I sent?

The suffix -an marks subject relative clauses. The suffix -dik is typically used with object relative clauses. The suffix -acak can be used with both subject and object relative clauses.


meyve suyu içen arkadaşımız
our friend who is drinking a fruit juice (subject)

meyve suyu içecek arkadaşımız
our friend who will drink the fruit juice (subject)

arkadaşımızın içtiği meyve suyu
the fruit juice [that] our friend is drinking (direct object)

arkadaşımızın içeceği meyve suyu
the fruit juice [that] our friend will drink (direct object)

While -dik and -acak are followed by a possessive marker that marks the subject of the relative clause, no possessive markers are used after -an.


Unlike English relative clauses, Turkish relative clauses come before the subject, object, or other non-subject constituent that they modify, just like regular adjectives.


Müzede gösterilen resimlerin kopyaları bu kitapta da var.
Copies of the pictures that are shown in the museum are also in this book.

Biri sağdan, biri soldan gelip geçişen gemiler.
Ships [that are] passing one another—some from the left, some from the right.

Müzede gördüğüm resimlerin kopyaları bu kitapta da var.
Copies of the paintings that I saw in the museum are also in this book.

Gün batarken [onların] kiraladıkları eve döndü.
Around sunset, he returned to their rental house.


 


There are four types of the Turkish nonfinite verbals (linguists rarely agree on the terminology when it comes to verbals, so I provided some alternative names):



*In Turkish literature, "converbs" are often erroneously referred to as "gerunds." A major error, indeed. "Gerunds" can only be used in connection with nouns.


To summarize: