Non-finite verb

Non-finite verb

In linguistics, a non-finite verb (or a verbal) is a verb form that is not limited by a subject and, more generally, is not fully inflected by categories that are marked inflectionally in language, such as tense, aspect, mood, number, gender, and person. As a result, a non-finite verb cannot serve as a predicate and can be used in an independent clause only when combined with an auxiliary verb (e.g., "He can write" but not "He to write"). Rather, it can be said to be the head of a non-finite clause. As such, a non-finite verb is the direct opposite of a finite verb.

By some accounts, a non-finite verb acts simultaneously as a verb and as another part of speech (e.g., gerunds combined with articles or the possessive case); it can take adverbs and certain kinds of verb arguments, producing a verbal phrase (i.e., non-finite clause), and this phrase then plays a different role — usually noun, adjective, or adverb — in a greater clause. This is the reason for using the term verbal; non-finite verbs have traditionally been classified as verbal nouns, verbal adjectives, or verbal adverbs.




English has three kinds of verbals:

  1. participles, which include past and present participles and function as adjectives (e.g. burnt log, a betting man);
  2. gerunds, which function as nouns and can be used with or without an article (the Running of the Bulls, "studying" is an academically beneficial practice)
  3. infinitives, which have noun-like (the question is to be or not to be), adjective-like (work to do), and adverb-like functions (she came over to talk). If in order can precede the infinitive ("she came over in order to talk"), then it must be acting as an adverb.[1] Infinitives are often preceded by 'to'; but not necessarily.

Each of these kinds of verbals is also used in various common constructs; for example, the past participle is used in forming the perfect (to have done).

Other kinds of verbals, such as supines and gerundives, exist in other languages.

Other languages

Some languages, especially Native American languages, do not have any non-finite verbs. Where most European or Asian languages use non-finite verbs, they use either ordinary verb forms or special constructions such as nominalizations.


A participle is a verbal adjective that describes a noun as being a participant in the action of the verb. English has two kinds of participles: a present participle, also called an imperfect participle, which ends in -ing and which ordinarily describes the agent of an action, and a past participle, also called a perfect participle, which typically ends in -ed (but can also end in -en, -t, or none of these), and which ordinarily describes the patient of an action.

The following sentences contain participles:

  • The talking children angered the teacher. (Here talking modifies children.)
  • Annoyed, Rita ate dinner by herself in the bedroom. (Here annoyed modifies Rita.)

In English, the present participle is used in forming the continuous aspect (to be doing); the past participle is used in forming the passive voice (to be done) and the perfect (to have done).

A participial phrase is a phrase consisting of a participle and any adverbials and/or arguments; the participle is the head of such a phrase:

  • Gazing at the picture, she recalled the house where she was born. (Here gazing at the picture modifies she.)

A relative clause in the active or passive voice can be reduced to a phrase known as a reduced adjective clause by utilizing a present or past participle.[2] The reduced adjective clause can be formed even if the present participle is not used as a predicate in the clause.[3]

  • The students who were fidgeting in their seats were anxious about the test.
  • The students who fidgeted in their seats were anxious about the test.
  • The students fidgeting in their seats were anxious about the test.

The use of commas can indicate a restrictive or nonrestrictive sense.[2]

  • The students fidgeting in their seats were anxious about the test. (Only those students who were fidgeting were anxious. It is implied that other students were not fidgeting and, thus, not anxious.)
  • The students, fidgeting in their seats, were anxious about the test. (All the students in the group being considered were both fidgeting and anxious.)


A gerund is a verbal noun that refers to the action of the verb. In English, a gerund has the same form as a present participle (see above), ending in -ing:

  • Fencing is good exercise. (Here fencing is the subject of is.)
  • Leroy betrayed his team by charging. (Here charging is the object of by.)

A gerund phrase is a phrase consisting of a gerund and any adverbials and/or arguments; the gerund is the head of such a phrase:

  • My evening routine involves jogging slowly around the block. (Here jogging slowly around the block is the direct object of involves.)


In English, the infinitive verb form is often introduced by the particle to, as in to eat or to run. The resulting phrase can then function as a subject or object, or as a modifier.[4]

  • To succeed takes courage, foresight, and luck. (Here to succeed is the subject of takes.)
  • I don't have time to waste.
  • Carol was asked to speak. (Here to speak is the object of asked, comparable to Carol was asked a question.)
  • Do not stop to chat.

An infinitive phrase consists of an infinitive and any related words.

  • Paul wanted to learn silk screening. (The infinitive phrase to learn silk screening is the object of wanted.)

See also

Other kinds of non-finite verbs

Related topics


  • Dodds, Jack (2006). The Ready Reference Handbook, 4th Edition. Pearson Education, Inc.. ISBN 0-321-33069-2
  • Rozakis, Laurie (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style, 2nd Edition. Alpha. ISBN 1-59257-115-8


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • non-finite verb — noun A verb form that lacks a subject, is not inflected by tense, aspect, mood, number, gender or person and cannot serve as a predicate. Syn …   Wiktionary

  • non-finite — adj technical a non finite verb does not show a particular tense or subject, and is either the ↑infinitive or the ↑participle form of the verb, for example go in the sentence Do you want to go home? ≠ ↑finite …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • non-finite — adjective LINGUISTICS a non finite verb is either a participle or an infinitive and so does not show a particular tense …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Finite verb — A finite verb is a verb that is inflected for person and for tense according to the rules and categories of the languages in which it occurs. Finite verbs can form independent clauses, which can stand by their own as complete sentences.The finite …   Wikipedia

  • non-finite — adjective of verbs; having neither person nor number nor mood (as a participle or gerund or infinitive) infinite verb form • Syn: ↑infinite • Ant: ↑finite (for: ↑infinite) • Topics: ↑ …   Useful english dictionary

  • non-finite — adjective 1 a non finite verb is not marked to show a particular sense or subject, and is either the infinitive or the participle form of the verb, for example go in the sentence Do you want to go home? 2 not having an end or limit; infinite… …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • finite verb — noun A verb inflected for person and tense that can stand on its own as a complete sentence. Ant: non finite verb, verbal …   Wiktionary

  • non-finite — UK / US adjective linguistics a non finite verb is either a participle or an infinitive and so does not show a particular tense …   English dictionary

  • Non-finite clause — In linguistics, a non finite clause is a dependent clause whose verb is non finite; for example, many languages can form non finite clauses from infinitives. Like any subordinate clause, a non finite clause serves a grammatical role commonly that …   Wikipedia

  • non-finite — adjective 1》 not limited in size or extent. 2》 Grammar (of a verb form) not limited by tense, person, or number …   English new terms dictionary

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