nonfinite verb

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Nonfinite forms of the verb love.


In English grammar, a nonfinite verb is a form of the verb that does not show a distinction in tense and normally cannot stand alone as the main verb in a sentence. Contrast with finite verb.

The main types of nonfinite verbs are infinitives (with or without to), -ing forms (also known as present participles and gerunds), and past participles (also called en-forms).

Except for modal auxiliaries, all verbs have nonfinite forms.

A nonfinite phrase or clause is a word group that contains a nonfinite verb form as its central element.

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "[S]entences that include a non-finite Verb Group are (58) and (59), with the non-finite Verb Groups in bold. . . .
    (58) Seeing the ordinary as extraordinary is something we all like to do.
    (59) She forgot to google them.
    In (58), seeing, is, like, and do are lexical verbs, but only is and like are finite. In (59), forgot and google are the lexical verbs, but only forgot is finite."
    (Elly van Gelderen, An Introduction to the Grammar of English, rev. ed. John Benjamins, 2010)
  • Characteristics of Nonfinite Verbs
    "A non-finite verb differs from a finite verb in that it cannot (normally) be used as the main verb of a clause. Typically, the non-finite verb lacks agreeement for person, number, and gender with its first argument or Subject, is unmarked or reduced with respect to distinctions of Tense, Aspect, and Mood, and has certain properties in common with adjectival or nominal predicates."
    (Simon C. Dik and Kees Hengeveld, The Theory of Functional Grammar. Walter de Gruyter, 1997)
  • Types of Nonfinite Verb Forms
    "There are three types of nonfinite verb-forms in English: viz. (i) uninflected infinitive forms which comprise simply the base or stem of the verb with no added inflection (such forms are frequently used after the so-called infinitive-particle to; (ii) gerund forms which comprise the base plus the -ing suffix; (iii) and (perfect/passive) participle forms which generally comprise the base plus the -(e)n inflection (though there are numerous irregular participle forms in English). Thus, the bracketed clauses in (4) below are all nonfinite, because they contain only nonfinite verb-forms: for example the italicised verb in (4)(a) is an infinitive, that in (4)(b) is a gerund, and that in (4)(c) is a (passive) participle:
    (4) (a) I've never known [John (to) be so rude to anyone]
    (4) (b) We don't want [it raining on your birthday]
    (4) (c) I had [my car stolen from the car-park]"
    (Andrew Radford, Transformational Grammar: A First Course. Cambridge University Press, 1988)
  • Auxiliaries With Nonfinite Verbs
    "[A]uxiliaries are required with non-finite verbs. This is their role to mark non-finite verb forms for tense, aspect and voice, which non-finite verbs cannot express. Finite verbs mark these features on their own. . . .

    "[W]hen an auxiliary verb occurs with a non-finite form of a verb, the auxiliary is always the finite verb; if more than one auxiliary occurs, the first auxiliary is always the finite verb."
    (Bernard T. O'Dwyer, Modern English Structures: Form, Function, and Position, 2nd ed. Broadview Press, 2006)

  • Nonfinite Clauses
    "Non-finite clauses are clauses which lack a subject and a finite verb form; however, we still call them clauses since they have some clause structure.

    "They are introduced by the three non-finite verb forms; thus we can divide them into three types:
    - infinitive clauses: I saw her leave the room.
    - -ing (participle) clauses: I heard someone shouting for help.
    - -ed (participle) clauses: I got the watch repaired in town.
    Each non-finite clause in these examples has its own clause structure. The room is the direct object of leave, help is the prepositional object of shout, and in town is an adverbial related to repair."
    (Roger Berry, English Grammar: A Resource Book for Students. Routledge, 2012)

    Alternate Spellings: non-finite verb