Finite Verb Definition and Examples

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

finite verbs
Finite forms of the verb love.

In English grammar, a finite verb is a form of a verb that (a) shows agreement with a subject and (b) is marked for tense. Contrast with nonfinite verb (or verbal).

If there is just one verb in a sentence, it is finite. (Put another way, a finite verb can stand by itself in a sentence.) Finite verbs are sometimes called tensed verbs.

A finite clause is a word group that contains a finite verb form as its central element.

From the Latin, "end"

Examples and Observations

"The reason finite verbs are so important is their unique ability to act as the sentence-root. They can be used as the only verb in the sentence, whereas all the others have to depend on some other word, so finite verbs really stand out." (Richard Hudson, An Introduction to Word Grammar. Cambridge University Press, 2010)

Examples of Finite Verbs

In the following sentences (all of them lines from well-known movies), the finite verbs are in italics.

  • "We rob banks." (Clyde Barrow in Bonnie and Clyde, 1967)
  • "I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti."  (Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, 1991)
  • "A boy's best friend is his mother." (Norman Bates in Psycho, 1960)
  • "We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!" (Withnail in Withnail and I, 1986)
  • "You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and . . . blow."   (Marie "Slim" Browning in To Have and Have Not, 1944)
  • "Get busy living, or get busy dying." (Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, 1994)

The Finite Forms

"The base, third person singular, and past tense are finite forms of verbs because they can be contrasted for tense (present and past), and marked for person (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) and number (singular and plural).

I drive a car. [1st person, singular, present tense]
he drives a car. [3rd person, singular. present tense]
I/he drove a car. [1st and 3rd person, singular, past tense]

These three forms of the verb paradigm do not require additional helping verbs to express their meanings." (Bernard T. O'Dwyer, Modern English Structures: Form, Function, and Position. Broadview Press, 2000)

Five Ways to Identify Finite Verbs

"Finite verbs can be recognized by their form and their position in the sentence. Here are some of the things to look for when you are trying to identify the finite verbs in a sentence:

  1. Most finite verbs can take an -ed or a -d at the end of the word to indicate time in the past: cough, coughed; celebrate, celebrated. A hundred or so finite verbs do not have these endings [see Principal Parts of Irregular Verbs].
  2. Nearly all finite verbs take an -s at the end of the word to indicate the present when the subject of the verb is third-person singular: cough, he coughs; celebrate, she celebrates. The exceptions are auxiliary verbs like can and must. Remember that nouns can also end in -s. Thus the dog races can refer to a spectator sport or to a fast-moving third-person singular dog.
  3. Finite verbs are often groups of words that include such auxiliary verbs as can, must, have, and be: can be suffering, must eat, will have gone.
  1. Finite verbs usually follow their subjects: He coughs. The documents had compromised him. They will have gone.
  2. Finite verbs surround their subjects when some forms of a question are asked: Is he coughing? Did they celebrate?

 (Ronald C. Foote, Cedric Gale, and Benjamin W. Griffith, Essentials of English. Barron's, 2000)

Pronunciation: FI-nite