Easy Learning

Finite and non-finite verbs - Easy Learning Grammar

In a sentence, there is normally at least one verb that has both a subject and a tense. When a verb has a subject and a tense, it can be referred to as a finite verb.
  • We want Charlie to act as club secretary.
  • I like taking photographs of insects.
  • Coming home last night, I saw a deer run across the road.
Some forms of a verb are referred to as non-finite. The present and past participles and the to infinitive are the most common of these. The base form is often used in a non-finite way. Every verb can be used in a clause in either a finite or non-finite way.
  • A verb is finite if it is found in a clause in combination with a subject and a tense.
  • I walked home.
  • We saw a deer.
  • They appreciate a little praise now and then.
  • It is non-finite if it is used:
  • without the verb having a tense.
  • To open, tear off the tab.
  • Looking around, he noticed a letter on the floor.
  • Worn out by the heat, they stopped for a drink.
  • with no agreement between the subject (if there is one) and the verb.
  • That plan failing, he gave up.
  • Our guests departed, we felt a little depressed.
A compound verb is actually made up of one finite part, which is always the first auxiliary verb, while the remaining non-finite parts are the base form or the participles.In the following examples the finite part of the verb phrase is in blue italic:
  • I may have been joking when I said that.
  • Helen was running around screaming.
  • I had been living in a dream for months.
  • Olivia is coming round at 6 o’clock this evening.
The present simple and past simple forms of a verb are always finite.
  • I sing.
  • We tell stories at night.
  • Maya laughed.
  • The shelter collapsed.
  • A non-finite verb is sometimes used immediately after a finite verb.
  • I like to get up early at the weekend.
  • Harriet really dislikes cleaning the cooker.
  • I certainly wouldn’t want to see him again.
  • We persuaded them to join us.
Often a noun or pronoun can come between the finite verb and the non-finite one. See The to infinitive and The to infinitive for more on this.
  • We want Charlie to act as club secretary.
  • She wanted him to wash his hands in the bathroom.
  • I don’t like you cleaning your boots over the sink.
  • When the second verb is an -ing form coming after a noun or pronoun, there can be a difference in grammar between two similar sentences. Both sentences below are acceptable, although the first example might seem ambiguous to some people. In the second sentence, the -ing form is used as a verbal noun. See also The to infinitive and the -ing form.
  • She didn’t like him cleaning his boots over the sink.
  • She didn’t like his cleaning his boots over the sink.

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