Finite Verbs – Definition and Examples

The English language can be complex, especially when trying to use all parts of speech correctly. That’s why you might be confused when you learn that a verb is not just a verb but can also take on various responsibilities in a sentence that you need to use correctly in both writing and speech. 

Take a look at what a finite verb is, how it is used, and how it differs from a non-finite verb. The following examples can help you determine if you are using these action words properly.

What is a Finite Verb?

A finite verb is also known as the main verb or tensed verb in a sentence and shows agreement with the subject. It is also always marked for tense. When there is only one verb in a sentence, it is a finite verb. 

In the English language, almost every verb can be used as a finite verb as long as there is a subject, the verb agrees with the subject, and there is a present or past tense. Every sentence has a finite verb, and when there is more than one verb, it is almost always defined as the one closest (in order) to the subject. 

Finite verbs can also work or stand alone in a sentence as well as part of a verb phrase. 

Rules of Finite Verb Use

Finite verbs are easy to locate in a sentence since every sentence has one. Take a look at these simple rules to help you remember how to use them and to help you find them in both dependent and independent phrases. 

Rule #1

Finite verbs require a tense, and many take on an -ed or -d at the end of the word to indicate the past. For example, gather becomes gathered, and look becomes looked. 

Rule #2

When used as a present tense, finite verbs often take on an -s when the subject is third-person singular. For example, he gathers, or she looks

Rule #3

Finite verbs can be a group of words that include auxiliary verbs such as must, have, can, and be. For example, must go, will have watched, or can be going.

Rule #4

Finite verbs almost always follow their subject and will be closest to the subject if more than one verb is present. For example: She will have left. She watched the game. He gathers the books. 

Rule #5

When a question is asked, finite verbs will surround the subject. For example: Is he coming? Was she watching?

Examples of Finite Verbs in a Sentence

 If you need further examples, take a look at the bolded finite verbs in the following sentences:

Grammarist Article Graphic V2
  • Emma played ball all summer with her friends. 
  • Is Martin participating in the theater this year?
  • Jill worked late last night to make the due date. 
  • Tim has a doctor’s appointment in July. 
  • She looks terrific in her newest profile picture. 

Finite vs. Non-finite Verbs

Non-finite verbs do not have a subject or a tense. They also can be part of the verb phrase. Verbs that work as non-finite verbs include infinitives (to + verb), participles (verbs that work as adjectives), and gerunds (ing verbs working as a noun). 

Non-finite verbs cannot be the only verb in a sentence and must accompany a finite verb in order to establish the subject and tense. 

For example: John was playing the saxophone in the concert. Playing is the non-finite verb.

Finite Verbs Used in Sentences

Let’s take a look at finite verbs used in publications. As you can see, they all follow the rules of agreeing with the subject and offering a past or present tense. 

Two months into my first Chinese course some 42 years ago, I was ready to give up, totally intimidated and overwhelmed by its grammar rules (or lack of them), five tones and pictographs. [CNN]

There are 164 grammars in England, with individual schools scattered across the country and others in selective areas such as Kent and Buckinghamshire, where pupils are offered places based on their abilities, which are assessed by an 11-plus examination. [The Guardian]

Once it touches a person, it clings like blood stains on Lady Macbeth’s hands. [Toronto Star]

The University of Queensland is an edX partner, along with institutions including the University of California, Berkeley, the University of Texas System, Georgetown University, McGill University, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, University of Toronto, and the Australian National University. [Business Insider Australia]

Let’s Review

A finite verb is almost always going to follow the subject of a sentence and is defined by showing agreement with the subject and always providing tense as past or present. They are amongst the simplest verbs to recognize and can work alongside non-finite verbs to bring further details and understanding to a sentence.