Verbs might seem straightforward and easy to understand, but these words have several types. Each type of verb has a unique purpose so you can communicate your intended message. This goes for both writing and speaking.
One type of verb is the non-finite verb. I’ll discuss the definition and uses of non-finite verbs with handy sentence examples. Ready?
What is a Non-Finite Verb?
For this answer, I consulted Merriam Webster, and they state a non-finite verb is a verb form that does not express any tense, which means you can’t tell if it occurs in the past, present, or future tense. And because it does not show any verb tense, the non-finite verb is not the main verb in the sentence.
Non-finite verbs are different from finite verbs because you cannot use them as the main verbs in clauses all the time. These verbs do not always agree with the subject or first argument in terms of number, gender, and person.
Non-finite verb forms are also known for lacking mood and voice. They only function as nouns, adverbs, and adjectives. Sometimes, we combine them with a finite verb for verb tense.
All verbs except for modal auxiliaries have non-finite forms. A non-finite phrase or clause is a group of words with non-finite verbs.
What are the 3 Types of Non-Finite Verbs?
There are three types of non-finite verbs in the English language. I’ll break each down separately.
Note that this non-finite verb is not used in the continuous tense despite its identical appearance. That’s because it doesn’t have auxiliary verbs before it.
Here are some non-finite verb examples I whipped up to show in sentences. These statements contain longer gerund phrases instead of gerunds standing on their own.
- I enjoy singing at the top of my lungs with my friends.
- Swimming in the pool during summer is my favorite.
We can also create gerunds using helping verbs. For example:
- Having written a letter of intent makes you more qualified.
- Being wounded is a fact of life.
The doer of the gerund can be clear or unclear in the sentence. Here are two sentence examples.
- Denise likes drinking Shiraz. (Denise themselves drinks Shiraz)
- I was amazed by their singing.
Gerunds are excellent if you want to keep your sentences more concise. They serve as alternatives to nouns, prepositions, and articles that make your sentence jolty. For example:
- The use of papyrus, wood, and animal hides for writing was an ancient practice.
- Using papyrus, wood, and animal hides for writing was an ancient practice.
The non-finite infinitive verb is the basic dictionary form of a verb. These verbs usually have the word to before them. One example of an infinitive is to come.
Infinitives have several purposes. You can write them beside verbs, as a modifier, as noun phrases, or when asking questions.
As noun phrases, infinitive phrases can be subjects or objects of sentences. For example:
- To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die [The Smiths]
In this sentence, the infinitive phrase to die by your side functions as the sentence’s subject.
Notice how there’s no specified doer when we use infinitives as subjects of sentences. Here’s another example.
- To err is human.
Infinitives can also function as objects of sentences. For example:
- It was lovely to see you.
Infinitives With Other Verbs
Infinitives are often used with other verbs. For example:
- I want to read classic books.
- She never fails to make me laugh.
You can also use many infinitives with one main verb in a sentence. For example:
- I plan to buy a dress for an event, to cook dinner for my daughter, and to spend time with my partner.
The infinitives to buy, to cook, and to spend all follow the verb plan. The most common verbs that come before infinitives are convince, try, able, want, and like.
Infinitives as Modifiers
Infinitives can also function as adjectives and adverbs. For example:
- A recommendation to improve the public railway system in the city. (adjective)
- Lovely to look at, nice to hold. But if you break it, consider it sold. (adverb)
Sometimes, infinitives occur without the word to. This is called the bare infinitive. Consider this example.
- We play hide and seek all the time.
- I can play chess.
Both sentences have the word play. But in the first sentence, I show it as a present tense verb. However, the second sentence I have it as a bare infinitive. These non-finite verbs can be in verb chains like can and should. Other auxiliary verbs include may, might, would, etc.
To know if it’s a bare infinitive or a present tense verb, change the subject of the sentence and see how it affects the sentence. For example:
- She plays hide and seek all the time.
- She can play chess.
You can also use infinitives for elliptical questions. Use the question words how, when, or what plus the infinitive. For example:
- I don’t know how to cook.
A participle is a type of non-finite verb that modifies a noun, verb, noun phrase, or verb phrase. In other words, it functions like an adjective or adverb. A participle is divided into two: present participles and past participles.
The present participle is the -ing form of the verb. Do not confuse these non-finite verbs with gerunds since gerunds act as nouns and present participles don’t. For example:
- Listening to music is my hobby.
- The listening device is in the multimedia room.
In the first sentence, sleeping acts as a noun. Therefore, it is a gerund. The second sentence shows listening as a present participle because it modifies the word device.
Present participles in participial phrases have three major functions. First, it can be an adjective phrase describing a noun phrase. For example:
- The woman wearing eyeglasses is my mother.
It can also be an adverb. In the sentence below, the subject is the same as the main clause.
- Wearing my pajamas, I opened my bedroom door and found my sister crying.
Lastly, present participles function as general modifiers in sentences. For example:
- Broadly speaking, the event was enjoyable and successful.
Putting a participle phrase upfront helps you create sentence structures that engage readers.
You might also see present participles with auxiliary verbs before them. This verb form helps complete continuous tenses. For example:
- I was sleeping when Joey knocked. (past continuous)
The past participle looks like the simple past tense of the verb if it’s regular. Some examples include lived, danced, and cooked.
But some verbs change their spelling or stay the same for their past participle forms. For example, write becomes written, and become stays the same.
Often, a past participle initiates a participle phrase and functions as an adjective. Below is an example
- The sunken ship was discovered last year.
Past participles can also act as adverbs. Below is an example.
- Considered the best restaurant in the world, Geranium is a meat-free zone in Copenhagen.
What is a Non-Finite Clause?
Non-finite clauses are clauses that have non-finite verbs or verbs with no tenses. We usually find them in subordinate or dependent clauses. For example:
- I ate bacon and eggs before leaving.
- After spending all his money on cars and trips, Joel finally decided to invest.
- In order to travel to another country, you must have a passport.
Finite and Non-finite Verbs Can Look Identical
It’s okay if you can’t differentiate between finite and non-finite verbs the first time as this skill requires thorough analysis. Here’s an example of how these two types of verbs look the same.
- I fried chicken because fried chicken is my favorite.
In this sentence, the first fried is finite. It tells us that the statement is in the simple past tense. But the second fried is a past participle functioning as an adjective. Fried modifies the word chicken.
Learn Non-Finite Verbs
My guide has shown you the definition and types of non-finite verbs. A non-finite verb is not the main verb in an independent clause because it is not the action in the sentence. Do you feel better about using them now?
Learning the different types of non-finite verbs and how to use them will help you create shorter, better-flowing sentences.