Finite and Non–finite verbs

Finite Verb & Non–Finite Verb Definition with Examples

VerbsOpens in new window can be finite, having a subjectOpens in new window; or non–finite, having no subject.

Finite Verb

A Finite Verb has a subject.

In order for a sentence Opens in new window to make sense, it must contain a finite verb. Finite verbs can be simple or accompanied by an auxiliary verb.

Observe carefully the following sentence:
  • The plane crashed to the bush.
    If you ask—what crashed?—The answer you'll get is “plane”, which is the subject of the verb “crashed”. Thus, crashed is a finite verb.
    Here, “crashed” is a simple finite verb, standing alone without the need of an auxiliary verb.
  • Margaret is going to the Disney Tour.
    If you ask—who is going?— The answer will be “Margaret”, which is the subject of the verb “is going”. Thus, is going is finite.
    “Going” by itself is non–finite. It needs the help of the auxiliary verb “is” to make it finite.

Non–Finite Verb

Non–Finite Verbs do not have a subject. If you ask the question “who?” or “what?” did the action, you will get no answer.

There are two types of non–finite verbs: the infinitive and the participle.

The Infinitive is the verb without any connection to a subject. Infinitives usually have a “to” in front of them: to run, to jump, to be, to have, to go, etc.

For Example:
  • It is not the right time to go to the shops.
  • Ask—who or what to go? The answer is void, because there is no subject, and as such, the infinitive “to go” is non–finite.

The Participle consists in two types: present participleOpens in new window, which end in –ing, and past participleOpens in new window, which end in “ed” or “en” or have irregular forms.

Except where participles are accompanied by an auxiliary verb, they usually have no subject and are non–finite.

Examples of present participles include:
  • Walking blindfolded across the room, I tripped over the carpet.
    Ask—who walking? This doesn’t make sense and has no subject. “Walking” is therefore non–finite.
  • Creeping quietly in his room, the teenager hoped his parents wouldn’t notice how late home he was.
    Ask—Who creeping? Again, no answer. “Creeping” is non–finite.

Examples of past participles include:
  • Written on the wall in big letters was a sign saying ‘No Trespassers!’
  • The car was a wreck, crushed by a falling boulder.

Any attempt to ask who or what did the action with these past participle verbs, will prove there is no subject and the verbs are non–finite.