Finite and non-finite verbs

There are mainly two types of verbs – finite verbs and non-finite verbs. Non-finite verbs are not verbs in the strict sense of the term. They have certain qualities of verbs but they can’t form a clause.

Non-finites are of three types – infinitives (to write, to work, to sing, to dance etc.), participles (writing/written, working/worked, singing / sung etc.) and gerunds (writing, singing, working, dancing etc.)

Participles are of two types – present participles and past participles. Like gerunds, present participles also end in –ing. Examples are: singing, dancing, running, reading, playing, cooking etc.

Past participles are the third form of the verb. They usually end in –ed or –en. Note that there are numerous exceptions to this rule. Common examples are: written, broken, worked, stopped, spoken etc.

We have learned that non-finites (infinitives, participles, gerunds) cannot form clauses. Their form remains the same irrespective of the number or person of the subject. Likewise, they have the same form in all tenses. Study the sentences given below.

  • I want to study.
  • She wants to study.
  • Do you want to study?
  • They wanted to study.

The sentences given above have different subjects (I, she, you and they). While the first three are in the simple present tense, the fourth one is in the simple past tense. However, this change in the number (singular /plural) and person (first person/second person/third person) of the subject or the tense of the verb does not affect the infinitive. Its form remains the same in all tenses.
Participles and gerunds also exhibit this property. Study the sentences given below.

  • I enjoy flying.
  • She enjoys flying.
  • They enjoy flying.
  • We enjoy flying.
  • Rahul enjoys flying.

As you can see the change in the subject of the sentence does not affect the gerund ‘flying’. Its form remains the same.
Non-finites are not affected by the number or person of the subject.

Finite verbs, on the other hand, are affected by the number or person of the subject. Study the examples given below.

The boy enjoys singing. (When the subject is the singular noun ‘boy’, the verb ‘enjoy’ becomes ‘enjoys’. Note that the non-finite ‘singing’ undergoes no change.)

  • I enjoy singing. (When the subject is the first person singular pronoun ‘I’, the verb ‘enjoy’ does not take the marker ‘s’.)
  • They enjoy singing. (When the subject is the third person plural pronoun ‘they’, the verb ‘enjoy’ does not take the marker ‘s’.)
  • My mother enjoys singing. (When the subject is the singular noun ‘mother’ the verb ‘enjoy’ takes the marking ‘s’)
  • She enjoyed singing. (This sentence is in the simple past tense and hence ‘enjoy’ becomes ‘enjoyed’.)

As you can see, finite verbs change their form when the number or person of the subject changes. Likewise, they have different forms in different tenses. ‘Enjoy’ becomes ‘enjoyed’ in the past tense and ‘will enjoy’ in the future tense.

A sentence must have at least one finite verb. If it has two finite verbs, then it has two clauses. Likewise, if it has three finite-verbs, then it has three clauses.

If a sentence has two or more clauses, then these clauses have to be connected with a conjunction or a relative pronoun. Many students fail to use conjunctions. They just connect the clauses with a comma. This is a mistake. While counting the clauses in a sentence, be careful not to include non-finites.

Note that we need just one conjunction or relative pronoun to connect two clauses. So, a sentence that has three clauses needs two connecting words (conjunctions/relative pronouns). Don’t write more conjunctions than necessary.

Related posts:

  1. Common mistakes with simple present and present perfect tenses
  2. Present and past participles
  3. Verbs not used in the passive
  4. Complex sentences
  5. Common mistakes with verbs
  6. Verbs complementation: what can follow a verb?
  7. Use modal auxiliaries correctly
  8. Sentence patterns with subject complements
  9. How to use tenses correctly in your IELTS essays and letters?
  10. Verb patterns | Subject + verb

Manjusha Nambiar

Hi, I'm Manjusha. This is my blog where I give IELTS preparation tips.

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