Finite / Nonfinite

Recognize two clause categories

Charlie

What are the two clauase categories? 

  • A finite clause has a primary verb that is marked for tense, person (raise, raises, raised) and in some cases, number (is, was, were).
  • A nonfinite clause has a secondary verb that is not marked for person ([to] see, seeing, seen)

What are their functions?

  • A finite clause functions as a main or independent clause.  It can stand on its own and be understood.
  • A nonfinite clause functions as a "reduced" clause within a clause.  It cannot stand on its own and be understood. The main verb determines which kind of nonfinite clause can follow:  He wants to see it.  He likes seeing it.

 

On this page:

 

 

 

Nonfinite Clauses

In Context

 

 

 

In Context

To speak in class is difficult for some children but not for Charlie. He raises his hand constantly and loves to participate in class discussions. In fact, speaking in class is what he does best. He does his homework and is very well prepared. Prepared students are more successful. Also, students encouraged by their teachers do well.

Charlie is doing well in kindergarten. Sometimes Charlie talks a little too much. He dislikes sitting quietly. The teacher reminds him to share the discussion time. Other students are quiet and may think that they don't have anything important to say.  But the teacher values all the opinions of the students and helps quiet students speak out more.

 

 

FINITE CLAUSES

He raises his hand constantly.

He does his homework.

Charlie is doing well in kindergarten.

NONFINITE CLAUSES

To speak in class is difficult for some children.

He loves to participate in class discussions.

Speaking in class is what he does best.

He dislikes sitting quietly.

Prepared students are more successful.

Students encouraged by their teachers do well.

 

 

 

 

Nonfinite Clause Kinds

Infinitive, gerundl and participle clauses

 

 

 

Infinitival Nonfinite Clauses

FINITE CLAUSE

A finite clause has a primary verb that can be marked for tense, person, and in some cases, number (raise, raises, raised; is, was, were).                                              

CLAUSE

Charlie raised his hand.

The teacher likes that [he raises his hand]. 

(that subordinates the finite clause within the main clause)

 
INFINITIVAL NONFINITE CLAUSE

A nonfinite infinitival clause has a plain form (base) verb that usually occurs with to. The marker to is analyzed as a subordinator, not part of the nonfinite clause.

CLAUSE + [INFINITIVE CLAUSE]

Charlie wants to [raise his hand].   Verb + Infinitive

Charlie stands up to [speak in class].  "In order" + Infinitive

Charlie helped us [answer the question].  Bare Infinitives  (without to)

It is hard for Charlie to [sit quietly].   Infinitive Cls w/Subj

 

 

Gerund Nonfinite Clauses

FINITE CLAUSE

A finite clause has a primary verb as its main verb.

CLAUSE

Charlie dislikes quiet time.

 

 

 

GERUNDIAL NONFINITE CLAUSE

A nonfinite gerund clause has an -ing verb form.

CLAUSE + [GERUND CLAUSE]

Charlie dislikes [sitting quietly].   Verb + Gerund

Charlie isn't interested in [sitting quietly].  Verb + Prep Gerund

Charlie regretted [his shouting the wrong answer].   Gerund Cls w/Subj

[Charlie enjoying attention] raises his hand all the time.   Clause Reduc 2

 

 

Past Participle Nonfinite Clauses

PRIMARY VERBS

A finite clause has a primary verb as its main verb, and may be found in a relative clause or a noun clause embedded within a main clause.

CLAUSE + RELATIVE CLAUSE

The children [who were annoyed by Charlie] told him to "zip his lips".

 

SECONDARY VERB: PAST PARTICIPLE

A nonfinite participle clause usually has a -ed or -en verb form. Participle clauses mostly occur as relative clauses. "Reduced Clauses"

CLAUSE + [PARTICIPLE CLAUSE]

The [annoyed] children told Charlie to "zip his lips".   Participle Modifiers 1

The children [annoyed by Charlie] told him to "zip his lips".   Clause Reduc 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Primary & Secondary Verb Properties

Recognize how they differ

 

 

 

Properties of Primary vs Secondary Verbs

PRIMARY VERBS

Finite clauses include primary verbs as their main verbs. A primary verb can be inflected for tense (usually -ed in past), person (usually -s for 3rd person)  and occasionally number (singular-plural be).

ARE MARKED FOR TENSE

Charlie raises / raised his hand.  (regular tensed verb)

Charlie is silly . Charlie and Jill were silly.  (irregular)

Charlie does his math. Jill did her math. (irregular)

HAVE A SUBJECT

Charlie hopes that he knows the answer. 

The verb hopes has the subject Charlie, and knows has the subject he.

It is annoying that he answers all the questions. 

ARE MARKED FOR PERSON

Charlie raises his hand. 3rd person

 

 

 

FORM NEGATIVES WITH DO + NOT (USE "DO" SUPPORT)

Charlie does not want to sit in class all day. 

 

Charlie is not here today.  (BE is an exception)

 

 

SECONDARY VERBS

Nonfinite clauses include secondary verbs as their main verbs. A secondary (nonfinite) verb is not marked for tense, aspect, mood, number and person, and it cannot serve as a predicate, nor can it be used in an independent clause.

ARE NOT MARKED FOR TENSE

[To speak in class] is difficult.  (infinitival)

 

[Speaking in class] is encouraged. (gerundial)

[Prepared students] are more likely to succeed. (p.participial)  

RARELY HAVE A SUBJECT

Charlie hopes to [ __ know the answer].    The verb hopes has the subject Charlie, but knows has no subject.

It is unusual for [him to [answer questions].   The exception is the "It…for" structure in which the subject is subordinated with for (him, her, them, etc.)

ARE NOT MARKED FOR PERSON

Charlie wants to [raise his hand]. 

Charlie stands up to [speak in class].  (purpose)

Charlie helps us [answer questions].  (without to)

It is hard for Charlie to [sit quietly.]   

FORM NEGATIVES WITH NOT

Charlie wants not to [sit in class all day].

Charlie prefers not [sitting in class all day]

Charlie seems not to [be here today].

[Not wanting to sit all day] is understandable.

 

Note that in the 2002 revision of the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, fiinite and nonfinite verbs were renamed primary and secondary verbs. The words finite and nonfinite were reinterpreted as a syntactic category of the clause not the verb. However, some people continue to use the term "finite verb".   

A secondary verb cannot serve as a predicate, nor can it be used in an independent clause unless combined with an auxiliary verb (e.g., can, may, will). A clause whose verb is secondary is called a nonfinite clause. This kind of clause is almost always subordinate. (Brackets enclose the nonfinite clause in each example below for the purpose of illustration.)                                                             

See Huddleston— finite-nonfinite 1173; to and for as subordinators  1181; gerund-participle distinction 80, 1120; be 113.

See Nonfinite Forms  (passive v. active, earlier v. later timing)

Also see reduced clauses:  Clause Reduc 1, Clause Reduc 2, Past Participle Cls, Pres Participle Cls.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finite & Nonfinite Properties

Recognize how they differ

 

 

Properties of Finite vs. Nonfinite Clauses

FINITE CLAUSE

Finite clauses are those whose verbs are primary (can be inflected for tense (usually -ed in past) and person).

PRIMARY VERB FORMS

Charlie raised his hand.  (has inflectional forms for tense and person)

Charlie believes that he knows the answer.

IMPERATIVE¹ PLAIN FORM

Raise your hand.  imperative  (You) raise your hand.

 

 Don't you raise your hand.  (use "do" support)

 

SUBJUNCTIVE² PLAIN FORM

I suggest that you raise your hand. 

 

 

 

(FULL CLAUSE)

Charlie, who sits in class, finds it difficult.

Charlie dislikes when he sits in class.

(FULL CLAUSE)

Charlie, [who is admired by his classmates], raised his hand.

NONFINITE CLAUSE

Nonfinite clauses are those whose verbs are secondary: infinitival, gerundial (-ing) or past participle (-ed).  

SECONDARY VERB FORMS

Secondary verbs cannot be the main verb of a clause. 
   ↓   ↓

Brackets [ ] mark nonfinite clauses, below. Note that "to" is not included; instead, it is analyzed as a subordinator
   ↓   ↓

INFINITIVAL "TO" + PLAIN FORM

Charlie wants to [answer the question].   
The marker to subordinates the infinitival clause.

Charlie wants me to [call on him].

Charlie would love [for me to [call on him]].

The marker for subordinates a subject ("agent") into the infinitival clause.

INFINITIVAL PLAIN FORM

Charlie helped us [answer the question].  after dare, need, help, etc.

Charlie should sit quietly.  after modals

All he did was talk out loud.  after do

GERUNDIAL (GERUND-PARTICIPLE)

[Sitting in class] is hard.  (a.k.a. "a gerund subject")
Charlie dislikes sitting in class. ("a gerund object")

Charlie, [knowing the answer], annoyed the other students.  ("a reduced adjective clause" or "participial adjective")

PAST PARTICIPLE 

Charlie, [admired by his classmates], raised his hand. ("a reduced adjective clause")

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grammar Notes

Linguistic Description

Advanced

 

 

 

Linguistic Descriptions

BIBER ET AL. HUDDLESTON, PULLUM, ET AL.

"Non-finite clauses are regularly dependent. They are more compact and less explicit than finite clauses: they are not marked for tense and modality, and they frequently lack an explicit subject and subordinator." (Biber 198)
Roles of finite clauses:

infinitive clause — subject, extraposed subject, subject predicative, direct object, object predicative, adverbial, part of noun phrase, part of adjective phrase

-ing clause — subject, extraposed subject, subject predicative, direct object, prepositional object, adverbial, part of noun phrase, part of adjective phrase, complement of preposition

-ed clause— direct object, adverbial, part of noun phrase
 

"The general term 'finite' is related to its everyday sense of "limited", a finite verb is characteristically limited with respect to person and number [marked for person and tense].…Non-finite clauses are characteristically subordinate and non-finiteness can be see as an instance of the phenomenon known as 'desententialisation', the loss of properties that are associated with a clause standing alone as a full sentence." [not marked for person and tense, dependent] (Huddleston 88-9)

Finiteness is a syntactical rather than an inflectional category in English:

"In the past linguistic analysis of English verb inflection, the first division is between the finite and non-finite forms, but the revision we have made means that the finite/non-finite distinction is no longer definable simply in terms of inflection. We will see that there are grounds for not discarding it altogether, however, and we therefore reinterpret it as a syntactic category of the clause, rather than as an inflectional category of the verb. Clauses whose verb is primary form are finite, those whose verb is a past participle or gerund-participle are non-finite, but those with a plain form verb can be either depending on the construction. … In the revision, imperative and subjunctive, which use plain form are included in the category of primary verbs." (Huddleston 88-9)

Form Types:
infinitival (to-infinitival, bare-infinitival) —  subject (NP), verb complement (VP), subordinate (adjunct or supplement)  
gerund-participle (ing) — subject (NP), verb complement (VP), subordinate (adjunct or supplement)  
past participle (ed) — verb complement (VP), subordinate (adjunct or supplement)  (Huddleston 1173)
 

INFINITIVAL CLAUSE—SUBJECT GERUND CLAUSE—SUBJECT

     Diagram: To start a sentence with an infinitive is uncommon 

Diagram: Starting a sentence with a gerun is common

 

INFINITIVAL CLAUSE — OBJECT (VERB COMPLEMENT) GERUND CLAUSE—OBJECT (VERB COMPLEMENT)

diagram - Charlie wants to raise his hand.
 

Charlie dislikes sitting all day

INFINITIVAL CLAUSE—WITH A SUBJECT (HIM) GERUND CLAUSE—WITH A SUBJECT (YOU/YOUR)

Diagram: It is hard for him to sit all day

ing clause with a subject

Clause; Subject / Predicate; Finite / Nonfinite; NP –noun phrase; N – noun; VP – verb phrase; V – verb; Comp – complement; Detdeterminer; PP – prepositional phrase; P – preposition; Sub – Subordinator

 

Resources

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 1

Strange Weather

raining and floodingdrought
 

Read the Context

The weather is strange this year. In the South, weather marked by exceptionally high temperatures and exceptionally little precipitation has destroyed crops.  In the East, rain falling endlessly has flooded city streets.

It is unusual for us to have so much rain in the East and none in the South.  In the West, temperatures remain about the same. However, precipitation has diminished.

crops (N) — produce that farmers grow such as corn, wheat, cotton, and hay

diminish (V) — become less

exceptionally (adv.) — unusually; unexpectedly

flood (V) — fill with too much water

precipitation (N) — rainfall

 

 

 

Identify the verb category in each sentence.

  1. Select the response from the list that best completes the sentence. 
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 1-5" button.

 

1.
The weather is strange this year.


2.
In the South, weather marked by exceptionally high temperatures and exceptionally little precipitation has destroyed crops.


3.
In the East, rain falling endlessly has flooded city streets.


4.
It is unusual for us to have so much rain in the East and none in the South.


5.
In the West, temperatures remain about the same.


 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 2

Hurricane Irene Spoils Wedding Plans

wedding in the rain
 

 

Read the Context

Several couples hoped to marry this weekend. A hurricane pounding the East Coast changed their plans. It was impossible to hold their weddings as planned.

Three couples not wanting to delay decided to marry in Central Park. They said their vows standing in the rain and undisturbed by barely anyone.

pound (V) — strike, hit

delay (V) — postpone; wait until later

undisturbed (Adj) — not bothered by anyone

vow (N) — a promise

 

 

 

Identify the nonfinite clause.

  1. Select the nonfinite clause from the list.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 6-10" button.

 

6.
Several couples hoped to marry this weekend.


7.
A hurricane pounding the East Coast changed their plans. 


8.
It was impossible to hold their weddings as planned.


9.
Three couples not wanting to delay decided to marry in Central Park.


10.
They said their vows standing in the rain and undisturbed by barely anyone.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Practice 3

Weather

walking in rain with an umbrella
 

 

Identify the verb form type

  1. Select the verb form type from the menu.
  2. Compare your response to the feedback by clicking the "Check" or "Check 11-15" button.

 

11.


Verb form type (come):

12.

13.

14.

15.