Non-finite verb

In linguistics, a non-finite verb (or a verbal) is a verb form that is not limited by a subject and, more generally, is not fully inflected by categories that are marked inflectionally in language, such as tense, aspect, mood, number, gender, and person. As a result, a non-finite verb cannot generally serve as the main verb in an independent clause; rather, it heads a non-finite clause.

By some accounts, a non-finite verb acts simultaneously as a verb and as another part of speech; it can take adverbs and certain kinds of verb arguments, producing a verbal phrase (i.e., non-finite clause), and this phrase then plays a different role — usually noun, adjective, or adverb — in a greater clause. This is the reason for the term verbal; non-finite verbs have traditionally been classified as verbal nouns, verbal adjectives, or verbal adverbs.

English has three kinds of verbals:

  1. participles, which function as adjectives;
  2. gerunds, which function as nouns; and
  3. infinitives, which have noun-like, adjective-like, and adverb-like functions.

Each of these kinds of verbals is also used in various common constructs; for example, the past participle is used in forming the perfect aspect (to have done).

Other kinds of verbals, such as supines and gerundives, exist in other languages.


A participle is a verbal adjective that describes a noun as being a participant in the action of the verb. English has two kinds of participles: a present participle, also called an imperfect participle, which ends in -ing and which ordinarily describes the agent of an action, and a past participle, also called a perfect participle, which typically ends in -ed (but can also end in -en, -t, or none of these), and which ordinarily describes the patient of an action.

The following sentences contain participles:

  • The talking children angered the teacher. (Here talking modifies children.)
  • Annoyed, Rita ate dinner by herself in the bedroom. (Here annoyed modifies Rita.)

In English, the present participle is used in forming the continuous aspect (to be doing); the past participle is used in forming the passive voice (to be done) and the perfect aspect (to have done).

A participial phrase is a phrase consisting of a participle and any adverbials and/or arguments; the participle is the head of such a phrase:

  • Gazing at the painting, she recalled the house where she was born. (Here gazing at the painting modifies she.)


A gerund is a verbal noun that refers to the action of the verb. In English, a gerund has the same form as a present participle (see above), ending in -ing:

  • Fencing is good exercise. (Here fencing is the subject of is.)
  • Leroy expanded his skills by studying. (Here studying is the object of by.)

A gerund phrase is a phrase consisting of a gerund and any adverbials and/or arguments; the gerund is the head of such a phrase:

  • My evening routine features jogging slowly around the block. (Here jogging slowly around the block is the direct object of features.)


In English, the infinitive verb form is often introduced by the particle to, as in to eat or to run. The resulting phrase can then function as a subject or object, or as a modifier.

  • To succeed takes courage, foresight, and luck. (Here to succeed is the subject of takes.)
  • I don't have time to waste. (Here to waste modifies time.)
  • Carol was invited to speak. (Here to speak is the object of invited.)
  • Do not stop to chat. (Here to chat functions as an adverb modifying stop.)

An infinitive phrase consists of an infinitive and any related words.

  • Paul wanted to learn silk screening. (The infinitive phrase to learn silk screening is the object of wanted.)

See also

Other kinds of non-finite verbs

Related topics


  • Dodds, Jack (2006). The Ready Reference Handbook, 4th Edition. Pearson Education, Inc.. ISBN 0-321-33069-2
  • Rozakis, Laurie (2003). The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grammar and Style, 2nd Edition. Alpha. ISBN 1-59257-115-8

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