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What Are Non-finite Verbs?

What Are Non-Finite Verbs?

A non-finite verb (also known as a verbal) is the term used to describe a verb that is not showing tense.

In other words, it a verb form which is not acting like a verb (or, at least, the type of verb you need to form a sentence).

There are three types of non-finite verbs: gerunds, infinitives, and participles. Look at these examples (non-finite verbs shaded):
  • I hate camping.
  • (Camping is a non-finite verb. In fact, it is a gerund, i.e., a noun formed from a verb. The giveaway for a gerund is the -ing ending.)
  • I want to go there.
  • (To go is a non-finite verb. It is an infinitive, i.e., the base form of a verb. The giveaway for an infinitive is often, but not always, the to before it.)
  • We ate our roasted marshmallows.
  • (Roasted is a non-finite verb. It is a participle, a type of adjective. There is no real giveaway for a participle, but lots of participles end in -ed and -ing.)
Some more examples (non-finite verbs shaded):
  • I started screaming at my parents for trying to send me to camp.
  • (Screaming and trying - gerunds)
    (To send - infinitive verb)
  • Arriving late, I saw the other kids and they seemed to be excited.
  • (Arriving - present participle)
    (to be - infinitive verb)
    (excited - past participle.)
  • We sang songs around the campfire and toasted marshmallows.
  • (There are no non-finite verbs in this example.)

Non-finite Verbs Test

Below is a quick test on non-finite verbs.

(There are lots more grammar tests here.)
Quick Test
Click on the non-finite verbs:



 
Beware

Finite and Non-Finite Verbs Can Looks Identical

Finite and non-finite forms of verbs can be identical. Look at these examples (non-finite verbs shaded):
  • They roasted chestnuts.
  • (Roasted is finite)
  • They love roasted chestnuts.
  • They laugh.
  • They did laugh.
  • (Note: This is one of those times when the infinite form of the verb is not preceded by to.)
Top Tip

The Three-Point Check for Non-Finite Verbs

Remember, to find a non-finite verb, check:
  • Is it a noun?
  • (Does it end -ing?. See gerunds.)
  • Is it an infinitive?
  • (Is it preceded by to. See infinitive verbs.)
  • Is it a participle?
  • (Does it end -ed or -ing and is it being used like an adjective? See participles.)