Non-finite verbs

This page contains information about the non-finite verb forms that are common in English usage.


One way to categorise the verb forms in a sentence is by whether they are finite or non-finite. Following is a simplified explanation of the differences of these two forms, together with examples of sentences containing non-finite forms.

The differences between finite and non-finite verbs

A verb form that has an explicit subject is a finite verb. So the verb eats in the sentence He eats too much junk food is finite because it has the explicit subject he. It is also marked Not all finite verbs are marked for tense and person. For example, eat in I never eat breakfast is the same as the base verb form. But it does have an explicit subject, and it can change as tense, person or number changes. It is therefore considered to be finite. for tense, person and number. The -s ending indicates the present tense, 3rd person, singular. The finite form changes to reflect the changes in tense, person and number.

Non-finite verbs have no explicit subject and they are not marked for tense, person or number. They do not change at all. The non-finite verb forms are the bare infinitive, to infinitive, present participle and past participle.

Note: Finite verbs are listed and exemplified on the tense selector page elsewhere on this site.

Bare infinitive

This is the base verb form, i.e. the form listed as a dictionary entry, without any marking for tense, person or number.

  • I let him eat my apple.
  • I watched the cat climb the tree.
  • All you ever do is complain.
  • She must be at the airport by 5am.

The to-infinitive

This is the base verb form, i.e. the form listed as a dictionary entry, without any marking for tense, person or number.

  • She wanted to know the truth.
  • To see is to believe.
  • I went into town to buy a new phone.
  • When will you be ready to leave?

The present participle

The present participle is the -ing for of the verb. It is common in gerunds Modern grammarians do not agree on what to call the various present participle forms as they are used in sentences. And some dispense with the term gerund altogether (e.g. The the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language).

For the purposes of this explanation, I will stick to the traditional terms.
and in reduced relative clauses A full relative clause is, for example, Who is that boy who is standing by the door?. Its reduced equivalent is Who is that boy standing by the door? .

  • I love reading (gerund).
  • Seeing is believing (gerund).
  • She left the room crying (participle).
  • Who is that boy standing by the door (participle)?
  • The boy fell off his bike, injuring his head (participle).

Past participle

The past participle is the third form of the verb: do-did-done, write-wrote-written, cook-cooked-cooked. Again it is common in reduced relative clauses, as well as adverbially and adjectivally in noun phrases.

  • The cat injured by the car belongs to my neighbour.
  • Cooked for too long, the meat was inedible.
  • The stolen book was found under a hedge.