Non-Finite Verbs

Learning Objectives

  • Identify gerunds, participles, and infinitives

Just when we thought we had verbs figured out, we’re brought face-to-face with a new animal: non-finite verbs. These words look similar to verbs we’ve already discussed, but they act quite differently. A finite verb is one that has a subject and functions as the main verb in a sentence. By definition, non-finite verbs cannot serve as the main verb in an independent clause. This means that they don’t provide the action of a sentence. They also lack a tense. While the sentence around them may be past, present, or future tense, the non-finite verbs themselves are neutral.

For example, look at the following sentences. The finite verbs are in bold in the following sentences, and the non-finite verbs are underlined:

Verbs appear in almost all sentences.
This sentence is illustrating finite and non-finite verbs.
The dog will have to be trained well.
Tom promised to try to do the work.

There are three types of non-finite verbs: gerunds, participles, and infinitives.


Gerunds all end in -ing: skiing, reading, dancing, singing, etc. Gerunds act like nouns and can serve as subjects or objects of sentences. They can be created using active or helping verbs:

  • I like swimming.
  • Being loved can make someone feel safe.
  • Do you fancy going out?
  • Having read the book once before makes me more prepared.


A participle is a form of a verb that plays a role similar to an adjective or adverb. The two types of participles in English are traditionally called the present participle (forms such as writing, singing and raising) and the past participle (forms such as written, sung, and raised).

Here are some examples of participles being used to modify other elements of the sentence, acting as an adjective or adverb:

  • Present Participle: “The sleeping girl over there is my sister”; “She ducked into the running water”; “Breathing heavily, she finished the race in first place.”
  • Past Participle: “She placed the cooked chicken on the table”; “He put the cut flowers in a vase.”


To be or not to be, that is the question.


Infinitives describe the verb form that includes the word “to” before the verb is used—for example, “to be,” “to try,” or “to make.” In other languages, infinitive verbs are often easy to identify because they are a single word, as in morir  – “to die” – in Spanish, manger – “to eat” – in French, or lieben — “to love” – in German.

Here are some examples of uses of the infinitive:

  • With other verbs: “I aim to convince him of our plan’s ingenuity”; “You already know that he’ll fail to complete the task.”
  • As a noun phrase: “To err is human”; “To know me is to love me.”

As a modifier (an adjective or adverb): “He is the man to save us.”

There are some cases in which the infinitive form of a verb is used without the to preceding it. This is called a bare infinitive. The bare infinitive usually comes when following another verb or certain phrases, such as “I will wait“ or “I would rather die.” These are bare infinitives without using the word to.