Introduction to Non-Finite Verbs

Just when we thought we had verbs figured out, we’re brought face-to-face with a new animal: the non-finite verbs. These words look similar to verbs we’ve already been talking about, but they act quite different than those other verbs.

By definition, a non-finite verb cannot serve as the root of an independent clause. In practical terms, this means that they don’t serve as the action of a sentence. They also don’t have a tense. While the sentence around them may be past, present, or future tense, the non-finite verbs themselves are neutral. 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.
  • A participle is is used as an adjective or an adverb. There are two types of participle in English: the past and present participles.
    • The present participle also takes the –ing form: (e.g., writing, singing, and raising).
    • The past participle typically appears like the past tense, but some have different forms: (e.g., written, sung and raised).
  • The infinitive is the basic dictionary form of a verb, usually preceded by to. Thus to go is an infinitive.