There are two kinds of verbs: finite verbs and nonfinite verbs.
The finite verb in a sentence must have a subject as expressed (You sit here.) or implied (Sit here.). Every sentence must have a finite verb to be complete. The finite verb can be a transitive verb, intransitive verb, or linking verb. The finite verb agrees with the subject as it changes with the person (first, second, and third person) and number (singular or plural) of the subject. This makes it similar to a main verb. The finite verb has the present or past form, which means finite verb has tenses.
This table shows a finite verb that changes its form in number and person as well as the tense. The changes in forms are based on the number and person of the subject of the sentence.
||Present Tense / Past Tense
A finite verb can stand alone as the verb of a sentence without an accompanying helping verb, or it can be a verb phrase comprising of a helping verb/auxiliary verb and a main verb. The following examples show the finite verbs in bold.
- He stared at me.
- He was shooting arrows into the air.
Nonfinite verbs do not change to reflect person, singular or plural, or tense. This means, unlike a finite verb, it does not have to agree with the subject in person or number. There are three nonfinite forms of a verb: the infinitives (with to followed by a main verb or without to); gerund (gerund is a form of verb that ends in –ing and functions as a noun in a sentence); and participle (present participle that ends in –ing and past participle that ends in –ed. Both forms of participles function as adjective).
||boils, eats, runs
||-ing form (Gerund)
||boiling, eating, running
||boil, eat, run
||(to) boil, (to) eat, (to) run
||boiled, ate, ran
||boiled, eaten, run
As is seen on the table, the nonfinite verb does not have tenses. It has the ending in –ing form, infinitive form with to and past participle form (boiled, eaten, run).
In the table, the verb boiled appears as a finite past tense verb and also a nonfinite past participle verb with both ending in –ed. How do we know whether it is a finite verb or nonfinite verb in a sentence such as: She boiled an egg?
If the word is an action verb; that is, expressing the action of a subject, it is a finite verb. If the word is used as an adjective, it is a nonfinite verb: She ate a boiled egg.
For the verb boiled in the sentence to be a nonfinite verb, it has to meet one of the three requirements of a nonfinite verb: it is an infinitive following the word to; it is a gerund ending in –ing; or it is an adjective ending in –ed. In the sentence She ate a boiled egg, the word boiled is not an infinitive following the word to. It is not a gerund ending in –ing. It ends in –ed, so it is a participle. As a participle, it acts as an adjective modifying the noun egg. It is therefore a nonfinite verb.
- To talk with your mouth full is not a nice thing to do.
- We are happy to have completed our research.
- We watched him perform some magic tricks.
- I hate dining alone.
- He saw her feeding rabbits.
- Jogging is a good form of exercise.
Present participle form:
- My grandson bought me a walking stick.
- Having left by taxi, he should arrive there early.
- She took a photo of them mending their fishing nets.
Past participle form:
- The artifact stolen from the museum was never recovered.
- These stamps bought at that post office are commemorative stamps.
- The streets were filled with drunken revelers on New Year's Eve.
Sentences with finite and nonfinite verbs
Every sentence must have at least one finite verb. But a sentence may have no nonfinite verb, one nonfinite verb or many nonfinite verbs.
- Going overseas can be very exciting.
(This sentence has one nonfinite verb going.)
- Following the route, we got lost in the middle of nowhere.
(This sentence has one nonfinite verb following and one finite verb got.)
- They recruited volunteers to search for the missing passengers.
(This sentence has one finite verb recruited, and two nonfinite verbs to search and missing.)
- We arrived at the crowded hall early to listen to the visiting professor.
(This sentence has one finite verb arrived, and three nonfinite verbs crowded, to listen, and visiting.)