Grammar: Finite or Non-Finite Clauses

Posted December 21, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

The difference between a finite clause and a non-finite clause is time, which is expressed via verb tense.

Finite Clause

The finite uses verb tenses in the past or present tense, which is how time is indicated.

Non-Finite Clause

With a non-finite clause, the idea of time comes from the context of the independent clause — a non-finite clause generally modifies the main verb (the finite) and is part of a dependent clause. It will never be the primary verb by itself, but may act more like a noun, adjective, or adverb.

Think of verbs that are without a past or future tense, such as laughing, dying, jiggling, running, to fly, to hover, to play, to hand over, tired, slept, woke, etc.

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…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone… Are there areas of grammar with which you struggle?

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Finite or Non-Finite Clauses
Credit to: English Grammar Language Guide; Cambridge Dictionaries Online; Georgia State University
Definition: A clause which is created using a finite verb or a non-finite verb.

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Finite Clause Definition: Contains a finite verb which shows tense — present or past — and can be used in independent clauses or dependent clauses. Verbs that follow a finite clause will be non-finite.
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Green indicates the finite (main) verb
  2. Blue indicates the non-finite (subordinating) verb

Is it snowing yet?

Henry called yesterday.

Since the team lost the match, the coach resigned.

We didn’t get any food because we didn’t have enough time.

Non-Finite Clause Definition: Contains a non-finite verb which does not show tense, as the time is inferred from the context of the independent clause.

Rule: It may function more like a noun, adjective, or adverb and cannot be the primary verb by itself, primarily because it does not have mood, tense, number, aspect, or person.

Rule: It is generally used only in a dependent clause.

Rule: Not really a rule, more of a usually. Uses a non-finite clause when the subject in the dependent clause is the same as the subject in the independent clause.

Examples:
Legend:

  1. Blue indicates the non-finite clause

I had something to eat before leaving.

After having spent six hours at the hospital, they eventually came home.

Helped by local volunteers, staff at the museum have spent many years sorting and cataloguing more than 100,000 photographs.

He left the party and went home, not having anyone to talk to.

The person to ask about going to New Zealand is Beck.

You have to look at the picture really carefully in order to see all the detail.

Noun Phrase Rule: A non-finite clause can function as a post-modifier to a head noun

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Examples:
Legend:

  1. Blue indicates the non-finite clause
  2. Pale green indicates the head noun

The letter for you to type is on your desk.

Participial Clause Rule: Uses a non-finite clause as a verb complement with an -ed or -ing participle.

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Examples:
Legend:

  1. Blue indicates the non-finite clause

I don’t enjoy playing tennis in the rain.

Janey hates pulling weeds.

Tired from studying all afternoon, she went for a walk.

Opening the book slowly and tentatively, she began to read.

Margaret wanted to marry James.

Leaving home can be very traumatic.

Relative Clause Rule: When the subject of the relative clause is the same as the subject of the independent clause, the relative clause can be non-finite.

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Examples:
Legend:

  1. Purple indicates the non-finite relative clause

The man sitting on the sofa over there is Simon’s brother.

Don’t forget to fill in the form attached to the letter.

Verbal Complement Rule: Uses a non-finite clause as a verb complement with a to + infinitive or a bare infinitive (no to) giving meaning to the main verb.

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Examples:
Legend:

  1. Blue indicates the non-finite clause

I’d hate to travel to London every day.

I love to play with my friends.

Mary wants to sew her new dress.

With Subordinating Conjunctions Rule: Non-finite clauses are often used after subordinating conjunctions.

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List of Relevant Subordinating Conjunctions
after
although
if though
Examples:
Legend:

  1. Blue indicates the non-finite verb clause

By the end of the day, although exhausted, Mark did not feel quite as tired as he had in the past.

The proposal, if accepted by Parliament, will mean fundamental changes to the education system.

The movie, after it had been out for a while, became a blockbuster.

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