What’s the Difference Between Finite and Non-finite Clause?

In this post, we’ll try to clear the confusion between finite and non-finite clauses.

Finite vs. non-finite clause

A finite clause is a grammatical unit containing subject and finite verb. It can be an independent clause, which can stand on its own as a sentence, or a dependent clause, which can’t be a sentence. Examples of finite clause (each sentence contains two finite clauses, one dependent and one independent.):

The miscreants had left before the police arrived.

The opinion poll suggested that the ruling party may lose the coming election.

A non-finite clause is a grammatical unit that contains a non-finite verb. Since non-finite verb is participle and infinitive form of verb, in other words, a non-finite clause contains a participle or an infinitive as its verb. It usually doesn’t contain a subject, but may sometimes. Non-finite clauses, like dependent clauses, can’t exist on their own and hence are embedded into independent clauses. Examples of non-finite clause:

I’ve plenty of work requiring urgent attention. [Non-finite clause with participle requiring as verb]

I’ve plenty of work to finish. [Non-finite clause with infinitive to finish as verb]

Finishing the work isn’t a priority at the moment. [Non-finite clause with participle finishing as verb]

Many grammar books call non-finite clauses as phrases. The above three non-finite clauses, for example, can also be called participial phrase, infinitive phrase, and gerund phrase, respectively. If definition of non-finite clause confuses you, just remember that the above three types of phrases constitute non-finite clause. More on this later.

How does traditional definition of clause fit in with finite and non-finite clause?

How does the traditional definition of clause reconcile with finite and non-finite clause? Are finite and non-finite clause some new type of clauses?  How are they different from dependent and independent clause?

Here is how we’ve known clause traditionally:

A clause is a grammatical group of words that contains both subject and finite verb. A clause can be dependent or independent, depending on whether they convey incomplete or complete meaning, respectively.

When we classify clause as finite and non-finite, we broaden the traditional definition. Finite clause represents our traditional clause – dependent and independent clause. (We saw this in the definition of finite clause in the previous section as well.) And non-finite clause is a subset of our traditional phrase. (We saw that non-finite clauses are essentially gerund phrases, participial phrases, and infinitive phrases from the traditional setup.)

Here is a pictorial representation of how the two world views of clause overlap:

Difference between finite and non-finite clause

Note: Feel free to use the above image, using the link (url) of this post for reference/attribution.

These are just different ways of classifying groups of words. Some classify them as finite and non-finite clause. Some classify them as dependent clause, independent clause, and phrase. Pick whatever you’re comfortable with.

Most of us are familiar with finite clause, so let’s skip it and cover only non-finite clause. Learn the two finite clauses in detail:

Types of non-finite clause

As we saw earlier, there are two types of non-finite verbs: participle and infinitive. The two non-finite verbs form three types of non-finite clauses: gerund clause, participial clause, and infinitive clause.

Note that non-finite clauses may also be classified as -ing clause (present participial + gerund), -ed clause (past participial), and infinitive clause. The two classifications are one and the same.

1. Gerund clause

A gerund clause functions as noun in a sentence. (They’re better known as gerund phrase.) Examples:

Waking at 6 AM in the morning, is the most unwanted thing I have ever done. [Noun]

Weighing a pig won’t fatten it. Altering its diet would. [Noun]

2. Participial clause

A participial clause can be present participial or past participial clause. (They’re better known as participial phrase.) In a sentence, it functions as an adjective or adverb. Examples:

Josh had palpitations while addressing the meeting. [Present Participial clause functioning as adverb]

Although groomed in the best possible way, the tycoon’s son struggled to take the business any further. [Past Participial clause functioning as adverb]

Look around and you’ll find many flatterers indulging in insincere praise for selfish motives. [Present Participial clause functioning as adjective]

Steve Jobs, credited with changing the fortune of Apple, made quite a few comebacks in his life. [Past Participial clause functioning as adjective]

3. Infinitive clause

An infinitive clause, which starts with to, can function as noun, adjective, or adverb. (They’re better known as infinitive phrase.) Examples:

To lose weight has been a long-standing goal for me. [Noun]

He, in fact, ordered the wrong product because of his failure to read the product description carefully. [Adjective]

To read more, please subscribe to our newsletter. [Adverb]

What is verbless clause?

Clause without a verb?

First, we called a group of words without subject and finite verb a clause. Then, we go another step down and call a group of words without verb a clause.

Yes. But these are just terminologies.

Examples of verbless clause:

When not sure, don’t take chance.

The guests had left before his arrival.

Verbless clauses don’t contain even non-finite verb.

You can convert the above verbless clauses into finite clauses by infusing a subject and a finite verb.

When you’re not sure, don’t take chance.

The guests had left before he arrived.

One comment

  1. TRACY APPIAH KARIKARI

    Sir please per your explanation of Verbless clause does it mean that a Verbless clause do not form a subject and a finite verb?
    And per my research, a finite verb is a type of verb that shows agreement with a subject and can be in the present tense or past tense.Sir please in this case,with the first example there is no subject so how does it link ?
    Am a bit confused

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