What are the different methods to easily identify whether a verb is a non-finite or finite verb?

Even if the verb is non-finite how can I distinguish which type it is out of the three (gerund, participle& infinitive)? I am really struggling to understand this.


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  • This is a quite general question, and I can write a quite generic answer. It could be clarified if you gave an example or two of sentences with several verbs that you are uncertain about.
    – James K
    Nov 13, 2021 at 12:19
  • The question is updated james :)
    – Ribbit12
    Nov 13, 2021 at 12:29
  • 3
    If you're interested in grammar, you'll be interested to know that modern grammar does not distinguish gerunds and present participles, simply calling both ing forms 'gerund-participles'.
    – BillJ
    Nov 13, 2021 at 12:35
  • 2
    Hello Ribbit, and welcome! Your question is like 'Please teach me English!' It is too general. Please take the Tour to find out how this place works. This page has a useful explanation of the verb-types you are asking about. Perhaps you should start there, then ask any specific questions here. Nov 13, 2021 at 12:35
  • 1
    Some modern grammars distinguish participles and gerunds. "Gerund" is a special name for a complement clause of a certain type, and of the special participial form that it uses. Nov 15, 2021 at 21:44

3 Answers 3


Clauses in English have a "subject" and "finite verb" often followed by objects or various types of complement.

The finite verb is a phrase. It has tense so may be in past or present tense. It might be simple or formed with an auxilliary

Any other verbs in the clause must be non-finite.

Gerunds and present participles always end "-ing". There is a fair amount of overlap between gerunds and participles. Gerunds are when an "-ing" word is the subject, object or in some other postion which function like a noun, and participles are modifiers.

Past participles often end -ed, but some end -en and some are irregular. But you can look them up in verb lists.

Infinitives have the base form of the verb, often with the word "to" in front.

Things to watch out for: The continuous tense of the main verb phrase is formed from a "be" verb and the participle. The perfect tenses are formed from a "have" verb and a past partciple. The passive voice uses "be+ past participle" So in these forms the participle forms part of the finite verb.

Also there are nouns and adjectives that end in -ing and -ed. They aren't verbs at all, even if they are related to the verbs.

So first split the sentence into [subject phrase], [verb phrase], and [objects etc]. The verb phrase must contain the finite verb.

Any other verbal forms must be non-finite.

If they end in -ing they are participle/gerunds

If they end in -ed or have the past particple form, they are past participles.

If they are don't end in -ing or have the past participle form, espcially if they start with "to", they are infinitives.

To apply this to some questions

THe main verbs

  1. [I] [like] [to read]

"Like" is the finite verb, "to read" is an infinitive

  1. [It] [is] [easy to find faults with others]

"is" is main verb, "to find" is an infintive

  1. [She] [doesn't like] [to do anything]

main finite verb is "doesn't like", "to do" is infinitive

  1. [The boys] [are decorating] [the room]

The main verb is the continuous form of the verb. There are no other verbs.

  1. [We all] [enjoy] [eating ice-cream in the summer]

main verb is "enjoy" "eating" is a participle/gerund, since it is the thing that we enjoy, it is more like a noun than a modifier, so lets call it a gerund.

  1. [Mother] [took out] [a crumpled letter from the drawer]

main verb is "took out". There are no other verbs (crumpled is an adjective, it is one of the adjectives that looks like a past participle)

  • Your answer differs from mine on some details, but I think both are valid. Finiteness can be analysed at the level of the individual verb form, the verb phrase as a whole, or the clause as a whole. I suppose that the OP would need to check which definitions were used in their particular textbook.
    – rjpond
    Nov 13, 2021 at 17:29
  • "The clause in English has "subject" and "finite verb" " It would be more clear to say "Clauses in English". "The finite verb is the phrase." It's a phrase, not the phrase. Nov 13, 2021 at 23:29
  • @Acccumulation corrections made.
    – James K
    Nov 13, 2021 at 23:50
  • thank you so much James this was very helpful :)
    – Ribbit12
    Nov 14, 2021 at 5:26
  • If it has a third-person 's' ending, it must be finite (swims, does, takes).
  • If it is a modal verb, it is always finite (must, can, will).
  • If it follows a modal verb or other auxiliary, it is always non-finite (he must go, she can take, it will have, I have been, I am going). The type of participle or infinitive is then easy to deduce from its form.
  • If it ends with '-ing', it is always non-finite. If an '-ing' form follows an auxiliary, it is a participle (I am going). If it acts as a modifier then it is also a participle (the watching crowds; he closed his eyes for a moment, meditating to himself). But if it acts as the subject or object, it is a gerund (singing is fun; she liked dancing).
  • If a past form is used and is different from the past participle for that verb, it must be finite (took, saw, was). Conversely, if a past form is used that differs from the past tense of that verb, it must be the past participle, which is non-finite (taken, seen, been).
  • If an '-ed' form has an explicit subject, it is finite (I rested). If an '-ed' form is used as a modifier, it is non-finite. If it follows an auxiliary it is also non-finite (already covered above).
  • If it follows the infinitive-marking particle "to" then it's an infinitive and the two words together are often referred to as the "full infinitive" or "to-infinitive".

The exact distinction between participles and gerunds is a matter of dispute, and both the major comprehensive grammars of the English language have concluded that it is a useless distinction: Quirk et al. (A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language, 1985) prefer to call it the "-ing form" regardless of its role in the sentence, while Huddleston & Pullum (The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language, 2002) call it the "gerund-participle".

Note: You can analyse finiteness either in terms of the individual verb, or in terms of the verb phrase or the clause. (A verb phrase or clause that contains a finite verb is finite. Some linguists now regard finiteness as primarily a property of the clause as a whole: see the Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar, 2nd ed.) From the wording in your exercise, I think it is asking about the finiteness of each individual verb (so that in "am playing", the first word is finite and the second non-finite) rather than of the verb phrase (where "am playing" is treated as a unit and is finite), but it's hard to know for sure. The book may make clearer elsewhere what is expected.

  • thank you so much rjpond :)
    – Ribbit12
    Nov 13, 2021 at 13:54

Finite verbs are verbs that are conjugated. They have a subject, tense, person, and number. For instance, in the sentence "Singing is his pastime", the verb "is" has the subject "singing", its tense is present, person is third, and number is singular.

Gerunds and participles are both formed by postpending "ing" to the root of the verb (keep in mind that the root of the verb is not always the same as the infinitive: for instance, the present participle of "lie" is "lying", not "lieing"). Generally speaking, an "ing" form is a gerund if it's noun-like, and present participle if it's adjective-like. For instance, in "Singing is his pastime", "singing" is being used as the subject of the verb "is", and being a subject is the role of a noun, so this is a gerund. In the sentence "The boys are decorating the room", "decorating" is describing what the boys are doing, and describing nouns is the role of adjectives, so "describing" is a present participle.

Past participles are much more complicated than present participles. They can be marked by a suffix ("ed", "en", or "t"), a vowel change, or a vowel change and a suffix. They may be the same as the past tense, or different. There can be regional differences as to what form is dominant. They usually follow a form of the verb "have" (for instance, in "____ has done her homework", "done" is the past participle of "do"), but that can be dropped or replaced by "was" in the passive voice.

  • thank you so much @acccumulation this was very helpful :)
    – Ribbit12
    Nov 14, 2021 at 5:27

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