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Attempts That Solve Confusion of Finite and Non-Finite Verbs


A finite verb can be said as both lexical verbs and auxiliaries functioning as lexical verbs in the sentences. They indicate tense.

They also play the role of an action that can meaningfully stand alone in the sentences they occur. So, a finite verb shows tenses. For example: ‘Wole has dirtied my shirt’. In the sentence above – ‘has dirtied’ is a finite verb because it conveys the meaning of that sentence. It is a perfect tense/aspect.

Some Rudiments of Finite Verbs

Some essential facts about finite verbs are discussed below.

  1. Certain finite verbs occur as present form, future form and continuous form. For example:

(i)         Toyin always commits herself in that discussion. (Present)

(ii)        I know that those players will rival their supporters. (Future)

(iii)       The joints of the parts of my body are aching me. (Continuous)

The verbs underlined are finite verbs because they convey the meaning of the sentences. They are also present tense, future tense and continuous tense.

  1. Finite verbs occur as past form and participle form. For example:

(i)         The hefty masquerade cowed the little girl. (Past)

(ii)        The armed robbers had stormed our house and stole away my car before I came in. (Participle)

The ‘cowed’ and ‘had stormed’ are finite verbs. They are past tense and participle tense or perfect tense.

  1. If there is agreement between the auxiliary verbs and their subjects in terms of number and person, such verbs become finite verbs. Consider the following examples:

(i)         Wole Soyinka’s The Interpreters  has a number of imagery. (Singular verb)

(ii)        My students have enough textbooks for their exams.

The verbs have and has are auxiliaries in forms but they function as lexical verbs in the sentences above. They stand alone without helping other verbs.

The verbs has and have agree with the subjects they follow. In the first sentence, a singular subject is followed by a singular verb, and in the second sentence, a plural subject is followed by a plural verb.

  1. If the primary auxiliaries stand alone and convey the meaning of the sentences, such auxiliaries are finite verbs. For example:
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(i)         Bolu is a rude girl. (Singular verb)

(ii)        They were brilliant students. (Plural verb)

The verbs is and were are primary auxiliaries in forms but they function as lexical verbs in the sentences above.

The Non-Finite Verb

Meaning of Non-Finite Verbs

A non-finite verb, unlike finite verbs, does not indicate tense. That is, it is not marked for tense, person and number. In non-finite verbs, there is no agreement between subjects and verbs. The verbs here do not convey meanings alone. So, a verb that does not convey independent meaning and does not agree with subjects of the sentences either is not tensed.

Attributes of Non-Finite Verbs

There are various attributes of non-finite verbs.

  1. [To + infinite]

(a)        This is possible at the beginning of a sentence. For example:

(i)         To teach successfully is a little bit difficult.

(ii)        To swim in the river requires training.

(b)        It is also possible within the sentence. For example:

(i)         She wants to hold the steering of her car.

(ii)        I will try to visit that obdurate man.

(c)        It can also occur at the end of a sentence. For example:

(i)         The children there have nothing to eat.

(ii)        I told you to read.

  1. [Bare Infinitive]

Bare infinitive agrees with certain words like make, see, hear, feel, etc. If they are followed by nouns, noun phrase and pronouns, then they should be used with the present verb immediately without the intrusion of to. For example:

(i)         My wife makes me eat too much.

(ii)        He saw Ijeoma play football.

(iii)       I feel my stomach pain me.

Note the following:

(i)         makes + pronoun (me) + infinitive (eat)

(ii)        saw + noun (Ijeoma) + Infinitive (play)

(iii)       feel + noun phrase (my stomach) + infinitive (pain)

It is incorrect to say:

(i)         My wife makes me to eat too much food.

(ii)        He saw Ijeoma to play football.

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(iii)       I feel my stomach to pain me.

  1. [Ing + Infinitive]

Certain words like felt, heard, left and others can also be followed by ‘ing-verbs’ immediately after a noun, a noun phrase or a pronoun. For example:

(i)         I heard my mum singing beautifully.

(ii)        The boy left her holding the baby.

(iii)       I felt my body relieving me gradually.

Note the following:

(i)         felt + my body + relieving

(ii)        left + her + holding

(iii)       heard + my mum + singing

The following rules will help you:

  1. make/saw/feel/hear/leave + pronoun, noun phrase or noun + present tense without ‘to’ before bare infinitive.
  2. heard/left/felt + pronouns, noun phrase or noun + ing + infinitive [ing + infinitive].

The rule (B) is also applicable to rule (A). So, it is also possible to say:

(i)         I heard the children shout.

(ii)        The boy left her hold the baby.

But don’t say:

(i)         I heard the children to shouting.

(ii)        The boy left her to holding the baby.

  1. [En + Participle]

The participle verb begins the sentence and gives a sense of passive form. Consider the following illustrations:

(i)         Praised by the principal, the boy took the prize by pride.

(ii)        Troubled by the baby, she left.

The sentence (i) implies that after the principal had praised the boy, he took the prize by pride. The sentence (ii) also implies that after the baby had troubled her, she left.

  1. [Perfective + En]

This is the happening or the event that has not happened, but it is sure that it will happen. For example:

(i)         She wants to have held the baby.

(ii)        He is ready to have gone there.

The sentence (i) means that though she has not held the baby, she will hold him/her because what she wants is to hold the baby. The sentence (ii) means that though she has not gone to the place, he is ready to go there. Therefore, it is because what he is ready to do is to visit the place.

  1. [Progressive + Ing]
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This is the happening which has never happened but will happen. For example:

  1. Sola wants to be doing the business.
  2. Ruth wants to be holding the baby.

The sentence (i) implies that Sola loves doing the business. The sentence (ii) implies that Ruth likes holding the baby.

  1. [Passive + En]

(i)         The business is needed to be done.

(ii)        The baby is needed to be held.

The sentence (i) means that what is needed to be done is the business. The sentence (ii) means that what is needed to be held is the baby.


  1. Explain lucidly the difference between a finite verb and a non-finite verb.
  2. Trace the rudiments of finite verbs with adequate illustrations.
  3. Apart from examples given in this book, form two sentence examples for each of the following:

(a)        To-infinitive

(b)        En-participle

(c)        Perfective + EN

(d)       Passive + EN

  1. Correct the following sentences:

(a)        Tola makes me to laugh.

(b)        I saw Gbade to play table tennis.

(c)        We can hear our parents to singing.

  1. Construct a sentence that satisfies each of the following rules:

(i)         feel + pronoun + present tense without ‘to’ before infinitive

(ii)        heard + noun or noun phrase + ing + infinitive




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