Non-finite Clauses

Non-finite clauses are based on to-infinitive and participles. They are actually subordinate clauses. Let us learn all about them.

What Are Non-finite Clauses?

What Are Non-finite Clauses?

Non-finite clauses can complete the meaning of a sentence, but they do not show the tense.

Why Do We Use Non-finite Clauses?

Non-finite clauses are used to indicate conditions, concession, purposes, reasons, and manners. They can be used as the object, subject, noun phrase, or adverbial phrase of a sentence.

We caught him stealing the gold.

She was standing alone scared to death.

Non-finite Clauses: Types

There are different types of non-finite clauses. What they have in common is that they all are made of verbs, they do not have a subject, and they cannot show the tense. Here are the non-finite clauses:

Check out these examples for more clarification:

To open the window you need to stand up first, honey.

We enjoyed watching the film.

Using To-infinitive in Non-finite Clauses

To-infinitives are usually used to express a necessity or purpose to do something. Here are a few examples:

I bought a present for you to apologize. → purpose

I have got work to do. → necessity

Non-finite Verbs and Catenative Verbs

Using Bare Infinitive in Non-finite Clauses

A bare infinitive can also be used to make non-finite clauses to show that someone caused something or to show they helped to do something. To show the manner we can also use the bare infinitive. Here are the examples:

Rather than leave him alone, I saved his life. → manner

They helped clean the house. → coopration

I made him forget the ice cream by buying him a cotton candy. → causation

Using Participles in Non-finite Clauses

Participles have two kinds: one is the present participle and the other is the past participle. Participles are usually used to express conditions, concession, manner, or reason. Here are the examples:

They passed the hallway talking to each other. → present participle

Spread everywhere, the virus was still active. → past participle

Non-finite Clauses: Characteristics

Non-finite clauses are usually subordinate clauses (also called embedded or dependent clauses). You can understand their tense based on the tense of the main clause. You can use them in relative clauses if the subject of the main clause and the subordinate clause are the same. You can use non-finite clauses after subordinators.

Why Non-finite Clauses Are Subordinate Clauses?

Subordinate clauses are clauses that are always dependent, which means they do not have a complete meaning when used alone. Check out the examples:

I wanted to clean the room.

In this example, 'to clean the room' has no logical meaning when used alone.

They forced him to play the game.

Finding the Subject of a Non-finite Clause

The subject of a non-finite clause can be derived from the subject of the main clause because they are usually the same. If not, you can easily find out the subject based on the meaning of the context they are used in. Take a look at some examples:

You need to visit the doctor.

Since the subject of the main clause is the pronoun 'you,' the subject which is omitted from the subordinate clause is 'you.'

He helped take the car out of the parking lot.

Based on the concept of the context and the meaning of the verb 'help,' 'he and other people' cooperated to take the car out of the parking lot.


Non-finite clauses do not have an exact time or tense when they are used alone, but the tense of the non-finite clause is found out based on the tense of the main clause. Here are the examples:

They asked if it would be a problem to drink.

In this example, the whole sentence is in the past tense, however, the clause 'to drink' has no tense.

To qualify for the job, you need to be good at English.

Here, the current needs for the job is to be good at English at the time, if not you will loose it. So the whole sentence is in present tense.

Non-finite Clauses with Relative Clauses

If the subject of the relative clause and the main clause is the same, we can use the relative clause as a non-finite clause. Here are the examples:

The girl crying out loud is my classmate. → non-finite relative clause

The girl who is crying out loud is my classmate. → finite relative clause

Non-finite Clauses: Uses

Non-finite clauses can work as five different parts of a sentence as follows on the list:

Remember, subjects are used at the beginning of the sentence. Direct objects are used after a transitive verb. Subject complements are placed after the linking verbs. Object complements usually come after the direct object of the verb. adverbials are used to modify other adverbs, adjectives, or main verbs. Here are a few examples:

Drinking too much will affect your brain. → subject

I want to make you the happiest woman ever. → direct object

I want you to be my bridesmaid. → object complement

The point is to solve it not to break it. → subject complement

We just went there to talk. → adverbial

None-finite Clauses as Coordinating Clauses

It has been mentioned that non-finite clauses are usually subordinate clauses, but when we use a non-finite as the subject of the clause, then it is a coordinating clause. For example:

Swimming keeps you healthy.

Chewing gum can harm your teeth.

Non-finite Verbs and Catenative Verbs

You can use no-finite clauses after catenative verb. Here are the examples for more clarification:

I enjoy dancing under the rain.

I love to paint the walls.

I heard you laugh.

Subordinating Conjunctions and None-finite Clauses

After some subordinating conjunctions (not all of them), such as after, before, although, though, if, etc. non-finite clauses are used. Here are a few examples:

If realized by the teacher, the students would be put into detention.

After admitting the crime, he was sent to prison.

Restrictive or Non-restrictive Clauses

Based on the way non-finite clauses function in a sentence, they can be restrictive or non-restrictive clauses. Here are a few examples:

The boy sitting on the corner asks a lot of ridiculous questions. → restrictive

She rang the bell scared to death. → non-restrictive


Usually, when a non-finite clause is used as the non-restrictive relative clause it is placed between two commas. Here is an example:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, sent to me last year, was a wonderful book.

To Be + to Do Something

Non-finite clauses can also be used to give orders or to tell what you are going to do. Remember, in this case, they are only used with to-infinitives. Here is the structure:

  • subject + to be + to-infinitive

He is to find a new job; otherwise, I will leave him.

I am to clean up the room.

Non-finite Adjectives

These non-finite verbs can be used as adjectives either before or after the noun to modify them. Here are the non-finite verbs that can be used as adjectives:

  • past participles
  • present participles
  • to-infinitives

Here are the examples:

The crying girl went to her mom.

That was quite a book to read.


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