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 are clauses that do not have a finite verb, meaning they are not limited by tense and do not contain a subject. They are subordinate clauses that do not express a complete thought and cannot function as a sentence on their own. Non-finite clauses are used to indicate conditions, concession, purposes, reasons, and manners.

Non-finite Clauses: Types

Non-finite clauses come in different types, but they share some common characteristics: they are all made up of verbs, lack a subject, and do not show tense. The different types of non-finite clauses include:

Using To-infinitive in Non-finite Clauses

Using to-infinitives in non-finite clauses is a common way to express purpose, intention, or obligation in English. To-infinitive clauses can function as the subject, object, complement, or modifier in a sentence, depending on their position and the structure of the sentence. 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 be used in non-finite clauses to indicate that someone caused or helped to do something, or to show the manner in which something was done. Here are some examples:

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: present participle and past participle. Participles are usually used to express conditions, concession, manner, or reason. They can be used to modify a noun or pronoun, often indicating a past or present action, or as adverbs, indicating the manner in which an action is performed or the reason why it is performed. Here are some examples:

They passed the hallway talking to each other.

adverbial present participle

Spread everywhere, the virus was still active. →

adjectival past participle

Non-finite Clauses: Characteristics

Non-finite clauses are often subordinate clauses, also known as embedded or dependent clauses. Their tense can be inferred from the tense of the main clause. They can be used in relative clauses when the subject of the main clause and the subordinate clause are the same.

Why Are Non-finite Clauses Subordinate?

Subordinate clauses are clauses that are always dependent, which means they do not have a complete meaning when used alone. Non-finite clauses are subordinate clauses because they cannot stand alone as complete sentences and are dependent on the main clause for their meaning and grammatical function. 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 is often the same as the subject of the main clause, making it easy to identify. However, if the subjects are different, the subject of the non-finite clause can be inferred from the context in which it is used. 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 also '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 inherent tense or time reference when used alone, but their tense is determined by the tense of the main clause with which they are associated. Here are some examples:

They asked if it would be a problem to drink.

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

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

Here, the requirement for the job is to be good at English at the time. So the whole sentence is in present tense.

Non-finite Clauses with Relative Clauses

When the subject of a relative clause is the same as the subject of the main clause, the relative clause can be used 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 serve five different functions in a sentence as indicated in the following list:

  • subject

Drinking too much will affect your brain.

I want to make you the happiest woman ever.

I want you to be my bridesmaid.

The point is to solve it not to break it.

Whistling a tune, the man walked around the park.

None-finite Clauses as Coordinating Clauses

As already mentioned, non-finite clauses are typically subordinate clauses, but when a non-finite is used as the subject of the clause, it acts as a coordinating clause. For example:

Swimming keeps you healthy.

Chewing gum can harm your teeth.


You can use non-finite clauses after catenative verbs. Here are some examples:

I enjoy dancing under the rain.

I love to paint the walls.

I heard you laugh.

Subordinating Conjunctions and None-finite Clauses

Non-finite clauses can be used after some subordinating conjunctions, such as after, before, although, though, if, etc.. 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

Depending on the way non-finite clauses function in a sentence, they can be restrictive or non-restrictive. 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


When a non-finite clause is used as a non-restrictive relative clause, it is typically 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 describe future actions. However, 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

Non-finite verbs can be used as adjectives before or after nouns 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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