What do "finite" and "non-finite" mean in linguistics? I know that they occur in other languages and in some cases not only in verbs.

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    I have never encountered the term finite used in grammar for anything but verb inflection. Never nouns, and always morphological inflection. In English grammar there is a big distinction between finite verbs (present and past tense forms) and non-finite verbs (participles, gerunds, and infinitives). But that's just English grammar.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 26, 2021 at 21:18
  • @jlawler There are definitely grammars of English, well known ones, for example CaGEL (Huddleston & Pullum, 2002), or Oxford Modern English Grammar which consider finiteness and non-finiteness properties of clauses rather than (necessarily) verbs. One reason for this is the presumption that any fully and well-formed sentence must be a finite clause, whereas the verb-forms therein may appear in both finite and non-finite clauses. So, for example, those grammars recognise a single plain form of the verb appearing in both imperatives and subjunctives (finite), and also 'bare infinitives'. Commented May 27, 2021 at 1:22
  • @jlawler Where the latter are definitely non-finite. Commented May 27, 2021 at 1:23
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    OK, I'd go with that; like transitivity, a clausal property. Just not finite nouns.
    – jlawler
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 14:15
  • While "finite" isn't used for nouns, it's possible you're getting confused by "definite" which is.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented May 29, 2021 at 22:32

1 Answer 1


In traditional grammar a finite form of a verb is a fully specified verb form according to all verbal categories relevant to the specific language, like voice, aspect, mood, tense, person, or number.

Non-finite verb forms are underspecified in this respect, leaving out some of the categories required for a finite verb form (typically tense, person and number). Examples of non-finite verb form include infinitives, gerunds, participles, or the Latin gerundive. Languages vary in the number of non-finite verb forms they have, and there are languages not having them at all.

  • I never knew that. What is a language that has no non-finite forms? Commented May 26, 2021 at 17:10
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    The first paragraph seems a little too strict here – a finite form is specified according to those categories that exist in the language out of voice, aspect, etc. There are many languages whose finite forms do not specify aspect or person, for example. @Araucaria From memory, I don’t think Greenlandic (and hence presumably also other Inuit languages) has non-finite verb forms. It has a ‘participial’ form, but that’s actually a finite form used in subordination. Commented May 26, 2021 at 17:41
  • @JanusBahsJacquet Should I take that to mean that Greenlandic has verb forms that are used in both finite and non-finite clauses (like, arguably, some English verb forms)? Commented May 27, 2021 at 1:34
  • @Araucaria-hehim No, I think rather it has no non-finite clauses, only finite ones. But my days of studying Greenlandic are fifteen years behind me, so I may be misremembering something. Commented May 27, 2021 at 7:35
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    @Araucaria Back home now, I just checked in Michael Fortescue’s grammar of West Greenlandic, which proves me wrong: the nominalising suffix -niq converts a finite verbal clause of any complexity to a noun phrase to be assigned case, possession, etc., and used in subject/object/other-nominal position. In doing so, the marking of mood, person and number is removed from the verbal form, so Greenlandic does have one non-finite form, though as far as I can tell, just the one. Commented May 27, 2021 at 13:59

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