What are the differences between finite and nonfinite complement clause? Typologically speaking, what are the criteria I could use to distinguish one from the other two?

While I am not really asking for an analysis of a particular example (rather for criteria in general), here's an example to fuel discussion:

1sg-know Joao-GEN mandioca-ACC eat-NMZ-3POSS 'I know (that) Joao eats mandioca' (lit. 'I know of Joao's mandioca eating.')

  • I'm not familiar with the terms full-finite and partially-finite. Which model of syntax/grammar are you using? – curiousdannii Jul 7 '14 at 9:44
  • OK, let's just stick with finite and nonfinite. – Teusz Jul 7 '14 at 10:08
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    For starts, long before we start assigning names to verbal forms, what language is the example in? – jlawler Jul 7 '14 at 19:40
  • Undescribed agglutinative Amazonian isolate. – Teusz Jul 7 '14 at 20:30
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    Finite clauses have subjects; non-finite clauses do not. (I owe this way of distinguishing the two to Stan Starosta.) – Greg Lee Feb 15 '17 at 6:08

Though of course more language-specific information is needed, general criteria do exist. The finiteness of a clause is basically how non-nominalised it is (Givón, 2001), and, as is well known, the 'nouniness' of a constituent is gradient rather than absolute (Ross, 1973). Thus, the finiteness of the clause can be described as how few NP-like features it has.

Givón (2001) lists the following criteria. Clauses which satisfy a lot of these are less finite (closer to the prototypical NP), whereas clauses satisfying most of these are the most finite:

a. The verb becomes a head noun
b. The verb takes nominalising morphology
c. Tense-aspect-mood distinctions are lost
d. Pronominal agreement is lost
e. Either the subject or the object acquires nominative case
f. Determiners are added
g. Adverbs become adjectives


Givón, T. (2001). Syntax: an introduction (Vol. 2). John Benjamins Publishing.

Ross, John R. (1973), 'Nouniness', in O. Fujimura (ed.), Three Dimensions of Linguistic Theory (Tokyo: TEC Company, Ltd.), 137-258.

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  • @OP, hope you don't mind my late answer. You've probably figured it out long before :P – WavesWashSands Feb 14 '17 at 17:14

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