Non-finite subordinate clauses = clauses with no finite verb


Finite and non-finite verb phrases

Finite: present tense and past tense verb forms + all combinations which involve a present or past tense verb form, or a modal. All modals are finite.


has/have/had                          I have enough money. I had no money.

has/have been / had been       She has/had been to India.

has/had been doing                She has been working hard.

will/would have been doing   She will/would have been working hard.


Non-finite: infinitive (with or without to), -ing participle, past participle.

(to) write         You must remember to write home.

writing                        She has some odd talents, and writing obituaries is one of them.

written                        The page contained only two words, written in green ink.

having written / to be writing / being done / having been done

                        Having written two whole papers I felt like a saint.

                        Having been praised by the teacher, I became king of the hill.

Types of non-finite subclauses

infinitive: I want you to understand this.

-ing-participle: I suggested meeting her for a coffee.

past participle: it was Bach's only work written for five instruments.

verbless clause: Whatever their faults, they are not hypocrites.

Non-finite subordinate clauses in text

If you've forgotten how good a glass of whole milk tastes, or how juicy a steak can be, you'll be pleased to know that a little of what you fancy officially does you good.

To declare that fat is not harmful for you, in this obsessive low-fat, no-fat age, is surely heresy. So, when I tuned in to Rick Stein's new primetime television series, Food Heroes, it was a little surprising to see him frying up a fatty pork chop and telling viewers, don't be scared of fat, it tastes good and it's very good for you.

And there was more. He said that people have been telling us to cut off the fat and discard it for too long, that there's no need, that fat is healthy. Was Stein, primarily known as a fish expert, confusing animal fat with fish oils? Absolutely not. You see, over the past five years, the "low fat equals healthy diet" advice has started to seem less convincing.

Syntactic functions of non-finite subclauses

I  adjectival

1.      The fireman battled an inferno fuelled by toxic chemicals. (postmodifier)

2.      The decision to show the car was taken last November. (postmodifier)

3.      I was given a receipt showing the agent's ATOL number. (postmodifier)

4.      Harry came in, jaded and tired, and asked for a cup of tea. (free predicative)


II adverbial

5.      Though fearful of road conditions, they decided to go by car. (adjunct)

6.      Reflecting on my past, I wondered if I had made the right choices. (adjunct)

7.      To make matters worse, the demands from middle and upper classes could only be supplied through importation of sophisticated goods. (disjunct)

8.      They are keen to stress shopping as a family activity. (compl. of adjective)


III nominal

9.      Formulating such laws is by no means an easy task. (subject)

10.  It is good to see those numbers again. (subject)

11.  The problem is finding a company willing to do it.  (subject predicative)

12.  She had always longed to go abroad. (direct object)

13.  They were unhappy about playing two games in three days. (compl. of prep.)

Finite vs. non-finite clauses

14.  I heard her play the piano.                                      I heard her playing the piano.

15.  He regretted having lied to her.                              He regretted that he had lied to her.

16.  The girl playing that piano must be tone deaf.

The girl who is/was playing that piano must be tone deaf.

The girl who plays/played that piano must be tone deaf.

17.  Walking along the lake before breakfast, Mr. Podger had seen the sunrise.

When/Because he (had) walked … / While he was walking …

18.  Having made the round, he walked out.

When/After/Because he had made the round, he walked out.

Infinitive clauses

19.  Mr Logan called for action to be taken to inform the public of the dangers.

20.  To inquire about a licence to reproduce material, visit our website.

21.  He was glad to be alive.

22.  A management college is turning to Shakespeare for lessons on how to survive in business.

23.  To be honest, I'm getting pretty tired of talking about Jack.


Understood/expressed Subject:

24.  I would prefer to leave immediately.

25.  I would prefer Jack/him to leave immediately.

26.  For Jack/him to leave immediately would be preferable.

27.  A spring tide caused the sea to come in much faster than usual.

Past participle clauses

Adjectival function (reduced relative clauses – passive)

28.  They criticized the schools designed to deal with disruptive pupils. (restrictive)

29.  On August 3, two massive headlands reared out of the mists – great gateways never before seen by Europeans. (restrictive)

30.  Mustard cream, used as alternate dip for franks and pineapple tidbits, tastes best when served at room temperature. (non-restrictive)

31.  One of Britain's rarest bugs, never before seen in Scotland, has been found in an ancient woodland in Fife.  (non-restrictive)


Adverbial function

32.  (When) asked about his opinion, he complained about the poor service.

33.  Seen from the side, the dog's forehead is sharply set off from the bridge of the nose.


-ing participle clauses

nominal function

34.  Julius Cesar is about learning to cope with the fallout of betrayal.

35.  For Australians, throwing a prawn on the barbecue will never be the same.

36.  There is no mistaking the monster prawn in the fish market.


adjectival function (reduced relative clauses – active)

37.  Susan Hackmann, age 14, from Baltimore, showing a Dachshund, was 3rd.

38.  I asked an old guy running a fishing station if the boat was Moore's.


adverbial function

39.  (While) running across the field I saw a beautiful horse.  (adjunct)

40.  Generally speaking, that is not the attitude of the Tories. (disjunct)


-ing co-ordination

41.  He returned and closed the front door, making sure it was unlocked.

42.  We play a fun game, trying to remember the day’s coaching tips.

43.  Most people have left early to avoid the rush hour, meaning there are only 18 people taking part in the end-of-weekend mixed doubles tournament.

Verbless clauses

44.  While new to biology, the species has been increasingly appearing on fish stalls in Sydney.

45.  Once the imperial capital of the medieval Bundela dynasty Orchha is the perfect backdrop for a film about gods and the past.

Infinitive or -ing participle?

After preposition: – always –ing

46.  I'm tired of being on the losing side.

47.  It’s like focusing a camera.


Subject position: often –ing

48.  Being a good and persuasive talker is a must for sales work.

49.  Running a large company has become far more complex.

50.  It'll be nice having a picnic together, just the two of us.


Subject in extraposition: often infinitive

51.  It is important to read the label to know exactly what the product is.

52.  It is rare in British industry for a designer to become the head of such a large business.

53.  It is more demanding today being a top executive than it used to be.


The verb selects the type of non-finite subclause (see EGTU pp 369-370)

54.  Will they mind/dislike/enjoy/fancy using it? (verbs of liking/disliking)

55.  I’ve just finished/started reading that book. (aspectual catenatives)

56.  She had agreed/promised/offered to let us use her flat. (speech act)

57.  England failed/managed/wanted to win a place in the finals. (success/failure)

58.  Peter decided/expected/intended/wanted to write to her. (intention/decision)

59.  I asked/advised/expected/forced/ told her to explain. (influence/instruction)

Difference in meaning between -ing and infinitive clauses

60.  Bridget saw him leave through the side door.

61.  Bridget saw him leaving through the side door.


62.  He has stopped to beat his dog.

63.  He has stopped beating his dog.


64.  I remembered to read about you in the papers.

65.  I remembered reading about you in the papers.


66.  We tried to make the courses seem more attractive. (…but didn’t succeed)

67.  We tried making the courses seem more attractive. (…but it didn’t help.)


Little/no difference in meaning

68.  I hate doing the dishes / I hate to do the dishes.

69.  It started raining / It started to rain.

The subject of participle clauses (understood or expressed)

clauses with nominal function

70.  Can you imagine living in a big city?

71.  Can you imagine Jack(’s) (him/his) living in a big city?


clauses with adjectival function

72.  The dinghy carrying their daughter gathered speed.

73.  He reached out for the bath towel hanging on the towel rack over the tub.

74.  They could see a body on the bed covered by a blanket.


clauses with adverbial function, free predicatives and –ing co-ordination

75.  Described only last year, this new species is distinguished by its flowers.

76.  Turning, the girl saw David standing there, his arms hanging long and resigned.

77.  Strictly speaking the clerk belongs neither to the middle class nor to the working class. (disjunct – understood subject = speaker)


Unattached participle clauses

78.  * Being blind, a dog guided her across the street.

Because/since she was blind, a dog guided her across the street.

Being blind, she was guided across the street by a dog.

79.  * When absent through illness, the company pays you your full salary for six months.

            When you are absent through illness...

            When absent through illness you will be paid your full salary for six months (by the company).


Click  here for usage notes on unattached participles, also called 'dangling modifiers'

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