Non-finite forms of the English verb

November 7th, 20093:03 pm


Non-finite forms of the English verb

From theoretical observations, one may conclude that the verb has pecu­liarities of two types. The peculiarities of the first type are verbal proper, i.e. they convey purely verbal grammatical meanings, meanings that no other part of speech possesses. These peculiarities (or, to be exact, categories) do not depend on syntagmatic relations, that is, they are not predetermined by the form of any other member of the sentence. These categories are Tense, Aspect, Mood and Voice. The second type of verbal categories do depend on properties of other words (namely, properties of the subject). These are the categories of Number and Person. “Finitude”, opposed to “non-finitude”, is the verbal property of being, or not being subject to limitation in respect of the two concord categories of person and number.

Consequently, word-forms that are characterized by the proper verbal categories are called non-finite forms of the verb (also referred to as finites, verbals or verbids, the latter term having been suggested by Otto Jespersen and favoured due to absence of dubious connotations and homonymic cor­relations). Some scientists, however, impart such importance to the syntactic function of the verb as a predicate that they consider it impossible to regard verbids as verbal forms. Their opponents put forward the following counter­arguments in favour of non-finite verbal forms: 1) non-finite forms preserve the meaning of the corresponding finite verbal forms; 2) all non-finite forms may be derived from any verb (with the exception of modal verbs) using one model – specific for each non-finite form; 3) verbids are characterized by the tense and voice paradigms (aspect is characteristic of the Infinitive only), though deficient compared to those of finite verb forms, but formed following the models common both for finite and non-finite verb forms; 4) verbids parallel with finite forms in terms of dependent sentence parts, i.e. they are also modified by adverbs and require the object.

The nomenclature of non-finite forms of the English verb has undergone considerable changes during the evolution of grammatical theory. Classical scientific grammar distinguished between four forms: Participle I, Partici­ple II, Gerund and Infinitive. However, since divergence between Participle I and Gerund is restricted only to their syntactic features, there is a tendency to refer to them using the general term “mg-form”. Meanwhile, it should be emphasized that the terms Participle I and Gerund are not arbitrary: they result from a distinction important in a number of cases. Thus, the Infinitive correlates only with the Gerund and is not comparable with the mg-form in general. Participle II, on the contrary, is to a certain extent parallel to Partici­ple I. It is therefore reasonable to retain these terms, though it is impossible to overlook the morphological identity of Participle I and Gerund.

On the whole, the system of the non-finite forms of the English verb may be grounded on the two criteria and, as a result, may consist either of three or of four items. If the choice rests with the morphological criterion, then the system is represented by the Infinitive, the mg-form and the Partici­ple II. If the research combines the morphological and the syntactic criteria, then there are four non-finite forms – the Infinitive, Participle I, Participle II and the Gerund.

The paradigm of the ing-form consists of four items: Simple and Perfect Active forms, Simple and Perfect Passive form. The paradigm of the Infini­tive is presented, besides those mentioned, by two more forms – Progressive and Perfect Progressive ones. Participle II has only one form.

Paradigm of the English verbids

Form of Verbid Infinitive Ing-form Participle II
Active Passive Active Passive
Simple to buy to be bought buying being bought bought
Perfect to have bought to have been bought having bought having been bought
Progressive to be buying
Perfect Progressive to have been buying

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