Tuesday, April 25, 2017

ENGL 3663 Nonfinite Phrases

Nonfinite Phrases:

Nonfinite phrases are like dependent clauses in that they can act as nouns, adjectives, and adverbs. They are unlike dependent clauses in that they contain nonfinite verb forms rather than finite verbs.

You’ll remember that finite verbs are verbs that have tense. Nonfinite verbs, therefore, are verbs without tense – verbs that are in the infinite form, or the gerund/participial form.

Infinitive form: to walk, to sing, to be eaten
Gerund/participial form: walking, singing, eating, having been eaten

The infinitive is a non-finite verbal. It can function as a noun, as an adjective, or as an adverb.

Because it derives from a verb, it can form phrases which take objects or complements, and have subjects. All of these can be modified.

                    Ivy hoped to catch the earliest bus.
                   That’s the book to read for next week.
                   We went to the library to study for the exam.
                   James wanted me to learn Japanese with him.

Notice that in each of these examples we have a transformed sentence that has been turned into the infinitive phrase. You can reconstruct this sentence (and probably should) in order to understand what is happening grammatically in the infinite phrase.

                Ivy hoped to catch the earliest bus.
                   Ivy hoped (something)
                   (Ivy catches the earliest bus)

That’s the book to read for next week.
That’s the (X) book.
(Someone reads the book for next week)

We went to the library to study for the exam.
We went to the library (for some reason)
(We study for the exam)

James wanted me to learn Japanese with him.    
James wanted (something)
(I learn Japanese with him.)   

Examples: See if you can identify how these infinitives are functioning.
                Our professor gave us two books to read by Tuesday.
                It’s far too cold to swim in that creek.
                We need to finish the job today.
We bought a ticket to ride the Ferris wheel.
                Elvis is always happy to bake pies.
                Everett wanted Ivy to teach the self-defense class.

Notice in this last sentence that if we replace Ivy with a pronoun that pronoun will be her, not she.  This is because the subject of an infinitive phrase is always in the accusative case.  (You can see the same pattern in the sentence about James learning Japanese.)

What this means is that if we take the transformed sentences – Ivy teaches the self-defense class, I learn Japanese with him – their subjects are Ivy, or I. 

You might expect that the subject of these transformed sentences, when we embed them as subjects of the infinitive phrases, would then also be be in the subject case.  But this turns out not to be so.  Subjects of infinitive phrases are, in fact, always in the object, or accusative, case.

                Everett wanted her to teach the class.
                   The cat likes me to cut her nails.
                   For Sarah to finish the race requires a miracle.
                   For her to finish the race required a miracle.

This last sentence (For Sarah to finish the race…) is a special kind of construction. An infinitive phrase may often be marked with a “for” in this fashion – it’s a fossil idiom.

We don’t plan for students to graduate in three years.

Infinitives can appear in other places:
                The reason to study algebra is not clear to everyone.

                To state it clearly, Ivy will not be here.

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