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The term mood may be looked upon as a catch-all for a group of diverse but interrelated linguistic phenomena with morphosyntactic, syntactic, semantic,  phonological and pragmatic characteristics, such as indicative vs subjunctive sentence types (and factual information vs content which is not presented as being real, referring to hypothetical or not (yet) realised actions or states of affairs, generally described as irrealis), the distinctive characteristics of  declarative, interrogative and directive sentences, and the expression of wishes, suggestions, commands/prohibitions and the like.

While these phenomena are to a large extent formally related by the morphologically complex verb forms of synthetic languages such as Gothic or Latin, their description in the case of largely deflected languages such as Dutch and English, and to a greater extent Afrikaans, should be described rather from a functional point of view, e.g. how commands, questions or the irrealis are expressed in the language in question.

In the case of Afrikaans, with its dearth of verbal inflection, it will be noticed that specific constructions and the use of modal verbs play an important part in upholding functional distinctions, though inflection remains an important feature in view of the key role of the preterite forms of modal verbs, as the following examples will show.

Imperative sentences generally begin with a verb; a subject or an adverb, if present, follows the verb - cf. the adverb gou 'quickly' in (1).

Example 1

Neem gou die pakkie weg!
take.IMP quickly.ADV the parcel away
Please deliver the parcel quickly!

Initial verb doubling is possible in imperative sentences:

Example 2

Laat staan die rotsklimmery tog nou!
let.IMP stand.INF the rock-climbing PART now
Do stop the rock climbing now!

Verb-final imperatives are also used, as in this example with weesbe:

Example 3

Versígtig wees, nè!
careful  be not-so.PART
Be careful, OK?

Imperatives with negative polarity, such as prohibitions, begin with the modal verb moetmust + NEG:

Example 4

Moenie water by die wyn gooi nie!
must-not water with the wine pour not
Don't add water to the wine!

Wishes may also be expressed by means of the modal verb moetmust.

Example 5

Julle moet mooi bly!
you.PL must good remain
Take care!

A conditional phrase may assume the structure of an imperative:

Example 6

Bring jou kant en jy kry jou geld.
bring.IMP your side and you.SG get your money
Do your bit and you'll get your money.

Clause-initial imperatives may optionally be followed by a second-person pronoun or form of address as subject, as in (7).

Example 7

Bring jy/ julle/ u/ meneer die boeke!
bring.IMP you.SG/ you.PL/ you.FORMAL/Sir the books
You bring the books (Sir)!

A verbal string consisting of a modal preterite, such as moesmust.PRET, and an infinitive is unmarked in respect to actuality and may therefore express a realis or an irrealis.

Example 8

Sy moes gister werk, maar sy het nie / en sy het.
she must.PRET yesterday work.INF but she have not / and she have
She had to work yesterday, but she didn’t / and she did.

The irrealis is typically expressed by a modal preterite, past participle and auxiliary.

Example 9

Ek sou die wedstryd kon gewen het as ek wou.
I will.PRET the game can.PRET PST.PTCP-win have.AUX if I want.to.PRET
I would have been able to win the game if I wanted to.

Actuality (i.e. the realis) may be made explicit though a special construction with a verbal string consisting of the auxiliary hethave, a modal preterite such as moes'must.PRET ' (though occasionally with a present tense modal) and an infinitive, e.g.

Example 10

Sy het 'n nuwe rekenaar moes koop.
[(SBJ) sy] [(V.aux) het] [(OBJ) 'n nuwe rekenaar] [(AUX.mod.pret) moes] [(V.inf) koop]
she have.AUX a new computer must.PRET buy.INF
She had to buy a new computer.

The preterite - where extant in Afrikaans - is closely associated with the expression of conditionality, cf.the role of waswas, were in (11).

Example 11

As Jan nou tuis was, (dan) was sy probleme iets van die verlede.
if.COMP Jan now at-home be.PRET-SBJV (then) be.PRET-SBJV his problems something of the past
If Jan had been at home now, his problems would have been a thing of the past.

Modal preterites may also assume pragmatic functions, such as the expression of politeness, e.g.

Example 12

Sou jy dalk 'n klein bydrae kon gee?
will.PRET you perhaps a small contribution can.PRET give
Would you perhaps be able to give a small contribution?

The phenomena referred to here, are discussed in sections on the indicative, imperative and subjunctive.

[+] Indicative

The indicative is the “unmarked” mood in the sense that it refers to the verb forms that are typically used in the formation of declarative clauses and questions, which relate to the exchange of information between speaker and addressee. The indicative marks that the clause refers to a state of affairs that is claimed to be actual within the domain of discourse (domain D). In contrast, the subjunctive relates to the expression of non-actuality or the irrealis. When the speaker utters an example such as (13a), he is stating that the proposition STREEL (Jan, the cat) is true in domain D. Similarly, by uttering the question in (13b), the speaker expresses his belief that there is an ongoing cat-stroking event, but that he wants to know who the agent of the event is: ?STROKE (x, the cat). By uttering the question in (13c), the speaker is soliciting information about the truth of the proposition STROKE (Jan, the cat) in domain D.

Example 13

a. Jan streel die kat.
Jan stroke the cat
Jan is stroking the cat.
b. Wie streel die kat?
who stroke the cat
Who is stroking the cat?
c. Streel Jan die kat?
stroke Jan the cat
Is Jan stroking the cat?

The various functions of indicative statements are described in the section on inflection, under verbal base.

[+] Imperative

Prototypical imperative constructions exhibit the following properties:

  • Meaning: Imperatives are directive in the sense that they are used to move the addressee to bring about a specific state of affairs. Morphology: The base form of the verb is used as imperative with positive polarity – an unstressed infinitive in the case of weesbe, though seldom in the case of hethave.  (To a certain extent, the modal verb moetmust has undergone grammaticalisation in that it is used along with the main verb when negative polarity is expressed, as in moeniemust not, - see examples (14d), (14e) and (14f). )
  • Syntax: A single imperative verb occupies the first position of the sentence; in the case of verb doubling both verbs occupy the first position; in the case of prohibitions, moenie or moet ... (nie) occupies the first position; an overt subject consisting of a second person pronoun or form of address optionally follows the initial verb(s).
  • Phonology: In sentences with positive polarity – if main sentence stress is on a verb - the main verb (the last verb in the case of doubling) receives main stress; in those with negative polarity, moenie may receive main stress (though not moet if a subject follows). In verb doubling, main stress on the first verb, for example blyremain' in (14c), may emphasize durative aspect where 'working on the problem' is presupposed.

Example 14

a. Kóm nou hier!
come now here
Come here now!
b. Kom háál die boek!
come fetch the book
Come and fetch the book!
c. Blywerk aan die probleem.
remain work on the problem
Keep working on the problem.
d. Wees tevréde met jou lot.
be satisfied with your fate
Resign yourself to your fate!
e. Móénie dit doen nie!
must-not this do not
Don’t do that!
f. Moenie daaraan ráák nie!
must-not there-on touch not
Don’t touch it!
g. Moet júlle dit nie ook doen nie!
 must you.PL it not also do not
Don’t you also do it!

A verb-final imperative is also possible; all verbs are in the base form, but have and weesbe have infinitive marking (once again unstressed):

Example 15

a. Die papiere môre bríng, hoor!
the papers tomorrow bring hear
Bring the papers tomorrow, do you hear?
b. Genóég padkos , nè!
enough road-food have not.so
Bring enough provisions, OK?
c. Versígtig wees, nè!
careful  be not-so
Be careful, OK?

In other sections, more is said about the meaning, morphology, syntax and phonology of the imperative.

The imperative may (1) have directive meaning, (2) express a wish or (3) be used in generic statements.

Directive sentences aim at persuading the addressee to bring about or maintain a specific state of affairs. They function as commands (16a), requests (16b), pieces of advice (16c), encouragements (16d), etc., e.g.

Example 16

a. Sit!
Sit down!
b. Gee asseblief die sout aan!
give please the salt on
Please pass the salt!
c. Besoek van tyd tot tyd jou huisdokter!
visit from time to time your house-doctor
Visit your GP from time to time!
d. Neem gerus 'n koekie!
take by-all-means a biscuit
Do have a biscuit!

The imperative is not restricted to specific aspectual classes. Even states denoted by verbs like weet/kento know, for example, can be used as imperatives provided that the addressee is able to control the state of affairs denoted by the verb in question. The aspectual types are states (17a), activities (17b), achievements (17c) and accomplishments (17d), e.g.

Example 17

a. Ken jouself!
know yourself
Know yourself!
b. Sing dit weer, asseblief!
sing it again please
Please sing it again!
c. Vertrek betyds!
leave timely
Leave in time!
d. Vang die dief!
catch the thief
Catch the thief!

Imperatives are sometimes also possible if the addressee is not able to control the event denoted by the verb, in which case the construction typically receives a wish or a curse reading, e.g.

Example 18

a. Slaap lekker!
sleep well
Sleep well!
b. Gaan jou goed!
go you.SG well
Go well!
c. Gaan blaas doppies!
go blow caps
Go jump in the lake!
d. Loop na die duiwel!
walk to the devil
Go to hell!

All cases discussed so far can readily be seen as directive in an extended sense of the word. One may, however, distinguish non-directive uses of the imperative, in which the more conspicuous semantic aspect of these constructions is conditional: if the addressee performs the action denoted by the imperative verb, the event mentioned in the second conjunct will take place.

Example 19

a. Kom hier en ek gee jou 'n lekker.
come here and I give you a sweet
If you come here I’ll give you a sweet.
b. Kom hier en ek gee jou 'n pak slae.
kom here and I give you a pack-of beatings
If you come here I’ll give you a hiding!

In the following structurally similar examples the directive interpretation has completely disappeared. In fact, the implied subject no longer refers to the addressee, but is interpreted generically; we are dealing with more widely applicable generalisations.

Example 20

a. Weerspreek sy menings en hy is dadelik kwaad vir jou.
contradict his opinions and he is immediately angry with you
If you contradict his opinions he is angry with you straight away.
b. Hang die wasgoed buite en die reën is op pad.
hang the washing outside and the rain is on way
If you hang the washing outside the rain will be on its way.

In fact, it is even possible to use imperatives in conditional constructions that are unacceptable in isolation; although the first sentence below is infelicitous on an imperative reading – given that, under normal circumstances, the subject is not able to control the property denoted by the predicate om blonde hare te hêhaving blond hair – it can be used as the antecedent (“if-part”) of the conditional construction in the next sentence:

Example 21

a. *Hê blonde hare!
have blond hair
b. ? Hê blonde hare en die mense dink jy is dom.
have blonde hair and the people think you are stupid
If you have blonde hair people will think you are stupid

Non-directive imperatives can furthermore be used to invite the addressee to draw his/her own conclusions. Such examples may also be conditional in nature: the addressee is supposed to construe the imperative as the antecedent of an implicit material implication and to figure out the consequence (“then-part”) for him-/herself:

Example 22

a. Probeer nou net om twee nagte na mekaar wakker te bly.
try now only  two nights after each-other awake to stay
Just try to stay awake for two nights in a row.
b. Verloor maar albei ouers as jy nog net tien jaar oud is.
lose but both parents if you only just ten year old be
See how it is to lose both parents if you are only ten years old.

In the conditional constructions discussed so far the imperative functions as the antecedent of the implied material implication, but it can also function as the consequent:

Example 23

a. As sy met die verkeerde voet uit die bed klim, bly (dan) uit haar pad uit.
if she with the wrong foot out the bed out get stay then out her way out
If she gets out of bed on the wrong side, stay out of her way.
b. As hy nie van jou hou nie, vat maar jou goed en trek.
if  he not of you like not take then your things and move
If he doesn’t like you, take your things and leave.

In this subsection the formal characteristics of a number of constructions with imperative or imperative-like meanings are discussed. Morphologically, the imperative is always the verbal base except in the case of ‘have’ and ‘be’, when the infinitival forms and wees are used.

The most common imperative is the clause-initial type. In the case of verb doubling – which may be preferable with imperatives – both verbs occur clause-initially without insertions (24c, 24e). (Note that have and weesbe do not enter into doubling.) Verbal particles either follow the initial verb(s) or occur clause-finally (24g, 24h). When the verbs are separated, as in (24d), the lexical sense of the first is foremost; when doubled, as in (24e), the aspectual function of the first is emphasized. When verb and particle are conjoined, as in (24g), they may express a combined sense or new meaning different from that of the verb as such; in (24h) wegaway is no more than a directional adverb.

Example 24

a. Gooi die bal!
throw the ball
Throw the ball!
b. Wees vroeg daar!
be early there
Be there early!
c. Probeer gooi die bal!
try throw the ball
Try and throw the ball!
d. Probeer die bal gooi!
try the ball throw
Try and throw the ball!
e. Bly gooi die bal!
keep the ball throw
Keep throwing the ball!
f. ?Bly die bal gooi!
keep the ball throw
Keep throwing the ball!
g. Gooi weg die bal!
throw away the ball
Discard the ball!
h. Gooi die bal wegvan jou!
throw the ball away from you
Throw the ball away from you!

Imperatives with initial have are considered rare (“seldsaam”) by Van Schoor (1983:142), cf.:

Example 25

? tog geduld met hom!
have ADV patience with him
Do have patience with him!

In occupying the first position in their sentence, verb-initial imperatives differ markedly from indicative verbs in declarative clauses, which normally are preceded by some constituent, cf. the contrast between (26a) and (26b). (Note that in the case of verb-final imperatives, as in (34), this restriction does not hold.)

Example 26

a. Daardie boek gee ek môre terug.
that book give I tomorrow back
That book I’ll return tomorrow.
b. *Daardie boek gee dadelik terug!
that book give immediately back
To mean: Return that book immediately!

Imperative clauses are always main clauses and can only be embedded as direct speech, cf. (27a) and (27b); indirect imperatives may, however, be formulated by means of infinitival complements, as in (27c).

Example 27

a. Jan sê: “Sit daardie boek neer!”
Jan say  put that  book down
Jan says, “Put down that book!
b. *Jan sê dat daardie boek neersit.
Jan say that that book down-put
Jan says that you should put down that book.
c. Jan sê vir Piet om daardie boek neer te sit.
Jan say to Piet COMP that book down to put
Jan tells Piet to put down that book.

The examples in (28) show that Afrikaans freely allows negative imperatives with all event types. Telic cases like (28c) and (28d) can sometimes be construed as warnings, but more a directive interpretation is possible as well, cf. (28e):

Example 28

a. Moenie bang wees nie!
must=not afraid be not
Don’t fear!
b. Moenie sanik nie!
must=not moan not
Don’t moan!
c. Moenie val nie!
must=not fall not
Don’t fall!
d. Moenie die vaas breek nie!
must=not the vase break not
Don’t break the vase!
e. Moet liewers nie daardie boek lees nie!
must rather not that book read not
Best not to read that book!

Since the verb is in initial position, the subject is expected to follow it. The examples above have already shown that this expectation is not borne out and that the subject is normally suppressed. This does not imply, however, that it is also syntactically absent. That subjects are syntactically present is strongly suggested by the fact that it is possible to use anaphors such as jou(self)/u(self)yourself and mekaareach other, which normally must be bound by an antecedent in the same clause - particularly when an obligatorily reflexive verb such as versetresist is used, as in (29a). The form of the anaphors also shows that we are dealing with an empty subject that is marked for second person but underspecified for number and the politeness feature.

Example 29

a. Help mekaar!
help one-another
Help one another!
a. Verset jou teen die indringers!
resist you.SG against the intruders
Resist the intruders!
a.' Verset julle teen die indringers!
resist you.PL against the intruders
Resist the intruders!
a.'' Verset u teen die indringers!
resist you.FORMAL against the intruders
Resist the intruders!
b. Kyk na jouself!
look at yourself.SG
Look after yourself!
b.' Kyk na julleself!
look at yourselves.PL
Look after yourselves!
b.'' Kyk na uself!
look at yourself/-selves
Look after yourself/-selves!

The examples in (30) show that the pronouns jy, julle and u can sometimes be used in combination with verb-initial imperatives, in which case they function as vocatives rather than as subjects. This is clear from the fact that at least the primeless examples are unacceptable without an intonation break, that the pronouns can occur in the right periphery of the clause, and that the pronouns can all readily be replaced by a proper noun or an epithet, e.g. Kom nou hier, Jan/idioot!Come here, Jan/idiot!.

Example 30

a. Jy (daar), kom nou hier!
you.SG there come now here
You there, come here now!
a.' Kom nou hier, jy (daar)!
come now here you.SG there
Come here now, you there!
b. Julle (daar), kom nou hier! 
you.PL there come now here
You there, come here now!
b.' Kom nou hier, julle (daar)!
come now here you.PL there
Come here now, you there!
c. U (daar), kom nou hier!
you.FORMAL there come now here 
You there, come here now!
c.' Kom nou hier, u (daar!)
come now here you.FORMAL there
Come here now, you there!

Subjectless verb-initial imperatives can also be used to express general rules. This means that the implied subject can also be interpreted like the non-referential second person pronoun in statements such as (31a). Under this interpretation the use of a vocative of course leads to a degraded result.

Example 31

a. Jy moet elke dag minstens 'n halfuur beweeg.
you must every day at-least a half-hour move
You should move for at least half an hour every day.
b. Beweeg elke dag minstens 'n halfuur (*jy daar)
Move every day at-least a half-hour you there
Move at least half an hour every day (*you there).

Clause-initial imperatives may optionally be followed by a second-person pronoun or form of address as subject, cf. (32).

Example 32

a. Bring jy/ julle/ u/ meneer die boeke!
bring you.SG/ you.PL/ you.FORMAL/Sir the books
You bring the books (Sir)!
b. Bly sing jy/ julle/ u/ meneer die refrein!
remain  sing  you.SG/ you.PL/ you.FORMAL/Sir the chorus
Do keep singing the chorus (Sir!)
c. Moet jy/ julle/ u/ meneer nie die refrein sing nie!
must you.SG/ you.PL/ you.FORMAL/Sir not the chorus sing not
Don't (you) sing the chorus (Sir)!
d. Wees jy/ julle/ u/ meneer asseblief geduldig!
be you.SG/ you.PL/ you.FORMAL/ Sir please patient
Will you please be patient (Sir)!

In the case of negative polarity, moet ... nie  imperatives are acceptable as long as the addressee is able to control the event, cf. (33).

Example 33

a. Moet julle maar nie vrees nie!
must you only not fear not
You shouldn’t fear!
b. Moet julle maar nie sanik nie!
must you only not moan not
You shouldn’t moan!
c. Moet julle maar nie val nie!
must you only not fall not
You mustn’t fall!
d. Moet julle maar nie die pot breek nie!
must you only not the pot break not
You mustn’t break the pot!

Afrikaans makes restricted use of imperatives with the verbal base in clause-final position, and wees  or in the case of the copula ‘be’ or main verb ‘have’, respectively, cf. (34). Separable verbs occur in their clause-final form, viz. with the prepositional particle preceding the verb, as in (34b). Clause-final imperatives are excluded in the case of imperatives with negative polarity (prohibitions, etc.) as these require the clause-initial modal verb moenie or moet ... niemust not. Acceptability is improved by the addition of particles expressing encouragement.  According to Haeseryn et al. (1997) imperatives of this kind (i.e. infinitival imperatives in the case of Dutch) are especially used to express instructions (cf. (34b) and (34c) below) that are not directed towards a specific person, e.g. in directions for use or prohibitions. Imperatives of this kind are often experienced as more polite than clause-initial imperatives, and may also express wishes (cf. (34a)) or exhortations (cf. (34d) and (34e)).

Example 34

a. Lekker slaap/ werk/ tuin natgooi!
well  sleep/ work/ garden water
Sleep well! / Enjoy the work! / Enjoy watering the garden!
b. Die prop uittrek, nè!
the wall-plug out-pull  not-so
See that you remove the wall plug!
c. Die prop uit die muur trek, hoor!
the plug out-of the wall pull hear
See that you remove the plug from the wall!
d. Soet/sterk wees, hoor!
good/ strong be hear
Be good! / Be strong!
e. Geduld , nè!
patience have not-so
Do have patience!

A second person pronoun or form of address with subject relationship to the sentence may be affixed, e.g.

Example 35

a. Lekker werk, julle/ jy/ Piet!
well  work  you.PL/ you.SG/ Piet
Enjoy your work, guys /Piet
b. Soet wees, julle/ jy/ Sannie!
good be  you.Pl/ you.SG/ Sannie
Be good, guys/ Sannie!

Wishes are often expressed in statement form, employing the modal verb moetmust, as in (36). Unlike in the case of moet ... nie/ moenie prohibitions, an overt subject is obligatory. As we are dealing with wishes in statement form, their classification as either clause-initial or clause-final imperatives would be irrelevant.

Example 36

a. Julle moet mooi bly!
you must nice stay
Take care!
b. Jy moet jou vakansie geniet!
you must your holidays enjoy
You must enjoy your holidays!
c. U moet heelhuids terugkom!
you must intact back-come
You must return in one piece!
[+] Subjunctive

The semantic distinction between indicative and subjunctive mood is often expressed by means of the terms realis and irrealis. The former expresses actualised and the latter non-actualised eventualities. Palmer (2001:121ff.) shows that the distinction is somewhat more complicated since the term subjunctive may also be used to refer to presupposed propositions, and suggests that the distinction can be better described by means of the term (non-)assertion: in languages that systematically make the distinction, the speaker uses the indicative to assert some new (non-)presupposed proposition and to indicate that he is committed to the truth of the proposition, whereas the subjunctive is used if the proposition is already presupposed or if the speaker is not necessarily committed to the truth of the proposition. The subjunctive thus can have a wide variety of functions; it is typically used (i) in reported speech, questions, and negative clauses, (ii) to refer to non-actualised (future), hypothetical or counterfactual events, and (iii) to express directives, goals, wishes, fears, etc. As Afrikaans verbal morphology makes no provision for a subjunctive category apart from a few relics, the focus below will be on other formal means employed to express the group of functions referred to above.

In as far as the preferred form of the verb ‘live’ is leef, and the form leef seems inappropriate in the wish expressed in the following, lewe may count as a relic subjunctive. In (37) the verb lewelive (rather than its more frequent variant leef) is used in a conventional phrase to express a wish:

Example 37

Lank lewe die demokrasie!
long live the democracy
Long live democracy!

Sybe, a reflex of the Dutch present subjunctive of the verb zijnbe, and still encountered in compounds such as the preposition danksy(lit.) thank bethanks to and the conjunction tensy(lit.) it not beunless, forms part of fixed expressions such as:

Example 38

a. Gode sy dank!
God.DAT be thank
Thank God!
b. Hoe dit ook al sy, ek sal dit doen.
how it  whatever be I will it do
Whatever the case may be, I’ll do it.

Warewere.SBJV, a relic of the preterite subjunctive of wasbe.PRET, occurs in the fixed expression as 't wareas it were, from Dutch als het ware (cf. Eng. were, which has the same status.)

The following morphological and syntactic mechanisms may combine in the expression of wishes, the realis or irrealis, hypothetical statements, epistemic function, etc.

  • a perfect
  • subject-verb inversion
  • a modal preterite

For example, in (39a) below, subject-verb inversion (Het ekhave I ...), a modal particle (maarbut)  and the perfect (gekry het(lit.) got havehave finished) combine to express the speaker’s regret at failing to complete an action as planned; in (39b) the modal preterite koncould is added. The sense of regret is deepened in (39b) by the addition of the modal preterite as a second distal element.

Example 39

a. Het ek maar die berekenings betyds klaar gekry!
have I but the calculations on-time finished PST.PTCP-get
I wish I could have finished the calculations in good time!
b. Kon ek maar die berekenings betyds klaar gekry het!
could I but the  calculations  on-time finished PST.PTCP-get   have
I wish I could have finished he calculations in good time!

Past tense forms may double as subjunctives in many languages. Fleischman (1989:4) points out that (t)he relationship between PAST tense and non-actuality has been widely acknowledged in the linguistic literature and provides examples from many languages of how temporal distance in the direction of past is pressed into service to express modal distance, in particular to signal the speaker’s assessment of the ‘certainty-/ reality-/ actuality-status’ of a predicated situation.

Afrikaans is no exception to this development. According to De Villiers (1971:70) the preterite indicates ‘distance’ or ‘weakening’ of present reality: either distance from present time or ‘distance/weakening’ of reality. Thus, while the modal preterites in (40) express past tense,

Example 40

Vroeër moes ek deurnag werk; ek wou en ek kon ook.
earlier must.PRET I through-night work I want-to.PRET and I can.PRET also
Earlier on I had to work through the night; I wanted to and I was also able to.

the modal preterites in the following express a hypothesis - (41a) - and unfulfilled wishes - (41b) and (41c) - all with an underpinning of non-actuality:

Example 41

a. Hy moes tog kon hóór.
P.G. du Plessis
he must.PRET surely can.PRET hear
Surely he must have been able to hear.
b. Wat sou ek wou gee om daarmee te kon grootword
M. Leroux-Van der Boon
what will.PRET I want-to.PRET give COMP there-with to can.PRET big-become
What would I have given (in exchange) for growing up with that.
c. Ek sou nog vir hom wou kon sê dat ek hom ... gemis het
B. Breytenbach
I will.PRET still COMP him want-to.PRET can.PRET say that I him PST.PTCP-miss
I would still have wanted to be able to say that I missed him.

Actuality or non-actuality is not marked by modal preterites alone, unless it is implied by the context as in the examples above. Thus, (42) below is in fact open to both interpretations:

Example 42

Sy moes gister werk, maar sy het nie / en sy het.
she must.PRET yesterday work but she have not / and she have
She had to work yesterday, but she didn’t / and she did.

Non-actuality or the irrealis is strongly indicated by a verbal string De Villiers (1971:27) refers to as “imperfect-perfect”, in our terms a combination of preterite modals with a perfect, as in:

Example 43

Sy moes gister gewerk het (maar sy het nie).
she must.PRET yesterday PST.PTCP-work have but she have not
She should have worked yesterday, but she didn't.

However, many speakers do not distinguish between (43) and (44) and employ modal preterite+ perfect, as in (44), as a realis:

Example 44

Sy moes gister gewerk het (en sy het).
she must.PRET yesterday PST.PTCP-work have and she have
She had to work yesterday and in fact did.

De Villiers (1971:95) expresses doubts as to whether ‘logical hypothesis’ and irrealis ought to be, or are in fact distinguished formally in Afrikaans. While (45) expresses non-actuality,

Example 45

Hulle kon dan mos maar die naweek TV gekyk het in Swakop
P.J. Haasbroek
they can.PRET then surely the weekend TV PST.PTCP-look have in Swakop
Surely they could have watched TV in Swakop during the weekend.

(46) could have various interpretations: (i) non-actuality; (ii) hypothesis; (iii) evidentiality, i.e. as reported to the speaker:

Example 46

Dit sou sonder narkose gedoen gewees het.
K. Cronjé
it will.PRET without anesthetic PST.PTCP-do PST.PTCP-be have
(i)It would have been done without anesthetic, but wasn’t.
(ii)The intention was that it would be done without anesthetic.
(iii)It is said to have been done without anesthetic.

Apart from their basic or “root” meaning (which may be dynamic or deontic), modal verbs also have an epistemic meaning expressing the speaker’s position on the truth of the proposition in question. Thus on interpretation (i) the verbal construction in (46) implies that the speaker considers it unlikely that anesthetic was used. The epistemic interpretation becomes particularly clear when a present tense modal is combined with a perfect (cf. Ponelis 1979:250, 271), as in (47a), and cf. this usage in (47b):

Example 47

a. Dit sal sonder narkose gedoen gewees het.
it will.PRS without anesthetic  PST.PTCP-do PST.PTCP-be have
It is sure to have deen done without anesthetic.
b. wat sal nou agtergebly het?
P.G. du Plessis
what will.PRS now behind-PST.PTCP-remain have
What would now have remained behind?

This distinction, i.e. marking epistemic meaning more clearly by using a present tense modal, is however not generally made in everyday speech, but rather a characteristic of the written language, e.g. formal or literary style. De Villiers (1971:94-95) argues against the prescriptivist tendency to use a present tense modal for a logical hypothesis, i.e. in epistemic function, as in (48a), to create a contrast with the signalling of unreality ("onwerklikheid"), i.e. the irrealis, by means of a preterite modal, as in (48b), which would be contrary to the usage of "ons beste skrywers" ('our best authors'), who prefer using a preterite modal in both cases.

Example 48

a. Hy moet die papiere opgetel het.
he must.PRS the papers up-PST.PTCP-pick have
He is sure to have picked up the papers.
b. Hy moes die papiere opgetel het.
he must.PRET the papers up-PST.PTCP-pick have
He should have picked up the papers.

While it is likely that a formal distinction is still not made in the spoken language, literary works published by increasingly centralised publishing agencies display a clear preference for a present tense modal in the epistemic context and might have influenced spoken usage in recent decades. Further research is required in order to determine the pattern of this variable.

In what was said above, it was tacitly assumed that all modal verbs have preterite variants. This is however not the case. While the preterite form mog for magmay has become obsolete, there are no preterites available for modals such as behoort ... teought to and hoef nie ... te need not to and past tense is expressed by adding a perfect (cf. Van Schoor 1983:155):

Example 49

Hy mag huis toe gegaan het, maar hy hoef nie te gegaan het nie.
he may.PRS home to PST.PTCP-go have but he need.PRS not to PST.PTCP-go have not
He was allowed to go home, but he needn’t have gone.

The combination of a present tense modal and the perfect, however, may create ambiguity in that this is also a structure marked for an epistemic reading, namely ‘He might have gone home, but didn’t necessarily do so.’

In varieties where existing modal preterites, such as koncould, are avoided, a modal present plus perfect, e.g. kan gedoen hetcan have done for kon doencould do, as in (50), an irrealis expressing reproach:

Example 50

Kán jy nie gebly het nie, Kanna?
A. Small
can.PRS you not PST.PTCP-stay have not Kanna
Couldn’t you have stayed, Kanna?

While actuality is usually not made explicit in Afrikaans and structures marking non-actuality are often ambiguous, a construction which marks actuality explicitly does exist. It is, however, grammatically restricted as it is restricted to main clauses, does not have a counterpart expressing non-actuality, and is probably not used by all speakers. This construction typically consists of the auxiliary hethave in verb-second position, a non-epistemic modal preterite and the main verb (cf. (51a)); the preterite is the result of what Ponelis (1979:250, 271) terms “preterital assimilation”. See examples (51a) – (51e):

Example 51

a. Sy het 'n nuwe rekenaar moes koop.
[(SBJ) sy] [(V.aux) het] [(OBJ) 'n nuwe rekenaar] [(AUX.mod.pret) moes] [(V.inf) koop]
she have a new computer must.PRET buy.INF
She had to buy a new computer.
b. Origens het elkeen sy pyn alleen moes dra.
J. Kruger
otherwise have everyone his pain alone must.PRET bear
For the rest, everyone has had to bear his pain alone.
c. niemand het dit kon behou nie
D. Serfontein
no-one have it can.PRET keep
No-one could keep it.
d. Lourens het ná die egskeiding darem sy motorfiets kon hou
J. Kirsten
Lourens have after the divorce still his motorcycle can.PRET keep
Lourens could however keep his motorcycle after the wedding.
e. sy het nie regtig wou glo daar kan sulke dinge ...
F. Bloemhof
she have not really want-to.PRET believe such things can ...
She did not really want to believe that such things can ...

The realis construction is negated in the following quasi-fixed expression:

Example 52

Ek het nooit kon droom/ dink (dat jy sou opdaag nie).
I  have never can.PRET dream/think that you will.PRET turn up not
I would never have dreamt/thought (that you would turn up).

Occasionally present tense modals are used, as in

Example 53

Ma het van voor af moet vuur maak.
E. Kotze
Mom have from front from must.PRS fire make
Mom had to start all over with the fire.

This realis construction is not found in subordinate clauses, cf.

Example 54

a. *Sy sê dat Ma al die werk het moet/moes doen.
she say that.COMP Mom all the work have.PRS/PRET must do
(Intended meaining) She says that Mom had to do all the work.
b. *Sy sê dat Ma al die werk moet/moes doen het.
she say that.COMP Mom all the work must.PRS/PRET must do have
(Intended meaning) She says that Mom had to do all the work.

The model for this construction is probably the Dutch realis/irrealis contrastive pair in (51a) and (52b):

Example 55

a. Zij heeft gisteren weer kunnen werken (en deed dat dan ook).
she have.PRS yesterday again can.INF work.INF (and did it then also)
She was able to work again yesterday (and in fact did so).
b. Zij had gisteren weer kunnen werken (maar moest thuis blijven)
she  have.PRET yesterday again can.INF work.INF (but must.PRET at-home stay)
She would have been able to work again yesterday (but had to stay at home).

The irrealis counterpart is lacking in Afrikaans because of the loss of the preterite auxiliary hadhad, e.g.

Example 56

*Ma had van voor af moet/moes vuur maak.
Mom have.PRET from front from must.PRS/PRET fire make
(Intended meaning) Mom would have had to start all over with the fire.

Modal preterites and perfects play an important part in complex conditional sentences, where they express non-actuality as unfulfilled condition, or hypothetical situation – which may have the implication of “repeated occurrence”. The conditional clause may begin with asif or indienif, or a modal verb such as souwould and syntactic inversion, and the main clause with danthen (optional) and the preterite or perfect. Conditional sentences in the past tense (both a perfect and a modal preterite)(cf. De Villiers 1971:107), for example, are often construed with a counterfactual reading of the embedded conditional clause, cf. (57) and (58). 

Example 57

a. As Jan nou tuis was, (dan) was sy probleme iets van die verlede.
if Jan now at-home were (then) were his problems something of the past
If Jan had been at home now, his problems would have been a thing of the past.
b. As Jan nou tuis kon wees, (dan) kon sy probleme iets van die verlede wees.
if Jan now at-home can.PRET be (then) can-PRET his problems something of the past be
If Jan could have been at home now, his problems could have been a thing of the past.
c. As Jan beter sou opgelet het, (dan) sou hy al sy probleme kon opgelos het.
if Jan better will.PRET pay-PST.PTCP-attention have then will.PRET he all his problems can.PRET solve.PST.PTCP have
If Jan had paid more attention, he would have been able to solve all his problems.
d. anders sou jy nie alleen hoef te gestort het as jy nie sou wou nie!
I. de Vries
otherwise will.PRET you not alone need.PRS to PST.PTCP-shower have if you not will.PRET want-to.PRET
otherwise you needn't have showered alone if you didn't want to!

The following hypothetical proposition implies a repeated occurrence of the same scenario:

Example 58

En sou ek te lank vat om te loop, sou Nanna naderhand vra ...
J. Bakkes
and shall.PRET I too long take for to walk will.PRET Nanna later-on ask
And should I take too long walking, Nanna would as later on ...

The collocation as souif would introduces an evidential clause:

Example 59

Die bewering as sou hy die skuldige wees, is onwaar.
the allegation if will.PRET he the guilty-one be is untrue
The allegation that he is the guilty one, is untrue.

A few remaining functions of a more pragmatic nature may be mentioned. In  requests, the degree of politeness may be enhanced by making use of modal preterites and perfects (cf. Ponelis 1979:247)); note the progression from a neutral request to an ever more tentative – and therefore polite – request:

Example 60

a. Sal jy dalk 'n klein bydrae kan gee?
will.PRS you perhaps a small contribution can.PRS give
Will you perhaps be able to give a small contribution?
b. Sou jy dalk 'n klein bydrae kon gee?
will.PRET you perhaps a small contribution can.PRET give
Would you perhaps be able to give a small contribution?
c. Sou jy dalk 'n klein bydrae kon gegee het?
will.PRET you perhaps a small contribution can.PRET give.PST-PTCP have
Would you perhaps have been able to give a small contribution?

Modal preterites are also used to express desires politely (cf. De Villiers 1971:91):

Example 61

a. Ek sou graag nog een wou hê.
I   will.PRET gladly another one want-to.PRET have 
I would very much like to have another one.
b. Ek wou net hoor of julle nog kom.
I   want-to.PRET only hear if you.PL still come
I would just like to know whether you are still coming.

In (62) the preterites wasbe.PRET and koncould combine with subject-verb inversion and the modal particle maaronly to express non-actuality in the form of unfulfilled wishes:

Example 62

a. Was ek maar so gelukkig!
be.PRET I only so lucky
I wish I was so lucky
b. Kon hulle maar hulle plaas behou!
can.PRET they only their farm keep
If only they could keep their farm!

An unfulfilled wish may also be expressed by a perfect instead of a modal preterite:

Example 63

Het ek maar 'n skroewedraaier gehad!
have I only a screwdriver PST.PTCP-have
If only I had a screwdriver!
  • Pakerys, A1987Relative importance of acoustic features for perception of Lithuanian stressProceedings of the 11th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences. Tallinn: Estonian Academy of Sciences, S.S.R.319-320
  • Palmer, F.R2001Mood and ModalityCambridge University Press
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