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Verbs and verb phrases

Afrikaans main verbs are used to express the event taking place in a clause, or else as copular verbs to link the verb to its copular predicate and contribute aspectual or modal meanings to the relationship between subject and predicate. Examples (1) and (2) illustrate the lexical main verb and the copular main verb respectively.

Example 1

Griet skryf 'n sprokie.
Griet write.PRS a fairytale
Griet writes a fairytale.
M. van der Vyfer: Griet skryf 'n sprokie, 1992
Example 2

Die meeste plaagdoders is giftig.
the most pesticides be.COP.PRS toxic
Most pesticides are toxic.

Afrikaans verbs combine productively with modal auxiliaries like kan can and moet must. There is no specific future tense construction, but the modal sal will is used to denote future events, while the linking verb gaan go is increasingly used in this function as well. The main verb in combination with a modal verb takes the infinitive form. Example (3) illustrates a simple, but typical, case of modal use in Afrikaans, with the modal auxiliary in the verb-second position and the main verb in the verb-final position, as explained in more detail below.

Example 3

a. Griet wil 'n sprokie skryf.
Griet want.to.AUX.MOD a fairytale write
Griet wants to write a fairytale.
b. Jy kan my silwer skoene leen.
you can.AUX.MOD my silver shoes borrow.INF
You can borrow my silver shoes.

Past tense
Afrikaans has a very small number of inflected preterite verbs forms, mainly the form was be.PRT was, preterite of the copular verb wees be.INF to be, and the modal auxiliaries that retained an inflected past tense from Dutch, e.g. kon can.AUX.MOD.PRT could. Afrikaans does not mark verbs for person and number, but the prefix ge- is affixed to the base form of verbs to form the past tense form of the main verb, which is then used in combination with the auxiliary verb het have in the past tense construction. This form is regarded as the past participle by many analysts, although the past participle form used in adjectival function also often has a suffix -d (or -de in attributive position) attached to the verb. The past tense equivalents of the examples in (1) and (2), which are given in (4) and (5), illustrate the two past tense forms encountered in Afrikaans: the past tense construction with [het + ge-], and the past tense form wasof the copular verb.

Example 4

Griet het 'n sprokie ge·skryf
Griet have.AUX a fairy.tale PST·write
Griet wrote a fairy tale.
Example 5

Die meeste plaagdoders was giftig.
the most pesticides be.PRT toxic
Most pesticides were toxic.
In example (4) the morphology of geskryf is explicitly shown; however, in the rest of this section on the verb phrase in Afrikaans, the past tense morpheme is most often not explicitly glossed, so that geskryf write.PST is the same as ge·skryf PST·write. Moreover, geskryf write.PST and geskryf write.PST.PTCP are used interchangeably, without implying any descriptive difference.

Passive voice
Afrikaans forms the passive voice by means of the auxiliary word be.AUX.PASS.PRS is for the present tense, and is be.AUX.PASS.PST was for the past tense. The main verb in combination with a passive auxiliary is also marked with the prefix ge-. The typical passive construction in Afrikaans is illustrated by example (6).

Example 6

a. Jy word deur ander ge·manipuleer.
you be.AUX.PASS.PRS by other PASS·manipulate
You are manipulated by others.
b. Byeenkomste is elke Dinsdag ge·hou.
Gatherings be.AUX.PASS.PST every Tuesday PASS·hold
Gatherings were held every Tuesday.
a. 'n Sprokie word deur Griet ge·skryf.
a fairytale be.AUX.PASS.PRS by Griet PASS·write
A fairytale is written by Griet.
a.' 'n Sprokie is deur Griet ge·skryf.
a fairytale be.AUX.PASS.PRT by Griet PASS·write
A fairytale was written by Griet.

Position of the verb
Afrikaans is a verb-second, rather than an SVO language. Main clauses in Afrikaans have a verb-second position and a verb-final position. If there is no auxiliary in the clause, the main verb occupies the verb-second position, as illustrated by example (7).

Example 7

a. Party ouers skop teen 'n vroeë slaaptyd vir baba.
some parents kick.PRS against an early bedtime for baby
Some parents resist an early bedtime for their baby.
b. Hierdie vorms maak voorsiening vir 'n periode van vyf jaar.
these forms make.PRS provision for a period of five year
These forms make provision for a period of five years.
c. Sy slaap lekker.
she sleep.PRS well
She sleeps well.

When there is an auxiliary in the clause, it occupies the verb-second position, while all other verbs are placed in the verb-final position. This could be a single verb, which will be the main verb in a non-finite form, or a cluster of consecutive verbs that follow the arguments and non-clausal adverbials in the middle field, between the verb-second and verb-final positions, as illustrated by example (8).

Example 8

a. Party ouers kan teen 'n vroeë slaaptyd vir baba skop.
some parents can.AUX.MOD against an early bedtime for baby kick.INF
Some parents can resist an early bedtime for their baby.
b. Hierdie vorms het voorsiening vir 'n periode van vyf jaar gemaak.
these forms have.AUX provision for a period of five year make.PST
These forms made provision for a period of five years.
c. Sy het vroeg gaan slaap.
she have.AUX early go.LINK sleep.INF
She went to bed early.

While the second position of the declarative main clause is occupied by a verb, any number of clausal elements may occupy the first position. The subject is the most typical element of the first position, as is illustrated by examples (1) to (8) above, but an adverbial or another argument may also occupy the first position, in which case the subject follows the verb-second position and occupies the first slot of the middle field. Alternatives to the subject in clause-initial position are illustrated by example (9).

Example 9

a. In Chicago koop ek 'n oggendblad.
in Chicago buy.PRS I a morning.paper
In Chicago I bought a morning paper.
a.' Hierdie boek het ek in Chicago gekoop.
this book have.AUX I in Chicago buy.PST
This book I bought in Chicago.
b. Verleë skop hy teen die bank voor hom.
embarrassed kick.PRS he against the couch before him
With embarrassment, he kicks at the couch in front of him.
b.' Die glas het hy per ongeluk omgestamp.
the glass have.AUX he in by accident knock.over.PST
The glass he knocked over by accident.

Dependent clauses in Afrikaans have a complementiser or subordinator in the verb-second position, and all verbs are located in the final position of the clause, in the same order that they would occupy in the verb-final position of main clauses too. Dependent clauses, enclosed by square brackets, are illustrated by example (10).

Example 10

a. Een bron sê [dat die plaas naby die Tsomo-berge is].
one source say.PRS [that.COMP the farm close.by the Tsomo-mountains be.PRS]
One source says [that the farm is close to the Tsomo mountains].
b. Ek is so jaloers op X, [as dit nou net ek kon gewees het].
I be.PRS so jealous on X [if.CNJ it now just I can.AUX.MOD.PRT be.PST have.AUX
I am so jealous of X, if only it could have been me.
[+]Approach in Taalportaal

The description of Afrikaans verbs, verb phrases and clause structure follows a usage-based and corpus-based approach, although explicit theoretical discussion is limited. Where a phenomenon is of potential interest to theoretical traditions, be that generative, constructional or functional approaches, it is noted, but no attempt is made to resolve theoretical or analytical debates.

The structure of the description of the verb and verb phrase is modelled on and borrows liberally from the corresponding description of the verb and verb phrase of Dutch on Taalportaal (Broekhuis et al. 2015) with minor adjustments. The description also draws extensively on the book Afrikaanse Sintaksis by Fritz Ponelis (1979), and is supplemented by published research of the authors and others, as well as corpus analyses specifically undertaken for the purposes of writing the description of the verb and verb phrase on Taalportaal.

[+]Structure of description

The Afrikaans verb and verb phrase are described in the following sections:

Complement clauses are described in a separate section, which also incorporates a discussion of reported speech constructions. Adverbial modification of verb phrases and clauses is described in a separate section as well.

Word order in Afrikaans clauses is described in the following sections:

Lastly, emphatic constructions are described in a separate section, with reference to pragmatic markers, dislocation and cleft constructions.

  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
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