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Aspect deals with the non-deictic temporal structure of events and situations as expressed in grammatical constructions and lexical items, verbs in particular. The most important types relevant to Afrikaans are durative or progressive aspect, expressing ongoing action (as in (1a)), inchoative or ingressive aspect, referring to the beginning or first phase of an event (as in (1b)), terminative or resultative aspect, referring to the end or final phase of an event (as in (1c)), iterative or repetitive aspect, referring to repeated action (as in (1d)) and anterior or perfective aspect, referring to more than one of the linked phases of an event, namely the end phase as well as its current relevance (as in (1e)).For a comprehensive discussion of aspect and the terms employed in Afrikaans linguistics, see Breed (2016).

Example 1

a. Die monster is besig om te ontwaak.
the monster be.COP.PRS busy COMP to awaken
The monster is beginning to wake up.
[The construction besig wees om te + V 'be busy to + V' expresses durative or ongoing action.]
b. Die monster gaan slaap nie vroeg nie.
the monster go sleep NEG early NEG
The monster does not go to bed early.
[The addition of the verb gaan 'go' indicates that the action of sleeping is about to begin.]
c. Ons kry nie vannag geslaap nie.
we get NEG tonight PST.PTCP-sleep NEG
We are not getting any sleep tonight.
[The construction kry 'get' + past participle indicates that the action of sleeping has not been successfully completed. ]
d. Die kinders spring-spring agter hom aan.
the children jump-jump after him on
The children are jumping along behind him.
[The reduplication of the verb spring 'jump' mirrors the iterative or repetitive nature of the action.]
e. Die monster is die bos in.
the monster be.AUX.PST the bush in
The monster has gone into the bush.
[The combination of is 'is' + directional adverbial expresses an action in the past still relevant at the moment of speaking. Is is the perfect auxiliary of an elliptical past participle gegaan'gone'.]

While tense concerns the temporal positioning of clauses in absolute terms or relative to one another and has a deictic function, aspect denotes a non-deictic temporal perspective on the activity structure of events. Aspect is conventionally subdivided into a category relating to grammatical constructions with aspectual characteristics (progressive or durative aspect characterising a construction, as in (2a) below), and Aktionsart, dealing with the aspectual characteristics of specific verbs (e.g. inchoative aspect characterising the verb beginbegin, as in (2b) below).

Example 2

a. Die komitee is aan die besluit oor die saak.
the committee be.COP.PRS on the decide.NMLZ about the matter
The committee is in the process of coming to a decision on the matter.
b. Die prysverlagings begin môre.
the price-cuts begin tomorrow
The price cuts begin tomorrow.

Aspect is also expressed by means of adverbs and adverbial phrases. Thus a proposition merely expressing past tense becomes resultative through the addition of al,klaar,al klaar or reedsalready:

Example 3

Hulle het al om die eiland geswem.
they have.AUX.PERF already around the island PST.PTCP-swim
They have already swum around the island.

In what follows, the main focus will be on the aspectual properties of constructions, but in the section on Constructions with aspectual characteristics the lexical aspect inherent in particular verbs plays an important part in determining the aspectual value of constructions.

Durative (or progressive) aspect refers to continued action over a shorter or longer period of time. While the present tense is not specially marked for durative aspect, a sentence such as (4a) may be interpreted as durative. The construction in (4b) is employed increasingly in Afrikaans to express durative aspect. In (4c) and (4d) durativity is expressed by means of nominalised verbs (werkwork; ry'drive') and (4e) makes use of one of a small set of postural verbs used to express durative aspect.

Example 4

a. Sy werk op 'n baie ou rekenaar.
she work on a very old computer
She is working on a very old computer.
b. Sy is besig om op haar rekenaar te werk.
she be.COP.PRS busy COMP on her computer to work.INF
She is busy working on her computer.
c. Sy is aan die werk op haar rekenaar.
she be.COP.PRS on the work.NMLZ on her computer
She is busy working on her computer.
d. Sy grimeer soggens sommer in die ry.
she apply.make.up in.the.morning PTCL in the drive.NMLZ
She puts on her make-up in the morning while driving.
e. She sit en slaap mos in die spitsverkeer.
she sit and sleep PTCL in the rush-hour-traffic
She is of course fast asleep in the rush hour traffic.

The present tense passive, withwordbecome as auxiliary, is - unlike the perfect passive withbe as auxiliary - particularly dynamic and strongly implies durative aspect:

Example 5

Vreemde gode word in dié land aanbid
strange gods become.AUX.PASS.PRS in this country on-PST.PTCP-pray
Strange gods are worshiped in that country.

The present tense is also employed to express habitual action:

Example 6

Sy werk al lank vir daardie firma.
she work already long for that firm
She has been working for that firm for a long time.

A number of constructions are inchoative (or ingressive) in nature, i.e. they refer to the first phase or beginning of an action:

Example 7

a. Sy moet nou aan die lees kom
she must now on the read.NMLZ come
She must start reading now.
b. Ons moet haar nou aan die lees kry
we must her now on the read.NMLZ get
We must get her to read now.
c. Jy moenie te laat gaan slaap nie.
you must-NEG too late go sleep NEG
You shouldn't go to bed too late.
d. Is dit hy wat daar aangeloop kom?
be.COP.PRS it he who there on-PST.PTCP-walk come
Is it him who is arriving there on foot?
e. Die lawaai het gemaak dat sy nie gou aan die slaap kon raak nie.
the noise have.AUX.PERF PST.PTCP-make COMP she NEG fast on the sleep.NMLZ can.PRT get NEG
As a result of the noise she couldn't fall asleep quickly.

Terminative (or resultative) constructions refer to the last or end phase of an event, e.g.

Example 8

As gevolg van die geblaf van die hond kon sy glad nie verlede nag geslaap kry nie.
as result of the bark.NMLZ of the dog can.PRT she at.all NEG last night PST.PTCP-sleep get NEG
She didn't manage to get any sleep last night because of the dog's barking.

Reduplication may, inter alia, express iterative (or repetitive) aspect, as in (9a), or durative aspect, as in (9b). Reduplicated verbs mirror repeated action through their diagrammatic iconicity, in other words the repeated verbal sign signals repetition in the real world. This type of iconicity is known as 'diagrammatic' as the words do not constitute a sound or other direct image of the referent, but rather picture the referent through their morpho-syntactic structure. (Conradie, C.J. 2003) Reduplication is therefore an appropriate vehicle for the expression of iterative aspect. In as far as the perspective of repeated actions easily merges into that of an extended period of uninterrupted action, reduplication can also be a vehicle of durative aspect.

Example 9

a. Die stoet beweeg staan-staan in die straat af.
the procession move stand-stand in the street down
The procession moves down the road, coming to a standstill at times.
b. By gebrek aan sitplek eet hulle hulle toebroodjies staan-staan.
by lack on seating eat they their sandwiches stand-stand
They are eating their sandwiches while standing, because of a lack of seating.


Cf. Breed’s (2016:74) motivation for this term, as against Comrie’s (1976:52) “perfect of result”.
aspect entails reference to more than one point in time: the time when an event took place in the past, on the one hand, and the time of the situation following on or resulting from the event in the past, on the other. In contrast to a past action or state of affairs which need bear no relationship to the time of the utterance, anteriority suggests a past action which has continued relevance in the present, so that the causative link between two points in time is not severed. The only Afrikaans construction expressing anteriority in this sense is a residual mutative or unaccusative construction of Dutch provenance consisting of the auxiliary verb be and a directional adverbial, but in Afrikaans with obligatory ellipsis of the past participle gegaangone. Anteriority is fully expressed in (10a), where a past event maintains its relevance at the moment of speaking. In (10b) only the past event is singled out.

Example 10

a. Sy is nie nou hier nie; sy is huis toe.
she be.COP.PRS NEG now here NEG she be.AUX.PST home to.POSTP
She isn't here now; she has gone home.
b. Sy is gister baie haastig die berg op.
she be.AUX.PST yesterday very hurriedly the mountain up.POSTP
She went up the mountain yesterday in a great hurry.

Additional aspectual types to be discussed, are habitual (see section titled Aspectual functions of tense forms) and pre-inchoative aspect (see section titled Constructions with aspectual characteristics).

Constructions differ in the way they are related to aspect. While aspect may only be a subsidiary or secondary function of a given construction, it might be the main function of another. Aspectual functions are further discussed under the following headings:

  • Aspectual functions of tense forms
  • Constructions with explicit aspectual function
  • Constructions with aspectual potential
  • Constructions with aspectual characteristics.
  • Breed, Adri2016Aspek in Afrikaans: 'n teoretiese beskrywingTydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe5662-80
  • Comrie, Bernard1976Aspect: An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related ProblemsCambridge University Press
  • Conradie, C.J2003The iconicity of Afrikaans reduplication.
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