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Morphological characterisation

In many languages different verb forms are used to express person and number agreement with the subject of the sentence, e.g. neem, neemt and nemen to take in Dutch, and a special infinitive form is employed, such as nemen in Dutch. In functions such as these, the Afrikaans verb has virtually been reduced to a single form, neem, which will be referred to here as the base form of the verb.

The base form is also used to express a command, e.g. Neem dit! Take it! or to nominalise a verb phrase, as in die neem van 'n bad taking a bath. A small number of verbs have variant forms, for example skryf / skrywe to write and ja / jaag to chase Both forms are used in most functions, e.g. as base forms, bare infinitives and imperatives, and in past participles (geskryf / geskrywe, geja / gejaag), though one form is preferred in attributive usage (geskryfde, gejaagde) and as present participle (skrywende, jaende). The verbs het to have and is to be have their own infinitive forms, namely as infinitive of the main verb, e.g. om geluk te hê to have luck and wees in all infinitive functions, e.g. Dit kan waar wees It may be true and om vrolik te wees to be happy. Wees is also the imperative form of the verb to be, as in Wees eerlik! Be honest! and in the case of to have, as in Hê baie pret! Have lots of fun!. The verb is, however, somewhat marked as an imperative, and het is never used in this function. A typical well-wishing formula would be:

Example 1

Julle moet pret hê!
you.2PL must.AUX.MOD fun have.INF
Have fun, all of you!

In a full infinitive construction with om te for.COMP PTCL.INF plus verb, wees and are used as infinitives, but for all other verbs the infinitive is identical to the base form, as shown in example (2).

Example 2

Dit is lekker om tuis te wees, vriende te en te kan gesels.
it is nice for.COMP home PTCL.INF be.INF friends PTCL.INF have.INF and PTCL.INF can.AUX.MOD chat.INF
It's nice to be home, have friends and be able to chat.

When to have is employed as auxiliary, only the form het is used:

Example 3

Om genoeg te gespaar het, kan later help.
for.COMP enough PTCL.INF save.PST.PTCP have.AUX can.AUX.MOD later.on help.INF
To have saved enough, can be of help later on.

Infinitives with an -e suffix, resembling Dutch infinitives, are found in constructions without om for.COMP which are used in fixed expressions and with limited productivity, e.g.:

Example 4

Die droogte is moontlik te wyte aan aardverwarming.
the drought is possibly PTCL.INF blame.INF on earth.warming
The drought is perhaps due to global warming.

The preterite or imperfect no longer exists in Afrikaans as a verbal category. However, was be.PRT was and the preterites of a number of modal auxiliaries, namely sou would, wou wanted to, moes had to and kon could, are still frequently used.

Past participles are formed by affixing ge- to the base form, e.g. doen > gedoen, unless the base form has a rising stress contour, e.g. bèdánk, vèránder, in which case affixation is optional. For the same reason ge- is optional before collocations of lexical verbs, e.g.:

Example 5

Sy het mooi (ge)lèèr síng.
she have.AUX beautifully learn.LINK sing.INF
She learnt to sing beautifully.

In purely verbal usage, gehad, the past participle of het to have, is irregular in the standard variety. In adjectival usage, forms stemming from Dutch strong or weak participles, e.g. gebonde instead of gebind bound, and verward instead of verwar confused, respectively, are used in specialised functions. The latter forms, with a -te/de ending in the case of regularised forms (e.g. verlepte blomme wilted flowers), are also used attributively, and form the basis of further derivation, for example abstract nominals such as gebondenheid restraint from bind to bind and verwardheid confusion from verwar to confuse.

Present participles are also used adjectivally, e.g. 'n verwarrende toestand a confusing situation, and adverbially, as in

Example 6

Die optog kom al singende om die hoek.
the procession come while sing.PRS.PTCP around the corner
The procession is singing while rounding the corner.
[+]Base form

Agreement with the subject is not expressed in the Afrikaans verb. A single base form of the verb is used regardless of the person or number of the subject:

Example 7

a. Ek / jy / ons / hulle, etc. is hier in beheer.
I / you.2SG / we / they be.PRS here in control
I / you / we / they, etc. are in control here.
b. Hy / sy / julle, etc. neem gereeld foto's.
he / she / you.2PL, etc. take regularly photos
He / she / you, etc. take photos regularly.

The base form of the verb is also used to express a command or in a nominalising function:

Example 8

Neem elke dag 'n foto!
take.IMP every day a photo
Take a photo every day!
Example 9

Dit is basiese kennis vir die neem van bloeddruk.
this is basic knowledge for the take.NMLZ of blood.pressure
This is basic knowledge for measuring blood pressure.

A small number of verbs have variant stem forms, for example leef and lewe to live, laaf and lawe to refresh and bederf and bederwe to spoil. Both forms are used in most functions, e.g. as base forms, bare infinitives and imperatives, and in past participles (geleef / gelewe, gelaaf / gelawe), though one form is preferred in attributive usage (geleefde, gelaafde) and as present participle (lewende, lawende). Variants of verbs such as staan to stand, gaan to go and slaan to hit , ending in -tstaat, gaat and slaat, are used in expressive functions or as the form of choice for some speakers.


Apart from two verbs, het to have and is to be, which are formally marked as infinitives, viz. and wees, respectively, a [+/- finite] contrast is not expressed morphologically in Afrikaans. Even these instances of infinitive marking are anomalous; while wees to be corresponds closely in function with the Dutch infinitive zijn (also wezen), is only the infinitive of the main verbhet to have, possess and not of het as a past tense auxiliary.


While the forms and wees have disappeared in certain varieties of the language, they have been developing new functions in the standard variety, e.g.:

Example 10

Kom ons wees daarom eerlik met mekaar.
come.IMP we be.INF therefore honest with each.other
So let's be honest with each other.
Example 11

pret saam met jou kinders.
have.IMP fun together with your children
Have fun with your children.

Wees is commonly used as imperative, while is slightly marked in this function and het is excluded.

Example 12

a. Wees gelukkig!
be.IMP happy
Be happy!
b. ? 'n lekker dag!
have.IMP a nice day
Have a nice day!
c. *Het 'n lekker dag!
have.IMP a nice day
To mean: Have a nice day!
[+]Full infinitive

The base form is also the form used in a full infinitive construction with om te for.COMP PTCP.INF plus verb:

Example 13

Dit is belangrik om die probleem te begryp.
it is important for.COMP the problem PTCL.INF understand.INF
It is important to understand the problem.
[+]Te + infinitive construction

The complementiser om is omitted in a number of fixed expressions, such as te wete to wit and te danke aan thanks to as well as expressions implying ability or possibility, for example iemand te siene kry to get to see someone and nie te redde nie which cannot be saved. The affixation of an -e brings the verb in line with Dutch infinitives (te begrijpen, te weten, te danken, te redden) and may even surpass the Dutch infinitive (Dutch te zien: Afrikaans te te siene; Dutch te verstaan: Afrikaans te verstane). Note that the final -n in Dutch, which is usually left unpronounced after schwa, has not found its way into Afrikaans spelling. The following examples will illustrate the use of this construction:

Example 14

a. Sy't Jason nooit te siene gekry nie.
she.have.AUX Jason never PTCL.INF see.INF get.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG
She never got to see Jason.
b. Dit is te begrype dat die universiteit geen toegewings maak nie.
it is PTCL.INF understand.INF that.COMP the university no concessions make PTCL.NEG
It is understandable that the university will make no concessions.
c. Dit is te verstane dat jy nou so sal dink.
it is PTCL.INF understand.INF that.COMP you.2SG now so will.AUX.MOD think.INF
It is understandable that you will think so now.

The preterite or imperfect as a past tense category has, with a few important exceptions, ceased to exist in Afrikaans. The extant modal preterites, namely sou would, wou wanted to, moes had to and kon could, are however frequently employed in past tense or modal functions. Dag / dog thought has developed the specialised meaning of 'being under a certain expression'. Mog might has become obsolete.

Example 15

a. Ek moes kon dink my reputasie sou my vooruitloop.
I must.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT think.INF my reputation will.AUX.MOD.PRT me precede.INF
I could have thought that my reputation would precede me.
b. Ek dog sy is klaar dertig.
I think.mistakenly.PRT she is already thirty
I would have thought that she is thirty already.
c. Maar ek dog dit is heel duidelik so uitgespel.
but.CNJ I think.mistakenly.PRT it be.PRS quite clearly so out.spell.PST.PTCP
But I would have thought that it was spelled out quite clearly in that way.

Periphrastic alternatives for the expression of past tense or modal meanings are encountered in all varieties of Afrikaans, e.g.

Example 16

a. Sy kon goed viool speel.
she can.AUX.MOD.PRT well violin play.INF
She could play the violin well.
b. Sy kan goed viool gespeel het.
she can.AUX.MOD well violin play.PST.PTCP have.AUX
She could play the violin well.
[+]Perfect and pluperfect

In the absence of modal auxiliaries, past and pluperfect tense is mainly expressed by the perfect, which typically consists of an auxiliary plus a past participle. The auxiliary is het in the active voice, and is or was in the passive. In the present tense, the passive is expressed by word to be plus a past participle.

Example 17

Nadat die probleem opgelos was, het hulle huis toe gegaan.
after.CNJ the problem solve.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.PRT have.AUX they home to.POSTP go.PST.PTCP
After the problem had been solved they went home.
[+]Past participle

Past participles are directly derived from the base form. The Afrikaans past participle is constrained by a phonological template, namely a contrast of rising stress between two syllables (which need not be adjacent). When this contrast is not present, as in the case of all monosyllabic verbs and verbs such as antwoord with primary stress on the first syllable, the prefix ge- is employed as a default filler. Consequently the vast majority of Afrikaans past participles are realised as ge- plus verbal base, e.g. geneem, gespeel, gegaan, gesien, geleef, gelewe, geëet, gebly, gebreek, gedink, gebind, gewaag en geantwoord.

In the presence of prefixes such as ver-, be- and ge- itself (cf. gebeur to happen), which supply an initial unstressed syllable, ge- is prescriptively blocked, e.g. in begryp, betaal, verstaan, verneem, ontneem, etc., though forms with ge- are encountered often enough (e.g. gebetaal).

Example 18

Jy werk en wil gebetaal wees.
you.2SG work and want.to.AUX.MOD pay.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.INF
You work and want to be paid.
Example 19

Ekskuus, ek het meneer seker sleg geverstaan.
excuse I have.AUX Sir perhaps badly understand.PST.PTCP
Sorry, Sir, but I must have understood you badly.
Example 20

Nalat ons nou eers ooreweer welstanings geverneem het.
after.that.CNJ we now first to.and.fro wellbeing.PL enquire.PST.PTCP have.AUX
after we enquired about each other's wellbeing to-and-fro

The phonological template even extends beyond word boundaries. Thus the affixation of ge- is also optional with verb clusters, such as bly skiet to keep on shooting, e.g.

Example 21

Toe McLuckie wegjaag, het die rowers op hom bly skiet.
when.CNJ McLuckie away.speed have.AUX the robbers on him keep.on.LINK shoot.INF
When McLuckie speeded away the robbers kept on shooting at him.

In general, optional ge- is realised quite differently in different varieties of the language. Thus while ge- is preferentially affixed in non-standard varieties, speakers of the standard variety prefer to drop it.

Gehad, the past participle of hê/ het to have, is a very frequent irregular form; another irregular participle in verbal usage is gedag / gedog thought, used in the sense of 'thinking mistakenly' or 'being right in thinking something'.

Example 22

Ek het so gedog.
I have.AUX so think.PST.PTCP
I thought so.
Example 23

Ek moet erken ek het gedog hy gaan nie terugkom nie.
I must.AUX.MOD confess.INF I have.AUX think.PST.PTCP he go.AUX.MOD not back.come.INF PTCL.NEG
I must confess that I thought he was not going to return.

While all past participles in purely verbal usage, with the exception of gehad (often regularised as gehet in non-standard varieties) and gedag / gedog have been regularised, irregular variants are encountered in certain syntactic contexts or are employed to express figurative or specialised meanings. Thus the regular past participle of breek to break is gebreek, but gebroke may be used as an adjective to express a figurative sense:

Example 24

Ek is gebroke omdat my duur horlosie nou gebreek is.
I be.PRS broken.ADJ because.CNJ my expensive watch now broken.ADJ is
I am devastated because my expensive watch is broken now.
Example 25

... maak as't ware heel wat gebroke is.
make as.it.were whole that.REL broken.ADJ is
... repairs what was broken, as it were.

The irregular form may also be the preferred form in attributive versus predicative usage:

Example 26

Dit isverbode lektuur – dit is mos nou verbied.
it is banned.ADJ literature – it is surely now prohibited.ADJ
It's banned literature; surely it is prohibited now.

In historically regular or "weak" past participles, a final -d or -t (realised as [t] in both cases) may be affixed, for instance in verbs expressing mental or emotional states, as in geseënd blessed, from seën to bless, , gewaagd daring, from waag to dare or ontsteld upset, from ontstel to upset.

Example 27

Dit sou uiters gewaagd wees om ronduit te beweer ...
it will.AUX.MOD.PRT extremely risky.ADJ be.INF for.COMP openly PTCL.INF claim.INF
It would be extremely risky to claim openly ...

Regularised past participles receive -te or -de(or -e when -d/t are already present) when used attributively, e.g. gebreek: gebreekte broken, ontstel(d): ontstelde upset, gekam: gekamde combed, bewerk: bewerkte cultivated, geseën(d): geseënde blessed, gewaag(d): gewaagde daring, cf.

Example 28

sy altyd netjies gekamde hare
his always neatly comb.PST.PTCP.ATTR hair
his hair which is always neatly combed

Predicative adjectives derived from past participles form the basis of further nominalisations, e.g. breek break> gebroke > gebrokenheid brokenness, bind bind> gebonde > gebondenheid bondage, waag dare> gewaagde > gewaagdheid daring, ontstel upset> ontsteld > ontsteltenis dismay. Examples:

Example 29

'n teken van demoniese gebondenheid
a sign of demoniacal bondage.NMLZ
a sign of demoniacal bondage
Example 30

toe sit die ontsteltenis in woede oor
then change the dismay.NMLZ in anger over
then the dismay changed into anger
[+]Present participle

Present participles are derived by affixing -end of -ende, e.g. brekende breaking, bewerkende cultivating, bindende binding, ontstellende upsetting, hardlopende running and irregular staande standing in attributive function. These may combine with al while to form adverbial phrases, e.g.

Example 31

Al hardlopende draai hy om
while run.PRS.PTCP turn he around
He turns around while running.

Al + VERB--ende alternates with VERB--end in adverbial function and VERB + -ende in attributive function:

Example 32

op 'n oggend kom sy singend binne
on a morning come she sing.PRS.PTCP in
on a morning she comes in singing
Example 33

en met singende harte gaan slaap
and with singing.ADJ.ATTR hearts go.LINK sleep.INF
and go to sleep with singing hearts
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