• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Afrikaans
Show full table of contents
Imperatives with verb first

Afrikaans imperatives are verb-first, and do not allow any element in the clause-initial position before the verb. If there is preceding material, such as a vocative or another exclamation to draw attention, it is separated from the clause with an intonation break or comma, and not integrated into the clause. Such attention-grabbing expressions can be placed before or after the clause with equal ease, and are optional. The typical verb-first imperative is illustrated by the examples in (1), while the examples in (2) show the options for the placement of the vocative and other attention-grabbing expressions. Example (1c) demonstrates that verbal particles can either follow the verb in the verb-initial position, or can be positioned in the verb-final position after the middle field. Example (1d) illustrates that combinations of linking verbs and main verbs occur adjacent to each other in the verb-initial position.

Example 1

a. Staan!
b. Sit stil!
sit.IMP still
Sit still!
c. Sit neer die geweer!
put.IMP down.PREP.PTCL the gun
Put down the gun!
c.' Sit die geweer neer!
put.IMP the gun down.PREP.PTCL
Put the gun down!
d. Kom eet nou ontbyt!
come.LINK.IMP eat.IMP now breakfast
Come and eat you breakfast!
d.' *Kom nou ontbyt eet!
come.LINK.IMP now breakfast eat.IMP
To mean: Come and eat you breakfast!
Example 2

a. My kind, eet nou!
my child eat.IMP now
My child, eat please!
a.' Eet nou, my kind!
eat.IMP now my child
Please eat, my child!
b. Hi jy, kom hier!
hi you come.IMP here
Hi you, come here!
b.' Kom hier, jy!
come.IMP here you
Come here, you!

There is a specific construction for the formation of negative imperatives in Afrikaans. The modal moet must fuses with the negative particle nie not to create the form moenie must=not mustn't, which occupies the verb-initial position of the negative imperative, while the main verb is positioned in the verb-final part of the clause, and followed by the clause-final nie. By extension, a more emphatic negative can be formed by separating the moet en nie, although the form moenie is the more frequent option. With the split form moet … nie, it is possible to introduce intervening material between the modal and negative particle, such as hedges or a reflexive. The negative imperative forms are exemplified in (3), where the primeless examples represent the typical form and the primed examples the more emphatic form.

Example 3

a. Moenie soveel tyd agter die rekenaar spandeer nie, asseblief!
must=not so.much time behind the computer spend not.NEG please
Don't spend so much time behind the computer, please!
a.' Moet asseblief nie soveel tyd agter die rekenaar spandeer nie!
must please not so.much time behind the computer spend PTCL.NEG
Please do not spend so much time behind the computer!
b. Moenie jou aan hom steur nie!
must=not you.REFL to him be.bothered PTCL.NEG
Don't let him bother you!
b.' Moet jou nie aan hom steur nie!
must you.REFL not to him be.bothered PTCL.NEG
Do not let him bother you!
[+]Use of the imperative

Imperatives are the prototypical form for the expression of directives. The directive can be a direct command, but it can also be construed as a request, especially when accompanied by markers of politeness, such as the form asseblief please. A direct command and a more polite request are exemplified by (4a) and (4b) respectively.

Example 4

a. Sit die klank sagter!
put.IMP the sound softer
Turn down the volume!
b. Gee asseblief vir my die suiker aan!
give.IMP please for me the suger on
Please pass me the sugar!

The imperative form also serves a range of further functions in mediating the interaction between the speaker and his/her addressee(s), as outlined by Ponelis (1979:384). Proposals, instructions, and invitations are all directive speech acts, but are less face-threatening than direct commands. These options are illustrated by the examples in (5), taken from Ponelis (1979: 384). In a more subjective domain, imperatives can be used to express blessings or good wishes, as well as curses or bad wishes, as illustrated by the examples in (6).

Example 5

a. Stel 'n kringbusdiens in.
(let us) Introduce a circular new bus route.
b. Sny die uie in skywe en braai hulle bruin.
Cut the onions into rings and brown them.
c. Drink 'n koppie koffie saam.
Have a cup of coffee with us.
Example 6

a. Ry mooi!
Drive safely!
[Good wish]
b. Gaan bars!
Drop dead!
[Bad wish]
[+]Overt subject in the imperative clause

Afrikaans allows an overt subject to be used with the imperative. If selected, this subject has to be positioned at the beginning of the middle field, after the verb. The resulting word order is identical to the word order of general interrogatives and exclamatives, but the intonation will clearly distinguish it from an interrogative in speech. It will be harder to draw a clear syntactic distinction between the imperative and exclamative, except that the imperative is directed at the addressee. To the extent that the exclamative is also directed at the addresse, e.g. in directing bad wishes at the addressee, the distinction becomes unimportant. Imperatives with overt subjects are illustrated in (7), with examples from Ponelis (1979:385).

Example 7

a. Haal jy jou hoed af!
You, take off your hat!
b. Hou Meneer vir ons hier vas!
Hold this for us, Sir!

The overt subject at the beginning of the middle field of the imperative can also combine with vocatives, since vocatives are not fully integrated with the clause at a syntactic level. Vocatives and a singular subject combine well when the use of the vocative and subject is also combined with a pointing gesture in contexts of interaction, especially when singling out one individual from a group, as illustrated in example (8).

Example 8

Neil, bring jy daai tas.
Neil, you bring that suitcase.
D. Opperman: Hartland, episode 1
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
  • Ponelis, F.A1979Afrikaanse sintaksis.Van Schaik
This is a beta version.