An Infinitive form of verb is the basic form of a verb, without an inflection binding it to a particular subject or tense. For example, in English, it is the basic verb like ‘to eat’ or ‘to drink’. As such, they function like adverbs. An example use of an infinitive is:
To live is to die Twice.
Infinitives are also known as ‘non-finite’ type of verbs.
In Nepali, there are two types of infinitives, the ‘Nu’ and the ‘Na’. Also, in Nepali, these terms are not considered to be ‘verbs’! The definition of a verb is very strict in Nepali so, as a consequence, the ‘verb’ which translates into infinitives is either classified as an Adverb or as a Noun. Since these two translates into ‘an infinitive form’ in English, hence the lesson is called ‘Infinitive Form of Verbs’. What may seem as verbs are not verbs, like how ‘you’ aren’t ‘you’. Damn parallel universes…
Just in case you were wondering, a verb in Nepali is defined as ‘An action word that gives a complete meaning to the sentence’ Since they don’t give a complete meaning, hence they aren’t considered to be ’true verbs’.
He cut his hand with a knife while slicing vegetables (where ‘cut’ gives complete meaning to the sentence but not the ‘slicing’). Hence, infinitives are ‘pseudo-verbs’.
Remember the ‘basic’ form of verb, like ‘खानु’ (khanu)? That is Infinitive-type 1 (as I will call it); The ‘nu’ type. The ‘nu’ type of infinitive functions like a noun. It is not a gerund, though, but it is somewhat like a gerund, because it functions like a noun (primarily). However, it does get occasionally get translated into a gerund to keep up with the ‘flow’ of language understanding.
The ‘na’ infinitive:
The ‘na’ infinitive type of ‘verb’ functions like an adverb; hence it is often used in adverbial phrases or clauses.
To make a ‘na’ type infinitive, just remove the ‘u’ (उ) sound from type-one infinitive and replace it with an ‘a’ (अ) sound. For example, खानु (khanu) becomes खान (khana).
Let’s see how infinitives work in Nepali.
Before moving on to the lesson, I will now tell what qualifies as a noun and what qualifies as a verb or adverb in Nepali. As you know, Nepali is a Subject + Object + Verb language. It relies on a series of Case Markers (also known as postpositions or particles) which are like prepositions in English. As such, there is an added flexibility in the Sentence structure. Such case tell what the word is like, let’s say a Subject or an Object.
In English, when you say ‘a cat ate the fish’, you understand that ‘a cat’ (the subject) did a work ‘ate’ to ‘the fish’ (the object). English is a language largely devoid of case markers, so you have to look at the sentence structure to see what is what. Things would be very different if you say ‘The Fish ate the cat’!
In Nepali, you would say ‘Cat+Fish+Ate’ but you can also say ’Fish+Cat+Ate’ as long as the case markers remain attached to the words. So, translated, you can say ’biralo le macha lai khayo’ and ’macha lai biralo le khayo’ and not lose the meaning, provided the main verb stays in the end.
Now, why was this important to say? You must be wondering right now, but this is said to define what a verb is. In Nepali, unless a sentence is a complex sentence (has two verbs of equal importance), only the last (the main verb) is considered to be a ‘true verb’ and the rest of them are ‘pseudo-verbs’. The pseudo-verbs ‘describe’ the main verb and hence behave like adverbs.
‘NU’ TYPE INFINITIVE
The ‘nu’ type of infinitive functions like a noun. For example, take the following sentence:
पढ्नु सबैभन्दा असल काम हो (padhnu sabai bhanda asal kaam ho)
= To study is the greatest deed.
Here, the word padhnu (to study [type one] ) behaves as a noun. The word ‘sabai bhanda’ literally means ‘Compared with all’ and is used in a comparative degree till the superlative nature. (sabai= all, bhanda = it is a comparative compound postposition)
जिउनु दुई पटक मर्नु हो (jiunu dui patak marnu ho)
= To live is to die twice.
Here are two infinitives here, both in the ‘na’ type. Also, did you recognize the sentence? The word jiunu (to live) clearly acts like a noun, but what about ‘marnu’ (to die)? Is it a noun phrase too?
When you are making sentences using this type of infinitive, treat it like a noun. ‘Nu’ types is usually uncommon…
This type of infinitive can be found far away from the main verb.
THE ‘NA’ TYPE INFINITIVE
The ‘na’ type of infinitive functions like an adverb. For example, take the following sentence:
फूल फुल्न थाल्यो । (phool phulna thaalyo)
= (The) Flower(s) began to bloom.
The above sentence is the ‘na’ type of infinitive. As you can see, it functions like an adverb for it describes the verb ‘to begin’, therefore the word ‘began’ (thaalyo) is the main verb. Now, you do know that main verbs always come last in Nepali, just like how the main verb comes in the middle in English.
The word ‘phulna’, which means ‘to bloom’ (type two) is describing the action ‘thaalyo’ (began). The flowers began…began to (do) what? With the addition of ‘phulna’, the sentence is clearer: ‘The flowers began to bloom’
This type of infinitive usually answers the question ’Why’ otherwise ’To do what’, so when making sentences, just ask this question, if it makes sense, then it is correct. For example:
SENTENCE: The boy sat down to study.
Why did he sit down?
He sat down to do what?
= To study (Since the question is answered, the criteria is fulfilled and hence the ’na’ type is used) [केटा पढ्न बस्यो /keta padhna basyo/ ]
This type of infinitive precedes the main verb or whatever verb it modifies. That is because it is an adverb and adverbs precede the verb they describe otherwise modify. (Did you know that adverbs are called ’Kriyavisheshan’ in Nepali, which literally mean ’Adjectives of Verbs’? The more you know…)
‘Na’ type is somewhat more used than the ‘nu’ type.
Now that the adverbial nature of ‘na type of infinitive’ is displayed, I think we can construct more sentences, can’t we?
मलाई हाँस्न मनपर्यो (malai hasna man laagyo)
= I want to laugh.
Here, the word ‘hasna’ (to laugh) is describing the word ‘man laagyo’ (want) more clearly. What do I want to do? I want to laugh.
जब उसले उसको छोराको मृत्युको बारेमा सुन्यो, ऊ रुनथाल्यो (jaba usle usko chora ko mrityu ko bare ma sunyo, u runa thaalyo)
= When he heard the news about the death of his son, he began to cry.
The word ‘runa’ (to cry) modifies the word ‘thaalyo’ (began) in this case.
In English, the infinitives sometimes get hidden with auxiliaries, like ‘can do’ or ‘must be’. In that case, infinitives still apply in Nepali, even when the basic ’to X’ does appear in English Translation. This explains why ’na’ infinitive is used to show potentiality. An example of the hidden infinitive in English:
He can do it.
= ऊ गर्नसक्छ (u garnasakcha)
So, just relying on ’to X’ form is not much effective…
Usually in Speech, the ’na’ types is readily replaced with ’nu’ types. That means, a listener understands both as carrying the same meaning, but this is restricted to only. However, this is not an excuse to speak gibberish and is the language connoisseurs will probably jail you for doing so (if it was a crime). Written Nepali is strict in terms of this…just like you won’t write ‘bro, yo dawg…wassup’ in a letter addressing to the President…well unless you use ‘SWAG’ as an excuse or want to intentionally look like an uneducated swine incapable of stringing formal locutions…..
That is all you have to learn about Infinitives! If this doesn’t satisfy your curiosity, then feel free to ask questions. Also, I am resuming Word of the Day feature from Tomorrow onwards. (Published in 10 AM daily, Nepal Standard Time)
A. TRANSLATE AND TRANSLITERATE THE FOLLOWING
1. म कलम किन्न जाँदैछु
2. I sat down to read a book.
ANSWERS (illustrative purposes only)
A. 1. I am going to buy a pen. (ma kalam kinna jaadaichu)
A. 2. म किताब पढ्न बसे (ma kitab padhna base)