The verb is how we describe and define things, events or occurrences. These events or actions may have occurred or will occur at a certain point in time. After all, time is limited and we like to describe events as they should occur. These actions should convey whether it is still going on, over, or had occurred. The state of the verb is after all, very important, as it denotes the properties of the action. In order to denote these properties, the verb is inflected (i.e. modified) to reflect them.
The process by which a basic verb (also called lemma) is inflected to denote person, mood, tense etc. is called verb conjugation. When a basic verb (usually in the infinitive form) is conjugated, the resultant form is called a verb conjugate. Many languages such English and German conjugate verbs, but some like Chinese and Vietnamese do not. Nepali conjugates verb extensively, as the essence of a sentence is carried by it.
Take a few sentences in English. The basic verb here is ‘to see’, which can be conjugated (forms in italic) to show the tense (or the time of occurrence):
Past tense | I saw cats. Present tense | I see cats. Future tense | I will see cats.
Notice that the verb conjugate reflects the properties of the subject. This is very important, as the subject of the sentence is used as the basis for conjugating the verb. If instead of ‘I’, it was ‘he’, the conjugates would be very different:
Past tense | He saw cats. Present tense | He sees cats. Future tense | He will see cats.
We shall now look over the properties of the subject that the verb will take on below.
When you conjugate a verb, you first look at the subject and decide its grammatical properties. These are several categories, which are listed below.
The perspective of the subject, whether it is in first, second or third person. Comparative example in English:
Third person | He kicks the ball. First person | I kick the ball.
The level of formality or respect used to address the subject. There are no examples in English, but many languages such as Nepali and German use a tiered pronominal system (basically, different pronouns for the same person) to denote respect. For instance, the German Sie and du (both ‘you’) are examples of differing formality:
Formal | Sie sind ein Arzt. Informal | Du bist ein Arzt. = You are a doctor.
The number or quantity of the subject, whether it is singular or plural.
Singular | He kicks the ball. Plural | They kick the ball.
The gender of the subject, whether it is masculine, neuter or feminine. Note that Nepali uses a zero/fem system, meaning masculine and neuter share the same conjugations, while the conjugation for feminine subjects is slightly different. Masculine/neuter gender is thus denoted as zero gender. I can’t think of a sentence, but perhaps a pseudo-example might make sense:
Zero | He kicks the ball. Feminine | She kicks-i the ball. [the different ending indicates feminine gender]
Note | In everyday Nepali, it is very common to use zero gender conjugations for feminine subjects as well. Gender markings in Nepali are not very productive in Nepali.
The tense is time of occurrence of the event. It could be in the past, the present or the future. In Nepali, the future tense is usually replaced by the present tense, with the future tense reserved for only absolutely certain events. However, the future tense does exist and is somewhat parallel to the present.
Past tense | I kicked the ball. Present tense | I kick the ball.
The aspect denotes how an action might extend over time. It could either be indefinite, progressive or perfect.
Present indefinite | I kick the ball. Present progressive |I am kicking the ball.
The mood denotes actions or situations that need to be communicated but need not necessarily be actual. They could be real or irrealis, such that they can denote commands, statements, conditions or probability.
Indicative | You kick the ball. Imperative | You, kick the ball!
Nepali is unique that the negation is denoted in the conjugate itself. Every conjugation has a positive form and a negative form.
Positive | I kicked the ball. Negative | I did not kick the ball.
When you make a sentence in Nepali, the verb must agree with all of the grammatical properties of the subject. This agreement is also known as subject-verb agreement. In Nepali, the conjugate agrees with all of the given grammatical properties. An example in Nepali:
म भात खान्छु (ma bhāt khānchu) | first person | neutral respect | singular | zero gender | present tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood = I eat rice.
तिमी भात खान्छौ (timī bhāt khānchau) | second person | medium respect | singular | zero gender | present tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood = You[mr] eat rice.
Although the above seems rather complicated, it actually comes quite naturally. In fact, you are in fact doing it right now. Take this sentence in English:
They ate rice. | third person | neutral respect | plural | zero gender | past tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood
The verb conjugate above is agreeing with the subject’s properties listed.
The time at which the action occurs is called the tense. In Nepali, there are three tenses much like English. They are:
- Past tense | I ate.
- Present tense | I eat.
- Future tense | I will eat.
The description of the action over a period of time as it might occur is called the aspect. Like English, there are three aspects for each tense but the past tense has two extra aspects, which I have marked with an asterisk (*) to indicate that it applies to the past tense only:
- Indefinite or Simple | I ate.
- Progressive or Continuous | I was eating.
- Perfect | I had eaten.
- *Unknown | I ate, it seems.
- *Habitual | I used to eat.
Actions or situations that need to be communicated but need not necessarily be actual is called the mood. There are various different moods, but they all boil down to statements and everything else:
- Indicative | I eat.
- Irrealis | I might eat.
A verb may also carry several properties which determines whether the sentence will take a direct object or not. While this is important, this will be discussed later as we are yet to define the term ‘direct object’. However, in brief, the property of a verb by which the statement takes a direct object is called transitivity. A direct object is one that takes on the action directly. You can read more here.
ROOT OF THE VERB
All verbs are listed in the dictionary in their basic form, also known as the lemma. When you want to conjugate a verb, you want to transform this lemma so that you get the root of the verb. From here, you add various suffixes or prefixes to indicate the conjugation. In Nepali, all verbs are listed in their indefinite form, which ends in –nu. Thus, you will see a listed verb following this pattern:
Root + नु (nu)
खानु (khānu) | खा (khā) [root] + नु (nu)
The root never changes over the course of the conjugation bar a few cases, and extracting it from the lemma is quite easy. We simply remove the नु (nu) from the verb to get the root. Sometimes an additional step is required.
The table below is an example how we can conjugate the verb to play, which in Nepali is खेल्नु (khelnu), to obtain various conjugates. The subjects are singular and do not have a grammatical gender. The rows contain the grammatical person while the columns contain the grammatical tense. The mood is indicative and the aspect is indefinite.
The root of the verb is खेल् (khel). Notice how different suffixes are used, but the root remains the same.
|I | first person||khele~||khelchu||khelnechu|
|You[mr] | second person||khelyau||khelchau||khelnechau|
|He/She | third person||khelyo||khelcha||khelnecha|
Using the chart above, we can use some of the conjugates to create some example statements to demonstrate how the verb changes according to the subject:
मैले* बल खेलेँ (mai-le bal khele~) | first person | neutral respect | singular | zero gender | past tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood = I played (the) ball.
तिमी बल खेल्नेछौ (timī bal khelnechau) | second person | medium respect | singular | zero gender | future tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood = You will play (the) ball.
Note | *Although the word for ‘I’ in Nepali is म (ma), the form used here is actually म (ma) + ले (le), with ले (le) being a case marker. In Nepali, it is important to mark the case of the subject, in this instance indicating the nominative case (this case points the action-doer). Only in few types of tenses and moods can the case marker be left out, with present indefinite and future indefinite being some of them (thus we say only timī and not timī-le in the second statement above). In others cases, such as in the past indefinite (first statement), it is obligatory to mark the nominative case with le.
You may also have noticed that when le or other case markers are added, the pronoun changes a bit. This process called obliquing. In this case, म (ma) has to be changed into मै (mai). On the other hand, timī does not oblique, so adding le renders it as timī-le only. We will explore this as we tackle case markers and oblique form of pronouns. Take the following sentence as a demonstration when a pronoun does not oblique:
तिमीले बल खेल्यौ (timī-le bal khelyau)
= You played (the) ball.
- The process by which a basic verb (also called lemma) is inflected to denote person, mood, tense etc. is called verb conjugation.
- When a basic verb (usually in the infinitive form) is conjugated, the resultant form is called a verb conjugate.
- When you make a sentence in Nepali, the verb must agree with all of the grammatical properties of the subject. This agreement is thus known as the subject-verb agreement.
- The grammatical properties are: person, formality, number, gender, tense, aspect, mood.
- The property of a verb by which the statement takes a direct object is called transitivity.
- All verbs are listed in their indefinite form, which ends in –nu. The root of the verb is thus the part before it, which is used to conjugate the verb.
- To extract the root, remove the -nu. The root does not usually need modifications, bar a few exceptions.
- Some pronouns upon taking case markers change their form. This is called obliquing.
- Subjects take up case markers obligatorily in certain tenses and aspects. Present indefinite is a notable exception; one does not need to mark the subject with a case marker.
A. USING THE CHART ABOVE, FILL IN THE FOLLOWING WITH THE APPROPRIATE VERB CONJUGATE.
1. ū bal __ | He plays (the) ball
2. ma bal __ | I will play (the) ball
3. us-le bal __ | He played (the) ball
4. timī-le bal __ | You[mr] will play the ball
5. jan-le ces __ | John played chess
B. USING THE FOLLOWING SENTENCES, DESCRIBE THE TENSE, ASPECT AND MOOD OF THE FOLLOWING SENTENCES.
1. John will be eating sushi.
2. Mary was a project manager.
3. Paul stayed at the Hilton hotel.
4. The university is developing solar technology.
5. You should run away now!
C. DESCRIBE THE GRAMMATICAL PROPERTIES OF THE SUBJECTS BELOW.
1. We (hāmī) are going home.
2. Mary and Susan went hiking.
3. You (timī) will be going tomorrow.
D. ASSUMING A SIMILAR CONJUGATION PATTERN TO THE CHART, CONJUGATE THE FOLLOWING VERBS SO THAT IT AGREES WITH THE GIVEN PROPERTIES.
1. लेख्नु (lekhnu) | to write | first person | neutral respect | singular | zero gender | past tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood
2. सिक्नु (siknu) | to learn | second person | medium respect | singular | zero gender | present tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood
3. पढ्नु (paḍhnu) | to read | third person | neutral respect | singular | zero gender | future tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood
E. NOW, MAKE A SIMPLE STATEMENT USING THE VERB CONJUGATES OBTAINED IN D.
B.1. future tense | progressive aspect | indicative mood
B.2. past tense | indefinite tense | indicative mood
B.3. past tense | indefinite tense | indicative mood
B.4. present tense | progressive aspect | indicative mood
B.5. present tense | indefinite tense | irrealis mood
C.1. first person | neutral respect | plural | zero gender | present tense | progressive aspect | indicative mood
C.2. third person | medium respect | plural | feminine gender | past tense | indefinite aspect | indicative mood
C.3. second person | medium respect | singular | zero gender | future tense | progressive aspect | indicative mood
D.1. लेखेँ (lekhe~)
D.2. सिक्छौ (sikchau)
D.3. पढ्नेछ (paḍhnecha)
E.(D.1.). मैले किताब लेखेँ (maile kitāb lekhe~) = I wrote (a) book.
E.(D.2.). तिमी विज्ञान सिक्छौ (timī vijñān sikchau) = You learn science.
E.(D.3.). जन किताब पढ्नेछ (jan kitāb paḍhnecha) = John will read (a) book.