• Dutch
  • Frisian
  • Saterfrisian
  • Afrikaans
Show all

The term mood may be looked upon as a catch-all for a group of diverse but interrelated linguistic phenomena with morphosyntactic, syntactic, semantic,  phonological and pragmatic characteristics, such as indicative vs subjunctive sentence types (and factual information vs content which is not presented as being real, referring to hypothetical or not (yet) realised actions or states of affairs, generally described as irrealis), the distinctive characteristics of  declarative, interrogative and directive sentences, and the expression of wishes, suggestions, commands/prohibitions and the like.

While these phenomena are to a large extent formally expressed in the morphologically complex verb forms of synthetic languages such as Gothic or Latin, their description in the case of largely deflected languages such as Dutch and English, and to a greater extent Afrikaans, should be rather be attempted from a functional point of view, namely how commands, questions or the irrealis are expressed in the language in question.

In the case of Afrikaans, with its dearth of verbal inflection, it will be noticed that specific constructions and the use of modal verbs play an important part in upholding functional distinctions, though inflection remains an important feature in view of the key role of the preterite forms of modal verbs, as the following examples will show.

Imperative sentences generally begin with a verb; a subject or an adverb, if present, follows the verb – cf. the adverb gou 'quickly' in (1).

Neem gou die pakkie weg!
take.IMP quickly the parcel away
Please deliver the parcel quickly!

Initial verb clustering is possible in imperative sentences:

Laat staan die rotsklimmery tog nou!
let.LINK stand.INF the rock.climbing.NMLZ please now
Do stop the rock climbing now!

Verb-final imperatives are also used, as in this example with wees be:

Versígtig wees, nè!
careful  be.INF hey
Be careful, OK?

Imperatives with negative polarity, such as prohibitions, begin with the modal verb moet must + NEG:

Moenie water by die wyn gooi nie!
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP water with the wine pour PTCL.NEG
Don't add water to the wine!

Wishes may also be expressed by means of the modal verb moet must.

Julle moet mooi bly!
you.2PL must.AUX.MOD good remain
Take care!

A conditional phrase may assume the structure of an imperative:

Bring jou kant en jy kry jou geld.
bring.IMP your side and you.2SG get your money
Do your bit and you'll get your money.

Clause-initial imperatives may optionally be followed by a second-person pronoun or form of address as subject, as in (7).

Bring jy / julle / u / meneer die boeke!
bring.IMP you.2SG / you.2PL / you.HON / sir the books
You bring the books (Sir)!

A verbal string consisting of a modal preterite, such as moes must.PRT, and an infinitive is unmarked in respect to actuality and may therefore express a realis or an irrealis.

Sy moes gister werk, maar sy het nie / en sy het.
she must.AUX.MOD.PRT yesterday work.INF but.CNJ she have.AUX not / and she have.AUX
She had to work yesterday, but she didn’t / and she did.

The irrealis is typically expressed by a modal preterite, past participle and auxiliary.

Ek sou die wedstryd kon gewen het as ek wou.
I will.AUX.MOD.PRT the game can.AUX.MOD.PRT win.PST.PTCP have.AUX if.CNJ I want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT
I would have been able to win the game if I wanted to.

Actuality (i.e. the realis) may be made explicit though a special construction with a verbal string consisting of the auxiliary het have, a modal preterite such as moes must.PRT (though occasionally with a present tense modal) and an infinitive, e.g.

Sy het 'n nuwe rekenaar moes koop.
she have.AUX a new computer must.AUX.MOD.PRT buy.INF
She had to buy a new computer.

The preterite – where extant in Afrikaans – is closely associated with the expression of conditionality, cf. the role of was was, were in (11).

As Jan nou tuis was, (dan) was sy probleme iets van die verlede.
if.CNJ Jan now home be.PRT (then) be.PRT his problems something of the past
If Jan had been at home now, his problems would have been a thing of the past.

Modal preterites may also assume pragmatic functions, such as the expression of politeness, e.g.:

Sou jy dalk 'n klein bydrae kon gee?
will.AUX.MOD.PRT you.2SG perhaps a small contribution can.AUX.MOD.PRT give
Would you perhaps be able to give a small contribution?

The phenomena referred to here, are discussed in sections on the indicative, imperative and subjunctive.


The indicative is the “unmarked” mood in the sense that it refers to the verb forms that are typically used in the formation of declarative clauses and questions, which relate to the exchange of information between speaker and addressee. The indicative marks that the clause refers to a state of affairs that is claimed to be actual within the domain of discourse (domain D). In contrast, the subjunctive relates to the expression of non-actuality or the irrealis. When the speaker utters an example such as (13a), he is stating that the proposition streel (Jan, die kat) stroke (Jan, the cat) is true in domain D. Similarly, by uttering the question in (13b), the speaker expresses his belief that there is an ongoing cat-stroking event, but that he wants to know who the agent of the event is: ?streel (x, die kat) ?stroke (x, the cat)By uttering the question in (13c), the speaker is soliciting information about the truth of the proposition streel (Jan, die kat) in domain D.

a. Jan streel die kat.
Jan stroke the cat
Jan is stroking the cat.
b. Wie streel die kat?
who stroke the cat
Who is stroking the cat?
c. Streel Jan die kat?
stroke Jan the cat
Is Jan stroking the cat?

The various functions of indicative statements are described in the section on Inflection and Derivation, under verbal base.

[+]Properties of imperatives

Prototypical imperative constructions exhibit the following properties:

  • Meaning: Imperatives are directive in the sense that they are used to move the addressee to bring about a specific state of affairs. Morphology: The base form of the verb is used as imperative with positive polarity – an unstressed infinitive in the case of wees be, though seldom in the case of het to have.  (To a certain extent, the modal verb moet must has undergone grammaticalization in that it is used along with the main verb when negative polarity is expressed, as in moenie must not, – see examples (14d), (14e) and (14f). )
  • Syntax: A single imperative verb occupies the first position of the sentence; in the case of verb doubling both verbs occupy the first position; in the case of prohibitions, moenie or moet ... (nie) occupies the first position; an overt subject consisting of a second person pronoun or form of address optionally follows the initial verb(s).
  • Phonology: In sentences with positive polarity – if main sentence stress is on a verb – the main verb (the last verb in the case of clustering) receives main stress; in those with negative polarity, moenie may receive main stress (though not moet if a subject follows). In verb doubling, main stress on the first verb, for example bly to remain' in (14c), may emphasize durative aspect where 'working on the problem' is presupposed.

a. Kóm nou hier!
come.IMP now here
Come here now!
b. Kom háál die boek!
come.LINK.IMP fetch.INF the book
Come and fetch the book!
c. Bly werk aan die probleem.
remain.LINK.IMP work.INF on the problem
Keep working on the problem.
d. Wees tevréde met jou lot.
be.IMP satisfied with your fate
Resign yourself to your fate!
e. Móénie dit doen nie!
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP this do.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t do that!
f. Moenie daaraan ráák nie!
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP PN.on touch.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t touch it!
g. Moet júlle dit nie ook doen nie!
 must.AUX.MOD.IMP you.2PL it not also do.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t you also do it!

A verb-final imperative is also possible; all verbs are in the base form, but to have and wees to be have infinitive marking (once again unstressed):

a. Die papiere môre bríng, hoor!
the papers tomorrow bring.INF hear
Bring the papers tomorrow, do you hear?
b. Genóég padkos , nè!
enough road.food have.INF not.so
Bring enough provisions, OK?
c. Versígtig wees, nè!
careful  be.INF not.so
Be careful, OK?

In other sections, more is said about the meaning, morphology, syntax and phonology of the imperative.

[+]Meaning of the imperative

The imperative may (1) have directive meaning, (2) express a wish or (3) be used in generic statements.


Directive sentences aim at persuading the addressee to bring about or maintain a specific state of affairs. They function as commands (16a), requests (16b), pieces of advice (16c), encouragements (16d), etc., e.g.

a. Sit!
Sit down!
b. Gee asseblief die sout aan!
give.IMP please the salt on
Please pass the salt!
c. Besoek van tyd tot tyd jou huisdokter!
visit.IMP from time to time your house.doctor
Visit your GP from time to time!
d. Neem gerus 'n koekie!
take.IMP by.all.means a biscuit
Do have a biscuit!

The imperative is not restricted to specific aspectual classes. Even states denoted by verbs like weet/ken to know, for example, can be used as imperatives provided that the addressee is able to control the state of affairs denoted by the verb in question. The aspectual types are states (17a), activities (17b), achievements (17c) and accomplishments (17d), e.g.

a. Ken jouself!
know.IMP yourself
Know yourself!
b. Sing dit weer, asseblief!
sing.IMP it again please
Please sing it again!
c. Vertrek betyds!
leave.IMP timely
Leave in time!
d. Vang die dief!
catch.IMP the thief
Catch the thief!
[+]Wishes and curses

Imperatives are sometimes also possible if the addressee is not able to control the event denoted by the verb, in which case the construction typically receives a wish or a curse reading, e.g.

a. Slaap lekker!
sleep.IMP well
Sleep well!
b. Gaan jou goed!
go.INF you.2SG well
Go well!
c. Gaan blaas doppies!
go.LINK.IMP blow.INF caps
Go jump in the lake!
d. Loop na die duiwel!
walk.IMP to the devil
Go to hell!
[+]Use in generic statements

All cases discussed so far can readily be seen as directive in an extended sense of the word. One may, however, distinguish non-directive uses of the imperative, in which the more conspicuous semantic aspect of these constructions is conditional: if the addressee performs the action denoted by the imperative verb, the event mentioned in the second conjunct will take place.

a. Kom hier en ek gee jou 'n lekker.
come.INF here and I give you a sweet
If you come here I’ll give you a sweet.
b. Kom hier en ek gee jou 'n pak slae.
kom.INF here and I give you a pack beatings
If you come here I’ll give you a hiding!

In the following structurally similar examples the directive interpretation has completely disappeared. In fact, the implied subject no longer refers to the addressee, but is interpreted generically; we are dealing with more widely applicable generalisations.

a. Weerspreek sy menings en hy is dadelik kwaad vir jou.
contradict.INF his opinions and he is immediately angry with you
If you contradict his opinions he is angry with you straight away.
b. Hang die wasgoed buite en die reën is op pad.
hang.INF the washing outside and the rain is on way
If you hang the washing outside the rain will be on its way.

In fact, it is even possible to use imperatives in conditional constructions that are unacceptable in isolation; although the first sentence below is infelicitous on an imperative reading – given that, under normal circumstances, the subject is not able to control the property denoted by the predicate om blonde hare te hê having blond hair – it can be used as the antecedent (“if-part”) of the conditional construction in the next sentence:

a. *Hê blonde hare!
have.IMP blond hair
To mean: Have blond hair!
b. ? Hê blonde hare en die mense dink jy is dom.
have.INF blond hair and the people think you are stupid
If you have blonde hair people will think you are stupid

Non-directive imperatives can furthermore be used to invite the addressee to draw his/her own conclusions. Such examples may also be conditional in nature: the addressee is supposed to construe the imperative as the antecedent of an implicit material implication and to figure out the consequence (“then-part”) for him-/herself:

a. Probeer nou net om twee nagte na mekaar wakker te bly.
try.IMP now only for.CNJ two nights after each.other awake PTCL.INF stay.INF
Just try to stay awake for two nights in a row.
b. Verloor maar albei ouers as jy nog net tien jaar oud is.
lose.INF after.all both parents if.CNJ you.2SG only just ten year old be.PRS
See how it is to lose both parents if you are only ten years old.

In the conditional constructions discussed so far the imperative functions as the antecedent of the implied material implication, but it can also function as the consequent:

a. As sy met die verkeerde voet uit die bed klim, bly (dan) uit haar pad uit.
if.CNJ she with the wrong foot out the bed get.PRS stay.IMP then out her way out .POSTP
If she gets out of bed on the wrong side, stay out of her way.
b. As hy nie van jou hou nie, vat maar jou goed en trek.
if.CNJ  he not of you like.PRS PTCL.NEG take.IMP then your things and move.IMP
If he doesn’t like you, take your things and leave.
[+]Formal properties of the imperative

In this subsection the formal characteristics of a number of constructions with imperative or imperative-like meanings are discussed. Morphologically, the imperative is always the verbal base except in the case of ‘have’ and ‘be’, when the infinitival forms and wees are used.

[+]Clause-initial subjectless imperatives

The most common imperative is the clause-initial type. In the case of verb doubling – which may be preferable with imperatives – both verbs occur clause-initially without insertions (24c, 24e). (Note that have and wees be do not enter into doubling.) Verbal particles either follow the initial verb(s) or occur clause-finally (24g, 24h). When the verbs are separated, as in (24d), the lexical sense of the first is foremost; when doubled, as in (24e), the aspectual function of the first is emphasized. When verb and particle are conjoined, as in (24g), they may express a combined sense or new meaning different from that of the verb as such; in (24h) weg away is no more than a directional adverb.

a. Gooi die bal!
throw.IMP the ball
Throw the ball!
b. Wees vroeg daar!
be.IMP early there
Be there early!
c. Probeer gooi die bal!
try.IMP throw.INF the ball
Try and throw the ball!
d. Probeer die bal gooi!
try.IMP the ball throw.INF
Try and throw the ball!
e. Bly gooi die bal!
keep.on.IMP the ball throw.INF
Keep throwing the ball!
f. ?Bly die bal gooi!
keep.on.IMP the ball throw.INF
Keep throwing the ball!
g. Gooi weg die bal!
throw.IMP away the ball
Discard the ball!
h. Gooi die bal wegvan jou!
throw.IMP the ball away from you
Throw the ball away from you!

Imperatives with initial to have are considered rare (“seldsaam”) by Van Schoor 1983:142), cf.:

? tog geduld met hom!
have.IMP please patience with him
Do have patience with him!

In occupying the first position in their sentence, verb-initial imperatives differ markedly from indicative verbs in declarative clauses, which normally are preceded by some constituent, cf. the contrast between (26a) and (26b). (Note that in the case of verb-final imperatives, as in (34), this restriction does not hold.)

a. Daardie boek gee ek môre terug.
that book give I tomorrow back
That book I’ll return tomorrow.
b. *Daardie boek gee dadelik terug!
that book give.IMP immediately back
To mean: Return that book immediately!

Imperative clauses are always main clauses and can only be embedded as direct speech, cf. (27a) and (27b); indirect imperatives may, however, be formulated by means of infinitival complements, as in (27c).

a. Jan sê: “Sit daardie boek neer!”
Jan say  put.IMP that  book down
Jan says, “Put down that book!
b. *Jan sê dat daardie boek neersit.
Jan say that.COMP that book down.put
To mean: Jan says that you should put down that book.
c. Jan sê vir Piet om daardie boek neer te sit.
Jan say to Piet for.COMP that book down PTCL.INF put.INF
Jan tells Piet to put down that book.

The examples in (28) show that Afrikaans freely allows negative imperatives with all event types. Telic cases like (28c) and (28d) can sometimes be construed as warnings, but more a directive interpretation is possible as well, cf. (28e):

a. Moenie bang wees nie!
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP afraid be.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t fear!
b. Moenie sanik nie!
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP moan PTCL.NEG
Don’t moan!
c. Moenie val nie!
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP fall.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t fall!
d. Moenie die vaas breek nie!
must.not.AUX.MOD.IMP the vase break.INF PTCL.NEG
Don’t break the vase!
e. Moet liewers nie daardie boek lees nie!
must.AUX.MOD.IMP rather not that book read.INF PTCL.NEG
Best not to read that book!

Since the verb is in initial position, the subject is expected to follow it. The examples above have already shown that this expectation is not borne out and that the subject is normally suppressed. This does not imply, however, that it is also syntactically absent. That subjects are syntactically present is strongly suggested by the fact that it is possible to use anaphors such as jou(self)/u(self) yourself and mekaar each other, which normally must be bound by an antecedent in the same clause – particularly when an obligatorily reflexive verb such as verset resist is used, as in (29a). The form of the anaphors also shows that we are dealing with an empty subject that is marked for second person but underspecified for number and the politeness feature.

a. Help mekaar!
help.IMP one.another
Help one another!
a. Verset jou teen die indringers!
resist.IMP you.2SG.REFL against the intruders
Resist the intruders!
a.' Verset julle teen die indringers!
resist.IMP you.2PL against the intruders
Resist the intruders!
a.'' Verset u teen die indringers!
resist.IMP you.HON against the intruders
Resist the intruders!
b. Kyk na jouself!
look.IMP at yourself.2SG
Look after yourself!
b.' Kyk na julleself!
look.IMP at yourselves.2PL
Look after yourselves!
b.'' Kyk na uself!
look.IMP at yourself/.selves
Look after yourself/-selves!

The examples in (30) show that the pronouns jy, julle and u can sometimes be used in combination with verb-initial imperatives, in which case they function as vocatives rather than as subjects. This is clear from the fact that at least the primeless examples are unacceptable without an intonation break, that the pronouns can occur in the right periphery of the clause, and that the pronouns can all readily be replaced by a proper noun or an epithet, e.g. Kom nou hier, Jan/idioot! Come here, Jan/idiot!.

a. Jy (daar), kom nou hier!
you.2SG there come.IMP now here
You there, come here now!
a.' Kom nou hier, jy (daar)!
come.IMP now here you.2SG there
Come here now, you there!
b. Julle (daar), kom nou hier! 
you.2PL there come.IMP now here
You there, come here now!
b.' Kom nou hier, julle (daar)!
come.IMP now here you.2PL there
Come here now, you there!
c. U (daar), kom nou hier!
you.HON there come.IMP now here 
You there, come here now!
c.' Kom nou hier, u (daar!)
come.IMP now here you.HON there
Come here now, you there!

Subjectless verb-initial imperatives can also be used to express general rules. This means that the implied subject can also be interpreted like the non-referential second person pronoun in statements such as (31a). Under this interpretation the use of a vocative of course leads to a degraded result.

a. Jy moet elke dag minstens 'n halfuur beweeg.
you must.AUX.MOD every day at.least a half.hour move .INF
You should move for at least half an hour every day.
b. Beweeg elke dag minstens 'n halfuur (*jy daar)
Move.IMP every day at.least a half.hour you there
Move at least half an hour every day (*you there).
[+]Clause-initial imperatives with overt subject

Clause-initial imperatives may optionally be followed by a second-person pronoun or form of address as subject, cf. (32).

a. Bring jy / julle / u / meneer die boeke!
bring.IMP you.2SG / you.2PL / you.HON / sir the books
You bring the books (Sir)!
b. Bly sing jy/julle/u/meneer die refrein!
keep.on.IMP  sing  you.2SG/you.2PL/you.HON/Sir the chorus
Do keep singing the chorus (Sir!)
c. Moet jy/julle/u/meneer nie die refrein sing nie!
must.AUX.MOD.IMP you2.SG/you.2PL/you.HON/Sir not the chorus sing.INF PTCL.NEG
Don't (you) sing the chorus (Sir)!
d. Wees jy/julle/u/meneer asseblief geduldig!
be.IMP you.2SG/you.2PL/you.HON/Sir please patient
Will you please be patient (Sir)!

In the case of negative polarity, moet ... nie  imperatives are acceptable as long as the addressee is able to control the event, cf. (33).

a. Moet julle maar nie vrees nie!
must.AUX.MOD.IMP you.2PL only not fear.INF PTCL.NEG
You shouldn’t fear!
b. Moet julle maar nie sanik nie!
must.AUX.MOD.IMP you.2PL only not moan.INF PTCL.NEG
You shouldn’t moan!
c. Moet julle maar nie val nie!
must.AUX.MOD.IMP you.2PL only not fall.INF PTCL.NEG
You mustn’t fall!
d. Moet julle maar nie die pot breek nie!
must.AUX.MOD.IMP you.2PL only not the vase break.INF PTCL.NEG
You mustn’t break the vase!
[+]Clause-final imperatives

Afrikaans makes restricted use of imperatives with the verbal base in clause-final position, and wees  or in the case of the copula ‘to be’ or main verb ‘to have’, respectively, cf. (34). Separable verbs occur in their clause-final form, viz. with the prepositional particle preceding the verb, as in (34b). Clause-final imperatives are excluded in the case of imperatives with negative polarity (prohibitions, etc.) as these require the clause-initial modal verb moenie or moet ... nie must not. Acceptability is improved by the addition of particles expressing encouragement.  According to Haeseryn et al. (1997) imperatives of this kind (i.e. infinitival imperatives in the case of Dutch) are especially used to express instructions (cf. (34b) and (34c) below) that are not directed towards a specific person, e.g. in directions for use or prohibitions. Imperatives of this kind are often experienced as more polite than clause-initial imperatives, and may also express wishes (cf. (34a)) or exhortations (cf. (34d) and (34e)).

a. Lekker slaap/werk/ tuin natgooi!
well  sleep.INF/work.INF/garden water.INF
Sleep well! / Enjoy the work! / Enjoy watering the garden!
b. Die prop uittrek, nè!
the wall.plug out.pull.INF hey
See that you remove the wall plug!
c. Die prop uit die muur trek, hoor!
the plug out.of the wall pull.INF hear.IMP
See that you remove the plug from the wall!
d. Soet/sterk wees, hoor!
good/strong be.INF hear.IMP
Be good! / Be strong!
e. Geduld , nè!
patience have.INF hey
Do have patience!

A second person pronoun or form of address with subject relationship to the sentence may be affixed, e.g.

a. Lekker werk, julle/jy Piet!
well  work  you.2PL/you.2SG/Piet
Enjoy your work, guys/Piet
b. Soet wees, julle/jy/Sannie!
good be.INF  you.2Pl/you.2SG/Sannie
Be good, guys/Sannie!
[+]Wishes in statement format

Wishes are often expressed in statement form, employing the modal verb moet must, as in (36). Unlike in the case of moet ... nie / moenie prohibitions, an overt subject is obligatory. As we are dealing with wishes in statement form, their classification as either clause-initial or clause-final imperatives would be irrelevant.

a. Julle moet mooi bly!
you.2PL must.AUX.MOD nice stay
Keep well!
b. Jy moet jou vakansie geniet!
you.2SG must.AUX.MOD your holidays enjoy.INF
You must enjoy your holidays!
c. U moet heelhuids terugkom!
you.HON must.AUX.MOD intact back.come.INF
You must return in one piece!
[+]Actuality and non-actuality: realis and irrealis

The semantic distinction between indicative and subjunctive mood is often expressed by means of the terms realis and irrealis. The former expresses actualised and the latter non-actualised eventualities. Palmer (2001) shows that the distinction is somewhat more complicated since the term subjunctive may also be used to refer to presupposed propositions, and suggests that the distinction can be better described by means of the term (non-)assertion: in languages that systematically make the distinction, the speaker uses the indicative to assert some new (non-)presupposed proposition and to indicate that he is committed to the truth of the proposition, whereas the subjunctive is used if the proposition is already presupposed or if the speaker is not necessarily committed to the truth of the proposition. The subjunctive thus can have a wide variety of functions; it is typically used (i) in reported speech, questions, and negative clauses, (ii) to refer to non-actualised (future), hypothetical or counterfactual events, and (iii) to express directives, goals, wishes, fears, etc. As Afrikaans verbal morphology makes no provision for a subjunctive category apart from a few relics, the focus below will be on other formal means employed to express the group of functions referred to above.

[+]Relic subjunctives
[+]Relic present subjunctive

In as far as the preferred form of the verb ‘live’ is leef, and the form leef seems inappropriate in the wish expressed in the following, lewe may count as a relic subjunctive. In (37) the verb lewe live (rather than its more frequent variant leef) is used in a conventional phrase to express a wish:

Lank lewe die demokrasie!
long live.IMP the democracy
Long live democracy!

The Afrikaans Sy be is a reflex of the Dutch present subjunctive of the verb zijnto be, and still encountered in compounds such as the preposition danksy (lit.) thank be thanks to and the conjunction tensy (lit.) it not be unless, forms part of fixed expressions such as:

a. Gode sy dank!
God.DAT be thanks
Thank God!
b. Hoe dit ook al sy, ek sal dit doen.
how it whatever be I will.AUX.MOD it do.INF
Whatever the case may be, I’ll do it.
[+]Relic past subjunctive

A relic of the preterite subjunctive of was be.PRT, namely Ware were.SBJV, occurs in the fixed expression as 't ware as it were, from Dutch als het ware (cf. Eng. were, which has the same status.)

[+]Preterites and perfects in subjunctive function(s)

The following morphological and syntactic mechanisms may combine in the expression of wishes, the realis or irrealis, hypothetical statements, epistemic function, etc.

  • a perfect
  • subject-verb inversion
  • a modal preterite

For example, in (39a) below, subject-verb inversion (Het ek have I ...), a modal particle (maar but)  and the perfect (gekry het (lit.) got have have finished) combine to express the speaker’s regret at failing to complete an action as planned; in (39b) the modal preterite kon could is added. The sense of regret is deepened in (39b) by the addition of the modal preterite as a second distal element.

a. Het ek maar die berekenings betyds klaar gekry!
have.AUX I but the calculations on.time finished get.PST.PTCP
I wish I could have finished the calculations in good time!
b. Kon ek maar die berekenings betyds klaar gekry het!
can.AUX.MOD.PRT I but the  calculations  on.time finished get.PST.PTCP   have.AUX
I wish I could have finished he calculations in good time!
[+]Past tense, modality and modal preterites

Past tense forms may double as subjunctives in many languages. Fleischman (1989) points out that (t)he relationship between PAST tense and non-actuality has been widely acknowledged in the linguistic literature and provides examples from many languages of how temporal distance in the direction of past is pressed into service to express modal distance, in particular to signal the speaker’s assessment of the ‘certainty-/reality-/actuality-status’ of a predicated situation .

Afrikaans is no exception to this development. According to De Villiers (1971:70) the preterite indicates ‘distance’ or ‘weakening’ of present reality: either distance from present time or ‘distance/weakening’ of reality. Thus, while the modal preterites in (40) express past tense,

Vroeër moes ek deurnag werk; ek wou en ek kon ook.
earlier must.AUX.MOD.PRT I through.night work.INF I want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT and I can.AUX.MOD.PRT also
Earlier on I had to work through the night; I wanted to and I was also able to.

the modal preterites in the following express a hypothesis – (41a) – and unfulfilled wishes – (41b) and (41c) – all with an underpinning of non-actuality:

a. Hy moes tog kon hóór.
he must.AUX.MOD.PRT surely can.AUX.MOD.PRT hear.INF
Surely he must have been able to hear.
P.G. du Plessis: Fees, 2008, 31
b. Wat sou ek wou gee om daarmee te kon grootword
what will.AUX.MOD.PRT I want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT give.INF for.COMP PN.with PTCL.INF can.AUX.MOD.PRT grow.up.INF
What would I have given (in exchange) for growing up with that.
M. Leroux-Van der Boon: Go'el Yisra'el. 2012: 23
c. Ek sou nog vir hom wou kon sê dat ek hom ... gemis het
I will.AUX.MOD.PRT still for him want.to.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT say that.COMP I him miss.PST.PTCP have.AUX
I would still have wanted to be able to say that I missed him.
B. Breytenbach in Rapport, 2015/2/8

Actuality or non-actuality is not marked by modal preterites alone, unless it is implied by the context as in the examples above. Thus, (42) below is in fact open to both interpretations:

Sy moes gister werk, maar sy het nie / en sy het.
she must.AUX.MOD.PRT yesterday work.INF but.CNJ she have.AUX not / and she have.AUX
She had to work yesterday, but she didn’t / and she did.
[+]Modal preterite + perfect

Non-actuality or the irrealis is strongly indicated by a verbal string De Villiers (1971:27) refers to as “imperfect-perfect”, in our terms a combination of preterite modals with a perfect, as in:

Sy moes gister gewerk het (maar sy het nie).
she must.AUX.MOD.PRT yesterday work.PST.PTCP have.AUX but.CNJ she have.AUX not
She should have worked yesterday, but she didn't.

However, many speakers do not distinguish between (43) and (44) and employ modal preterite+ perfect, as in (44), as a realis:

Sy moes gister gewerk het (en sy het).
she must.AUX.MOD.PRT yesterday work.PST.PTCP have.AUX and she have.AUX
She had to work yesterday and in fact did.

De Villiers (1971:95) expresses doubts as to whether ‘logical hypothesis’ and irrealis ought to be, or are in fact distinguished formally in Afrikaans. While (45) expresses non-actuality,