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Characteristics of non-main verbs

A main verb may be defined semantically as the lexical verb which expresses the semantic focus or content of the main action or state described in a clause. A non-main verb, in turn, qualifies the action or state expressed by the main verb in the context of the clause in one of several ways, for example with reference to its modality or aspect. A non-main verb may but need not share the arguments selected by the main verb.

Afrikaans verbs have little formal differentiation. Past participles are formed on the basis of the otherwise uninflected or base form of the verb, alongside a small set of strong, weak or irregular participles that were inherited from Dutch, and are employed as adjectives to express figurative meanings or in attributive function.As no terminological distinction is made between passive, perfect and past participles, the latter will be used. Only two verbs are explicitly marked as infinitives, namely wees to be in contrast to is am, is, are and was was, were and, in the function of main verb but not auxiliary, to have in contrast to het have, has. A small number of preterites, notably was and that of four modal verbs, remain in productive use.

All participles, except gehad for hê/het to have, are formed by affixing ge- to the base form of the verb if required on prosodical grounds. To qualify as a past participle, a rising stress contour is required, though not necessarily on consecutive syllables. If this condition is not met, for instance in the case of a monosyllabic base (e.g. geleer learnt) or a base with initial main stress (e.g. geántwoord answered), affixation of ge- is obligatory; in all other cases ge- is optional (e.g. (ge)probéér tried. This requirement seems to carry over to clusters of more than one lexical verb, so that ge- is also optional in clusters such as (ge)leer skryf het learnt to write.

Afrikaans modal verbs usually accompany a main verb, i.e. have an auxiliary function. Four modals have preterite forms, viz. sou for sal shall/will, moes for moet must, kon for kan can and wou for wil to want to, of which only wil has a (little used) past participle, gewil willed.

The main Afrikaans auxiliaries are het to have in the past tense of the active, and is/wees to be and was was, were in the passive of past and pluperfect tenses.

Kom to come, as in kom aangeloop to come walking and kry to get as in iets gedoen kry to get something done are examples of semi-auxiliaries.

Is be.PRS, in the construction is plus directional adjunct, as in Hulle is park toe They have gone to the park, is an example of an active rather than passive auxiliary expressing past tense.

The main verb may be preceded by lexical verbs such as laat to let, leer to teach and bly to keep on, stay functioning as causative, benefactive and stative verbs, respectively, so-called linking verbs, e.g.

Die slagoffer bly kreun.
the victim keep.on.LINK groan.INF
The victim keeps on groaning.

Indirect linking verbs refer to postures such as sit to sit, staan to stand and to lie or motion, such as loop walk, and are mediated by en and, e.g.

Die offisier sit en slaap.
the officer sit.LINK and sleep.INF
The officer sits and sleeps.

The basic clause-final order of verbal constituents is MODAL VERB(S) + LEXICAL VERB(S) + AUXILIARY/-IES, as in

Hy sou die pizzas al moes begin bestel het.
he will.AUX.MOD.PRT the pizzas already must.AUX.MOD.PRT begin.LINK order.INF have.AUX
He would have had to start ordering the pizzas already.

A verbal particle may be split from its verb in the following way:

dat hy die gewoonte <af> kon <af->geleer het
that.COMP he the habit <off> can.AUX.MOD.PRT <off> learn.PST.PTCP have.AUX
that he could give up the habit
[+]Defining non-main verbs

In order to characterise a non-main verb it is first of all necessary to identify the main verb. The main verb will be defined semantically, as syntactical and morphological means will be shown to present specific problems in the case of Afrikaans. A main verb (or copula plus predicate) will be defined as the verb expressing the semantic focus or content of the main action or state in a single clause and selecting external and internal arguments accordingly. A non-main verb, in contrast, is involved in qualifying the action of the main verb in some way or other, for example from a modal or aspectual point of view, as something caused, controlled or experienced in some way, as executed in a certain posture or by making use of some kind of motion. In accomplishing this, some non-main verbs, such as the modal wil to want to and the causative laat to let, may select their own arguments. Thus in (5) the referent of the clausal subject sy she has an agentive role in relation to wil but is the theme or undergoer of the sien action, and in (6) the referent of sy vriende his friends is the theme or undergoer of laat but at the same time plays an agentive role in regard to doen..

Sy wil gesien wees deur die mense.
she want.to.AUX.MOD see.PST.PTCP be.AUX.PASS.INF by the people
She wants to be seen by the people.
Hy laat sy vriende die werk doen.
he let.LINK his friends the work do.INF
He lets his friends do the work.

In the case of Afrikaans, concepts such as finiteness, the infinitive and the past participle leave us in the lurch when trying to distinguish between main and non-main verbs. Thus, traditionally, if a clause contains more than one verb, the finite verb is a non-main verb, and other verbs are either infinitives or past participles. However, in the clause-final verb cluster of (7), the modal preterites sou and moes, as well as the auxiliary het are all historically finite forms. It is not clear which of leer or dans or both would be the main verb. And traditionally the verb-second position would contain a non-main verb, unless it is the only verb, in which case it would be the main verb. So what is the grammatical status of the begin leer collocation or the individual verbs in (8), neither having finite, infinitive or participial inflection?

Ek weet dat Maria sou moes leer dans het.
I know that.COMP Maria will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT learn.LINK dance.INF have.AUX
I know that Maria would have had to learn to dance.
Wanneer begin leer jy vir die eksamen?
when begin.LINK learn.INF you.2SG for the exam
When are you starting to learn for the exam?
[+]Infinitives and past participles

The only morphologically marked infinitives in Afrikaans are wees to be and to have, and it should be noted that though gaan to go, staan to stand, slaan hit and sien see resemble Dutch infinitives, they are in fact the reanalysed base forms of these verbs.

Past participles can be identified morphologically as verbal bases with ge- as prefix. Affixing ge- is, however, optional when the verbal base meets a prosodical requirement, as in the case of verówer conquered and probéér tried. As the affixation of ge- is also optional in the case of a lexical clusters such as sien kom to see coming in (9), where a past participle would be expected after the auxiliary het, it seems likely that the cluster in question meets the prosodical requirement as a whole and therefore also functions like a past participle in its entirety.

Ek het die probleem (ge)sien kom.
I have.AUX the problem see.LINK come.INF
I saw the problem coming.

A lexical verb inflected as infinitive rather than past participle in the perfect, is sometimes described with reference to the "infinitivus pro participio" or IPP effect, cf. inter alia Broekhuis et al. (2015:958). Whether this is a feasible or necessary explanation for Afrikaans clusters such as those in (9), is however a moot point. See Extra.


Ge- is even found to be absent in instances with non-verbal insertions or permeations in the verbal cluster, as in the examples supplied by Combrink (1990:222), in (10) and (11). Combrink (1990:231 note 10) argues that stress placement precedes insertion and refers to it as an "intermediate" process ("tussenbou-proses").

Ons het almal help die bril soek.
we have.AUX all help.LINK the glasses look.for.INF
We all helped to look for the glasses.
Ons het baie vinnig leer met handskoene aan werk.
we have.AUX quite quickly learn.LINK with gloves on work.INF
We learnt quite quickly to work with gloves on.

For Afrikaans, the non-main verbs may be categorised as modal verbs, auxiliary verbs and lexical verbs, with the main verb the last member of a lexical sub-cluster.

[+]Modal verbs

The Afrikaans modal verbs, of which some have preterite forms, are sal/sou will, wouldgaan will, wil, wou to want to, wanted to, moet/moes must, had to, kan/kon can, could, mag may, behoort (te) should, ought (to) and hoef (nie)(te) need (not) and durf dare. The preterite of mag, namely mog might, has become obsolete. In Afrikaans, modal verbs are usually combined with a main verb, as in (12a), unless in elliptical usage, as in (12b). A structure with an object but without a main verb, as in (12c), is marked.

a. Julle kan die taak behartig.
you.2PL can.AUX.MOD the job handle.INF
You can handle the job.
b. Ons kan nie!
we can.AUX.MOD not
We can't!
c. ?Ons kan dit nie!
we can.MOD.PRS it not
To mean: We can't do it.

Afrikaans gaan go, as a modal, shares obligatory stranding of the main verb with other modals, e.g.

Ons gaan <*slaap> môre laat <slaap>.
we go.AUX.MOD <sleep.INF> tomorrow late <sleep.INF>
We are going to sleep late tomorrow.

The modal wil to want to is exceptional in that it can function as main verb on its own, cf. (14a), select arguments conflicting with those of the main verb, as in (14b), and often combines with semantically empty to have as main verb, cf. (14c) (Also cf. Conradie (2016).)

a. Die noodlot het dit so gewil.
the fate have.AUX it so will.MOD.PST.PTCP
Fate willed it that way.
b. 'n Sosiale vlinder wil gesien wees.
a social butterfly want.to.AUX.MOD see.PST.PTCP be.INF
A socialite wants to be seen.
c. Ek wil jy moet huis toe kom.
I want.AUX.MOD have.INF you.2SG must.AUX.MOD home to.POSTP come.INF
I want you to come home.
[+]Auxiliary verbs

The Afrikaans auxiliaries are het has, have in the active andword become and is was, were, was was, were, had been and wees to be. in the passive. Kom to come and kry to get are semi-auxiliaries. Auxiliaries are characterised by specifying the verb they select as a past or passive participle. However, is with a directional adjunct and no participle, as in (15), has characteristics of both an auxiliary and a copula. It has anterior aspect, as it describes an action beginning in the past but with relevance for the present. But as it combines better with a past than a present adverbial, it is a perfect, active, auxiliary comparable to a perfect passive is rather than a present tense copula.

a. Jan is gister huis toe.
Jan be.AUX.PST yesterday home to.POSTP
Jan went home yesterday.
b. Jan is op die oomblik tuis / *huis toe.
Jan is on the moment at.home / home to.POSTP
Jan is at home at the moment.
[+]Lexical verbs

An Afrikaans verb cluster may include one or more lexical verbs, all of which can function as main verb. Some of them employ te to as a linking particle. As non-main verbs, they may have the function of causatives (laat to let, maak to make), a permissive (laat to permit), a verb of movement (gaan go) , an experiential verb (leer to learn), perception verbs (hoor to hear, sien to see, voel to feel, ruik to smell), benefactives (help to help, leer to teach), stative (bly to stay, remain, durative aanhou continue), an inchoative (begin (te) to begin), telic ophou stop and control verbs (probeer (te) try). A number of postural verbs and one verb of motion with aspectual functions employ en and as linking particle, viz. staan (en) stand, lê (en) lie, loop (en) walk and sit (en) sit. The evidential verbs (skyn (te), blyk (te) seem) occupy a special place in this categorisation. Apart from them and to a certain extent verbs such as aanhou continue, ophou stop, voel feel and ruik smell, non-main lexical verbs are generally able to collocate with the main verb in verb second and first position and in clause-final clusters, e.g.

Vandag loop en sing die kinders in die strate.
today walk.LINK and sing.INF the children in the streets
Today the children are singing in the streets.
Dat die werk begin doen moet word, is duidelik.
that.COMP the job begin.LINK do.INF must.AUX.MOD be.AUX.PASS.PRS is clear
It is clear that the job must be begun with.

While most non-main lexical verbs select the same arguments as the main verb, as in (18), a causative such as laat let, in (19), and perception verbs, such as voel feel in (20), are notable exceptions.

Marelize probeer fiets ry.
Marelize try.LINK bicycle ride.INF
Marelize tries to ride a bicycle.
Die hoof laat ander kollegas die skrifte nasien.
the principal let.LINK other colleagues the papers mark.INF
The principal makes other colleagues mark the papers.
Sarie voel die spinnekop byt.
Sarie feel.LINK the spider bite.INF
Sarie feels the spider biting.
[+]Ordering in verb clusters

Non-main verbs by definition always form part of a verb cluster. To determine the surface order, it is convenient to look at clause-final verb clusters in SOV clauses, where all verb types appear in an uninterrupted sequence. Such clauses have a fixed order in Afrikaans, whereas variant Dutch orders such as infinitive + finite verb and auxiliary + past participle are totally excluded. The basic clause-final order in Afrikaans is MODAL VERB(S) + LEXICAL VERB(S) + AUXILIARY/-IES, as in (21a). In this representation, movement into verb second (and first) positions and leftward movement of participles are assumed not to have taken place. Past participles not governed by the auxiliary het may scramble leftwards to the beginning of the cluster, as in (21b), as well as collocations of lexical verbs governed by an auxiliary, as in (21c).

a. dat jy jou gewoonte sou moes prysgegee het.
[(CC) dat jy jou gewoonte [(MOD) sou moes] [(V) prysgegee] [(AUX) het]]
that.COMP you.2SG your habit will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT up.give.PST.PTCP have.AUX
that you would have had to give up your habit
b. dat jou gewoonte prysgegee sou moes word
that.COMP your habit up.give.PST.PTCP will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT be.AUX.PASS.PRS
that your habit would have had to be given up
c. dat jou gewoonte laat vaar sou moes word
that.COMP your habit let.LINK go.INF will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT be.AUX.PASS.INF
that your habit would have had to be given up

Clustering may cause the main verb or most deeply embedded verb to be separated from its lexical projections. Thus in (21a) above the main verb prysgegee gave up is separated from its object jou gewoonte your habit by the modal string sou moes would have had. In (21b) there is no split as the passive participle has scrambled to a position next to its object. In (21c) the collocation laat vaar let go has moved to a position next to the object of laat while vaar is still separated from its thematic subject jou gewoonte your habit. Verbal particles and monosyllabic complementives separated form their main verb are marked, e.g.

dat Sarie haar vriendin <?op> gaan <op>bel.
that.COMP Sarie her friend <up> go.AUX.MOD <up>.phone.INF
that Sarie is going to phone her friend
a. dat Jannie <?perd> gaan <perd> ry.
that.COMP Jannie <horse> go.AUX.MOD <horse>.ride.INF
that Jannie is going horse-riding
b. dat Pieter <?berg> wil <berg>klim.
that.COMP Pieter <mountain> want.to.AUX.MOD <mountain> climb.INF
that Pieter wants to go mountain climbing

Certain collocations of lexical verbs in the presence of an auxiliary, are viewed as instances of "infinitivus pro participio" or IPP. Thus in Dutch, instead of an expected participle, the first verb is an infinitive (cf. Broekhuis et al. (2015:958).The IPP effect would therefore provide examples of an auxiliary not governing a verb as participle.

Ik heb het probleem zien/*gezien aankomen.
I have.AUX the problem see.INF / see.PST.PTCP on.come.INF
I saw the problem coming.

However, Broekhuis et al. (2015:976) point out that the IPP-effect does not arise in passive constructions. The following would therefore be marked in Dutch:

*Het probleem is al lang door ons zien aankomen.
the problem be.AUX.PASS.PST already long by us see.INF on.come.INF
To mean: The problem has been seen to arise by us for some time.

If sien in (26a) and laat in (26b) are taken to be infinitives, this would imply that Afrikaans, unlike Dutch, also displays the IPP-effect in the passive.

a. Die probleem is lankal deur ons sien kom.
the problem be.AUX.PASS.PST long.already by us see.LINK come.INF
The problem has been seen to arise by us for some time.
b. Hierdie benadering word nou laat vaar.
this approach be.AUX.PASS.PRS now let.LINK go.INF
This approach is being abolished now.

There are, however, several arguments against the presence of IPP in Afrikaans. Firstly, morphologically marked infintives are virtually lacking in Afrikaans. Secondly, we often find the prefix ge- attached to the first verb, thus gesien in (26a) and gelaat in (26b). Note that in Afrikaans all participles except gehad had have been regularised, so that ge-, if required, can be affixed to any verb stem to form a participle. A search in the Taalkommissiekorpus revealed that non-main bly and gaan never had ge- prefixed, laat, begin and probeer had only one instance each as against a large number without ge-, that ge- was better represented with maak, hoor, help, loop (as direct linking verb), aanhou and ophou. The indirect linking verbs (expressing posture and motion) were roughly equally divided between instances with and without ge-. Similar results were found in a limited check by Robbers (1997:58,67) in the works of three Afrikaans authors. Thus, while non-main verbs cannot receive infinitive marking in Afrikaans, they can most certainly be participles. Combrink (1990:223) maintained that a non-main verb ("medewerkwoord") in standard Afrikaans did not have a ge- in its surface form if the main stress of the verb cluster is on a verb after the non-main verb, e.g. het lê en léés, het aanhou réën, het bly húnker, het help sóék, het probeer dúik, and in the case of modal verbs: het kon dróóm and het wou úitvind. A third argument relates to the het + modal + main verb realis construction, as in (27a). The Afrikaans construction is in all probability patterned on the Dutch construction in (27b), also with a realis value. The Dutch construction, with the perfect auxiliary hebben governing the infinitive moeten instead of the past participle gemoeten, clearly displays the IPP effect. Although in the Afrikaans construction the form moet does occur, the modal is generally realised in its preterite form. As moes must.PRT is traditionally a finite form, viewing the construction as IPP would be a forced interpretation.

a. Ons het ongelukkig die winkel moes sluit.
we have.AUX unfortunately the shop must.AUX.MOD.PRT close.INF
Unfortunately we have had to close down the shop.
b. We hebben jammer genoeg de winkel moeten sluiten.
we have.AUX pitiful enough the shop must.INF close.INF
Unfortunately we have had to close down the shop.

It seems feasible, furthermore, to assume that all collocations of lexical verbs governed by an auxiliary are in fact participles. In Dutch as well as Afrikaans, all participles are characterised by a prosodic template requiring the syllable with primary stress to be preceded by a syllable of weaker stress, i.e. the participle should display a rising stress contour. If this is not the case, affixation of ge- is obligatory in order to create the required contour, e.g. for verbs such as antwoord and all monosyllabic verbs, cf. Booij (2002:73) for Dutch and Combrink (1990:219, 223). Combrink also assumes that this template (which he calls a stress rule) extends to word-groups as well. This would refer to any combination of lexical verbs. Here one should keep in mind that the main verb is normally more heavily stressed than other verbs. Thus even collocations such as gaan slaap, bly speel and help werk fit the prosodic template of participles when governed by an auxiliary. One might argue that in cases such as (28a) univerbation has taken place and the first verb in the collocation is no longer a non-main verb and the collocation as such is the main verb. Once governed by an auxiliary they in fact scramble as a unit. But as these sequences are invariably separable, as in (28b), the preceding lexical verb might still be considered to function as non-main verbs.

a. Sy bly speel heelnag op haar viool.
she keep.on.LINK play.INF all.night on her violin
She kept on playing her violin all night.
b. Sy bly heelnag op haar viool speel.
she keep.on.LINK all.night on her violin play.INF
She kept on playing her violin all night.
  • Booij, Geert2002The morphology of DutchOxfordOxford University Press
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
  • Broekhuis, Hans, Corver, Norbert & Vos, Riet2015Syntax of Dutch. Verbs and verb phrasesComprehensive grammar resourcesAmsterdam University Press
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