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Auxiliaries and a small set of lexical verbs that can select another lexical verb as main verb, formally mark a lexical verb as a past participle. Formal marking is dependent on the prosodic requirement that the past participle contain a sequence of syllables – not necessarily adjacent – of increasing stress. If this requirement is not met, as in the case of a monosyllabic verb such as speel to play, the verb in question requires a ge- prefix, as in gespeel played. If the requirement is met, for instance by the presence of prefixes such as be-, ver- or ont-, a syllable with weaker than main stress, e.g. vèrspéél forfeited or pròbéér tried, affixation of ge- is optional. It seems likely that, with the demise of the inflected infinitive in Afrikaans, the prosodic requirement is also met by combinations of lexical verbs, since the main verb – usually the last verb in the sequence – usually has stronger stress, e.g. (ge)lòòp spéél het to have gone to play.

In the active voice the perfect is typically expressed by the auxiliary het to have and a past participle. The perfect not only expresses the simple past tense, but also serves as a pluperfect. In a verbal complex which also includes modal verbs, het is positioned last in the clause-final cluster and always in juxtaposition with the past participle it governs, e.g. kon gespeel het could have played.

When the full verbal complex of a clause appears in juxtaposition, for instance clause-finally in a subordinate clause, the fixed order for Afrikaans is MODAL VERB(S) + LEXICAL VERB(S) + AUXILIARY VERB(S), e.g.:

Dis onwaarskynlik dat hulle die probleme sou kon opgelos het.
it be.PRS improbable that.COMP they the problems will.AUX.MOD.PRT can.AUX.MOD.PRT solve.PST.PTCP have.AUX
It seems improbable that they would have been able to solve the problems.

The het is also used in a construction expressing the realis but is syntactically restricted, inter alia because it is excluded from subordinate usage. The order of verbs is invariably het + MODAL PRETERITE + MAIN VERB, e.g.:

After the concert he had to stow away all the chairs.
Ná die konsert het hy al die stoele moes wegpak.
after the concert have.AUX he all the chairs must.AUX.MOD.PRT away.pack.INF

Mutative or unaccusative verbs are not differentiated from activity and other verbs in Afrikaans by the verb is to be as auxiliary; het is used for all mutative verbs (barring a small set), e.g.:

Competitors came and went but he remained the champion.
Mededingers het gekom en gegaan, maar hy het bobaas gebly.
competitors have.AUX come.PST.PTCP and go.PST.PTCP but.CNJ he have.AUX champion stay.PST.PTCP

Though is functions as a copular verb in the present tense or as a passive auxiliary in the perfect, it is also used in the active in a way resembling an auxiliary, but without explicitly selecting a lexical verb, e.g.:

Susan is nie hier nie; sy is stad toe.
Susan is not here PTCL.NEG she be.PST town to.POSTP
Susan is not here; she has gone to town.

Tensewise the construction, consisting of is plus a directional adverbial but with a past participle lacking, refers to the recent past but with relevance for the present of the speaker. In contrast, is combined with a locational adverbial functions as a copula, while the clause will denote a situation in the present or future (another traditional function of the present tense form), e.g.:

Sy is tuis en aan die werk, en môre is sy ook tuis.
she is home and on the work.NMLZ and tomorrow be.PRS she also home
She is at home and working, and tomorrow she will also be at home.

A number of lexical verbs, such as kry to get, kom to come, gaan to go, sit to sit, staan to stand and to lie, may also govern past participles in diverse constructions, in some instances resembling auxiliaries, e.g.:

Ek kry nie die harde dop gebreek nie.
I get not the hard shell break.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG
I don't manage to break the hard shell.

See the following sections:

  • Past participles
  • Basic constituent order: the clause-final verb cluster
  • Deviant constituent order: the realis construction
  • Directional IS construction
  • IS perfect in isolated semantic field
  • Semi-auxiliaries and participles
[+]Past participles

An auxiliary (or semi-auxiliary) selects a lexical verb, the main verb, as complement. The verb thus selected needs to be formally marked as a past participle. This requires, first and foremost, that a verb fits in with what may be termed a phonological or prosodic template to be identifiable as a past participle.This entails that the main stress of the verb should be preceded – not necessarily directly – by a syllable with weaker stress, creating a contour of increasing stress. If a verb is not characterised by such contour, as in the case of ántwoord to answer and all monosyllabic verbs, such as loop to walk, the prefix ge- is obligatorily added, as in het geantwoord and het geloop, respectively. In other cases ge- is optional, e.g. het (ge)probéér. The scope of the prosodic template is restricted to the lexical sub-cluster, so that non-verbal particles, which may have stronger stress than the main stress of the verb as such, are excluded. Ge- is therefore obligatory in het áfgehandel have.AUX with.deal.PST.PTCP to have finalised, where the particle af off has stronger stress than the syllable han of the verb itself. However in Afrikaans, unlike in Dutch or German, the formal licensing of a past participle extends to the lexical verb(s) preceding the main verb, so that ge- is also optional in lexical clusters such as (ge-)bly sing kept on singing and (ge-)kom werk came to work. This implies that two lexical verbs may, on the one hand, project different sets of arguments but, on the other hand, formally constitute a single past participle, cf.

Sy het hom die werk (ge)laat doen.
she have.AUX him the work let.LINK do.INF
She let him do the work.

It needs to be pointed out that while speakers of the standard variety are inclined to omit the optional ge-, as in het probeer to have tried, speakers of some other varieties prefer to insert the optional prefix (het geprobeer to have tried), even when another prefix, such as be-, is present, as in het gebetaal to have paid.

The het to have is the Afrikaans perfect auxiliary par excellence. It is employed mainly to express the simple past tense, as in (8a), but also modality (chiefly the irrealis), as in (8b), and it is used for the pluperfect, as in (8c). In (8d) it is a lexical verb with a departicipial adjective as complement. Note that there is no distinction in the use of auxiliaries between activity verbs, such as doen to do, and mutative or unaccusative verbs such as gaan to go, bly to remain and kom to come (cf. 8a, 8b, 8c) – all of these take het as auxiliary. In these functions, het governs a past participle or a collocation of lexical verbs, as in (8e). Another het construction, with restricted function and usage, expresses a past tense realis, and is complemented by a modal preterite and infinitive, cf. (8f). The verb is also has an active, past tense function when governing a small set of mainly but not exclusively departicipial adjectives such, viz. gebore born, verloof engagedgetroud married and oorlede, dood dead (8g).

a. Marie het gister dorp toe gegaan en inkopies gedoen.
Marie have.AUX yesterday town towards go.PST.PTCP and shopping do.PST.PTCP
Marie went to town yesterday and did shopping.
b. Sy moes liewer tuis gebly het.
she must.AUX.MOD.PRT rather home stay.PST.PTCP have.AUX
She should rather have stayed at home.
c. Nadat sy tuis gekom het, het sy gaan slaap.
after she home come.PST.PTCP have.AUX have.AUX she go.LINK sleep.INF
After she had come home, she went to bed.
d. Ek het die dokument vir jou klaar en afgeteken.
I have.PRS the document for you.2SG finished.ADJ and signed.off.ADJ
I have the document for you, completed and signed off.
e. Marina het vroegaand kom inloer.
Marina have.AUX early.evening come.LINK visit.INF
Marina dropped in early in the evening.
f. Marie het 'n bottel wyn kon bekom.
Marie have.AUX a bottle wine can.AUX.MOD.PRT obtain.INF
Marie could get hold of a good bottle of wine.
g. Manie is verlede jaar verloof en getroud, maar helaas gister oorlede.
Manie be.AUX.PST last year engage.PST.PTCP and marry.PST.PTCP but alas yesterday decease.PST.PTCP
Manie got engaged and was married last year but unfortunately passed away yesterday.

The following active constructions utilising the perfect can be identified:

[+]Basic constituent order: the clause-final verb cluster

Verbal constituents appear in a fixed order in the clause-final verb cluster. The order is: modal verbs – lexical verbs (linking verb(s) + main verb) – auxiliary verb het has, have as in (9a). In verb-second clauses, the second position would be occupied by a modal verb, as in (9b), and if there are no modals, by an auxiliary, as in (9c), and if an auxiliary is lacking, by the first lexical verb, as in (9d), or by more than one lexical verb, as in (9e). Linking verbs differ significantly in their ability to merge with another lexical verb in verb second position.

a. dat sy hierdie aria sou moes laat sing het
COMP she this aria will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT let.LINK sing.INF have.AUX
that she would have had to let to sing this aria
b. Sy sou hierdie aria moes laat sing het.
she will.AUX.MOD.PRT this aria must.AUX.MOD.PRT let.LINK sing.INF have.AUX
she would have had to let this aria be sung
c. Sy het hierdie aria laat sing.
she have.AUX this aria let.LINK sing.INF
She had this aria sung.
d. Sy laat hierdie aria sing.
she let.LINK this aria sing.INF
She has this aria sung.
e. Sy laat sing hierdie aria.
she let.LINK sing.INF this aria
She has this aria sung.

A past participle or cluster of lexical verbs may move to the beginning of the final verb cluster if governed by an auxiliary other than het, e.g.

a. dat die aria gesing sou moes word.
that the aria would have to be sung
b. dat die aria (ge)laat sing sou moes word.
COMP the aria let.LINK sing.INF will.AUX.MOD.PRT must.AUX.MOD.PRT be.AUX.PASS.PRS
that (someone) would have to have the aria sung
[+]Deviant constituent order: the realis construction

The strict basic constituent order of MODAL VERB(S) + LEXICAL VERB(S) + AUXIALIARY/-IES can be upheld if the realis construction of (11) (cf. (8f) above), with het in verb-second position, followed by a modal verb, is considered a deviant order. This construction is semantically and formally restricted and isolated in several ways; it only has a realis interpretation, contains only a single (usually preterite) modal verb which cannot be epistemic; it cannot be employed in subordinate clauses; and the auxiliary het does not select a past participle.

Manie het 'n nuwe rekenaar kon koop.
Manie have.AUX a new computer can.AUX.MOD.PRT buy.INF
Manie was able to buy a new computer.
[+]Directional is construction

A construction consisting of is and a directional adjunct, such as huis toe homewards in (12a), but with a past participle lacking, follows a trajectory from an event in the past to its outcome in the present. It expresses aspectual anteriority and is equivalent to an English present perfect. Like the passive auxiliary is, it expresses past tense, as in (12a), and should therefore be classified as an active perfect auxiliary in contrast to is in (12b), which is a present tense copula with a locative predicate rather than a directional complement, viz. tuis at home.. Note that the copula is, being a main verb, can also have future reference, as in (12c).

a. Jan is huis toe.
Jan be.AUX.PST home to.POSTP
Jan has gone home.
b. Jan is nou tuis.
Jan is now home
Jan is at home now.
c. Jan is môre tuis.
Jan be.PRS tomorrow home
Jan will be home tomorrow.

The construction of is + ADVERB OF DIRECTION in (12a) may be understood as a relic mutative, which would take zijnto be instead of hebbento have as auxiliary in Dutch, but with motion indicated by a directional adverbial rather than by a past participle such as gegaan gone.

[+]The is perfect in isolated semantic fields

An active is perfect is associated with a semantic field of "important life changes", expressed by past participles and departicipial adjectives. The same participles/adjectives also serve as copula predicates with present tense is. Some of these have het counterparts, though not necessarily equivalent in all respects. Thus while (13a) implies that Jannie and Jane married each other, (13b) merely refers to the act of marrying, and met mekaar with each other may have to be added. The construction is getrou were married in (13c) is a past tense passive.

a. Jannie en Jane is gister getroud.
Jannie and Jane be.AUX.PST yesterday marry.PST.PTCP
Jannie and Jane were married yesterday.
b. Jannie en Jane het gister (met mekaar) getrou.
Jannie and Jane have.AUX yesterday with each.other marry.PST.PTCP
Jannie and Jane married each other yesterday.
c. Hulle is gister deur 'n dominee getrou.
they be.AUX.PASS.PST yesterday by a minister marry.PST.PTCP
They were married by a minister yesterday.
[+]Semi-auxiliaries and participles

While the auxiliaries het and is discussed above are present tense forms when used as main verb and copula, respectively, they form constructions expressing past tense when selecting past participles. There are, however, a number of verbs which form present tense clauses in conjunction with departicipial adjectives, such as kry to get, kom to come, gaan to go, sit to sit, staan to stand, to lie and even het to have. The following examples are stage directions in a play, and describe situations of inceptive action. Note the combination with the adverb nou now in the second.

a. Sy het haar oë na Diekie gedraai.
she have.AUX her eyes to Driekie turn.PST.PTCP
She has her eyes turned towards Driekie.
A. Small: Kanna, 1965, 12
b. Kanna ... het nou omgedraai en kyk na Pang.
Kanna have.AUX now around.turn.PST.PTCP and look.PRS at Pang
Kanna has turned around now and looks at Pang.
A. Small: Kanna, 1965, 13

In the following kry to get has the sense of 'succeeding to perform an action' and the past participle is telic in expressing a final – or at least satisfactory – state. In (15a) the past participle geslaap slept is an intransitive verb, and has the same agent as the clausal subject, viz. ek I. In (15b) geleer learnt is a transitive verb which also shares an agent with the clausal subject. The non-regularised participle of gedaan done in (15c) is a departicipial adjectiveexpressing a resulting state of affairs (see discussion here), and in (15d) geleer taught is a ditransitive verb also sharing its agent with the clausal subject.

a. Ek kry nie geslaap nie.
I get not sleep.PST.PTCP PTCL.NEG
I don't manage to get any sleep.
b. Hy kry iets geleer ondanks die lawaai.
he get something learn.PST.PTCP despite the noise
He manages to learn something despite the noise.
c. Ek hoop ek kry vandag iets gedaan.
I hope I get today something do.PST.PTCP
I hope to get something done today.
d. Sy kry die perd 'n paar toertjies geleer.
she get the horse a few stunts teach.PST.PTCP
She manages to teach the horse a few stunts.

The kom come in (16a) indicates that the intentional action expressed by verkoop sold will be completed to the benefit or in the interest of the implied seller. Example (16b) is marked, as the destruction denoted by verwoes destroyed is not initiated by an agent and by definition not beneficial. Example (16a) resembles a passive in that the clausal subject is the theme or undergoer of the action of selling. Other typical complements of kom, some with adjectival morphology, express beneficient states rather than actions, cf. geleerd educated, getroud married, geholpe helped, aangetrek dressedkom. Example (16c) represents a specialised construction in which a past participle expressing a form of motion (here hardloop to run) and a directional particle (here af down) expresses the form of motion characterising movement towards the speaker. In as far as the particle and past participle have an adverbial function and the verb kom to come has the general sense of movement towards the speaker, kom is a main verb rather than an auxiliary.

a. Die huis sal betyds verkoop kom.
the house will.AUX.MOD in.time sell.PST.PTCP come.INF
The house will get sold in time.
b. *Dié land sal verwoes kom in die storm.
this country wil.AUX.MOD destroy.PST.PTCP come.INF in the storm
To mean: This country will get destroyed in the storm.
c. Die kinders kom in die straat afgehardloop.
the children come in the street down.run.PST.PTCP
The children come running down the street.

The verb gaan to go has several related senses and functions. In (17a) it expresses directional motion as main verb, the lexical verb meaning 'to go'. In (17ai), where gaan collocates with the verb koop to buy in verb-second position, it refers to intentional movement towards a goal expressed by the main verb. In this auxiliary function, stranding of the main verb, koop, is optional. The verb gaan is not exchangeable with sal in this function. In (17b) and (17bi) it selects another lexical verb as main verb – a highly productive collocation. However, when it selects departicipial forms, as in (17c), (17d) and (17e), collocation is restricted to a small set of items.

In (17b) and (17bi), gaan is exchangeable and (semi-) synonymous with the modal verb sal will. In (17b) gaan is intentional and in (17bi) it expresses certainty on the part of the speaker. In both senses, final stranding of the main verb koop is obligatory.

In (17c) to (17e) gaan governs departicipial adjectives. While the past participle of klee to clothe is geklee, without further inflection, the adjectival form may be either geklee or gekleed, as in (17c). The form verlore lost in (17d), resembling the Dutch strong past participle verloren, can only be adjectival in Afrikaans. When the uninflected past participle verloor of the verb verloor to lose is selected, as in (17di), the clause is unacceptable. Therefore, gaan is a copula rather than an auxiliary in (17d) and (17di), and selects an adjective as predicate. In example (17e) gebuk gaan onder be weighed down with, is an idiomatic expression in which gaan selects the departicipial adjective gebuk, derived from buk to stoop. For an exposition of the usage of gaan as main verb and its auxiliary or non-main verb functions, see Kirsten (2019:94-97).

a. Sarie gaan altyd goed geklee(d).
Sarie go.PRS always well clothed.ADJ
Sarie is always well clad.
b. Sarie gaan gebuk onder 'n gebrek aan fondse.
Sarie go.PRS bent.ADJ under a lack on funds
Sarie is weighed down by a lack of funds.
a. Sarie gaan môre winkel toe.
Sarie go.PRS tomorrow shop to.POSTP
Sarie is going shopping tomorrow.
a.' Sarie gaan koop 'n rok in die winkel.
Sarie go.LINK buy.INF a dress in the shop
Sarie goes to buy a dress in the shop.
b. Sarie gaan môre die rok koop.
Sarie go.AUX.MOD tomorrow the dress buy.INF
Sarie will buy the dress tomorrow.
b.' Sarie gaan die rok beslis koop.
Sarie go.AUX.MOD the dress definitely buy.INF
Sarie is definitely going to buy the dress.
d. 'n Groot bedrag gaan verlore.
a large amount go.PRS lost.ADJ
A large amount is lost.
d.' *'n Groot bedrag gaan verloor.
a large amount go lose.INF
To mean: A large amount is lost.

The verb to lie also selects a restricted set, viz. of lexical items expressing a state, to remain compatible with the durativity of , e.g. begrawe buried, bedek covered, toegegooi covered and verborge hidden, cf. (18). As far as their form is concerned, the first three could be either past participles or departicipial adjectives. However, verborge resembles the Dutch strong past participle and could only be adjectival in Afrikaans. This suggests that the others are also adjectives rather than participles, so that is a copula.

'n Skat lê verborge/?verberg onder die sand.
a treasure lie.PRS hidden.ADJ under the sand
A treasure lies hidden under the sand.

Three other verbs selecting past participles, but restricted to fixed expressions, are sit to sit, gee to give and staan to stand, as in the following examples:

Die regering sit opgeskeep met vlugtelinge.
the government sit.PRS saddled.ADJ with fugitives
The government is saddled with fugitives.
Ons span moes die stryd gewonne gee.
our team must.AUX.MOD.PRT the battle won.ADJ give.INF
Our team had to give up the struggle.
So staan dit in die ou geskrifte geskryf/*geskrewe.
thus stand.PRS it in the old writings written.ADJ
Thus it stands written in the old scriptures.

In (19), sit is likely to be a main verb rather than an auxiliary since it is easily replaceable by the copula is to be and the clause would also retain its meaning if opgeskeep be saddled with were omitted. In (20), gewonne won is adjectival rather than participial as it retains the form of the Dutch strong past participle, rather than having the Afrikaans regularised form gewen. As gee to give is a transitive verb and the clause is resultative, gewonne functions as an object complementive of gee. On the other hand, geskryf written in (20) contrasts formally with geskrewe committed to writing, the Dutch strong past participle, which becomes adjectival in Afrikaans. As a past participle, geskryf expresses perfective aspect rather than a state of affairs, and therefore highlights preceding action. As such it has the function of an adverbial qualifying the main verb staan, which may in itself mean 'written' or 'printed'.

  • Kirsten, Johanita2019Written Afrikaans since StandardizationLexington Books
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