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Undative verbs

Undative verbs are similar to dyadic unaccusative verbs in that they do not have an external argument, but have two internal arguments, a theme and another argument, which may either be an experiencer or a beneficiary. The latter two arguments are typically expressed as indirect object in most constructions, but are realised as the subject in the undative construction, while the theme argument is realised as the direct object. Undative verbs typically denote stative rather than dynamic events.

Undative verbs with a beneficiary as subject, such as kry to get, typically express meanings of transfer of possession, and by extension being in possession, and can be viewed as the mirror image of verbs of giving that usually take the ditransitive construction, as illustrated by the contrasting pair in (1). The recipient functions as subject in the undative, although the form of the clause is not passive.

a. Ons kry die kar half vyf.
We get the car at half past four.
b. Hulle gee ons die kar half vyf.
They give us the car at half past four.

Undative verbs with an experiencer as subject are verbs of cognition that do not denote an active mental process with an agentive subject who is engaged in a mental activity, such as leer to learn / to teach, but who rather experiences a particular mental state of unbounded duration, such as ken to know/be acquainted with and weet to know/have acquired knowledge of. Example (2) illustrates the undative (2a), where the subject-experiencer is in a particular state, in contrast to two active processes in (2b), where the subject either teaches the indirect object something (ditransitive), or the subject takes active steps to master learning content (transitive).

a. Hy ken beslis al die feite.
He certainly knows all the facts.
b. Iemand het hom al die feite geleer.
Somebody taught him all the facts.
b.' Hy het al die feite gememoriseer.
He memorised all the facts.
[+]Semantics and -er nominalisation

Undative verbs denote states, rather than accomplishments or achievements. While these verbs are usually related to an activity verb or a mental verb that expressed how the state of possession or the state of knowing came about, the undative verbs present the subject as the one who finds him/herself in a particular situation: being in possession of an object, or having internalised a particular body of knowledge. Undative verbs that denote the state of being in possession of something are not compatible with -er-nominalisation. The following derivations are therefore unattested in Afrikaans:

  • *kryer getter < Hy kry He gets
  • *hêer haver < Sy het She has

The situation is different for verbs denoting a cognitive state. Some of these verbs can be used with -er-nominalisation, especially ken to know, from which kenn·er know·NMLZ expert is derived. However, the semantics is less transparent than with typical -er-nominalisations. The word kenner expert does not simply denote somebody who knows something, but very specifically, somebody who is an expert in a broader field of knowledge. Thus, a kenn·er know·NMLZ of history is somebody who has made an extensive study and came to a deep understanding that he/she might share with others. A school kid who memorised a few pages of facts for a history test is not denoted by the noun kenner.

Likewise, a productive derivation of wet·er know·NMLZ from the verb weet know is not attested, but through parasynthetic compounding, complex words like forms like beterweter know-it-all can be created.

[+]Attributive use of present and past participle

Undative verbs in Afrikaans do not normally permit the attributive use of present or regular past participles. A few lexicalised cases of forms that undergo further derivation are attested, such as on·ge·ken·d·e CN.NEG·PST.PTCP·know·PST.PTCP·ATTR unprecedented, or strong past participles like gewisse know.PST.PTCP certain. However, as the translations show, these forms are not semantically regular and related to the verb meaning in the same way as transitive verbs can be used attributively in their present and past participle forms.


Undative verbs in Afrikaans are generally not compatible with the regular passive construction, nor with the impersonal passive, to the extent that their meanings are clearly stative. Thus, passives such as the following are unlikely in Afrikaans:

a. ?Die boeke word deur die biblioteek gehê.
The books are had by the library.
a.' ?Daar word boeke deur die biblioteek gehê.
There are books being had by the library.
b. ?Die antwoord word deur die spioen geweet.
The answer is known by the spy.
b.' ?Daar word die antwoord deur die spioen geweet.
There is an answer being known by the spy.

The verb kry to get from the possessive group is attested with the regular passive in Afrikaans, as shown by example (4), compared to Dutch where the cognate krijgen is not compatible. A special passive vorm with kry as auxiliary verb is also attested in Afrikaans, and is discussed in a separate section on pseudo-passives.

Die volgende artikels moet gekry word vir die kontaksessies.
The following articles must be got for the contact sessions.

However, very often, the productive use of kry with the passive implies a shift of the meaning, from to receive something to to find something, which is inherently more active, in which case the use of kry is not undative anymore, but becomes transitive, as the following example illustrates.

Dit kan agterin die studiegids gekry word.
This can be found at the back of the study guide.

The generalisation that verbs without an external, agentive, subject argument are not compatible with passivisation is therefore largely borne out by the available data on undatives in Afrikaans, in that a change of meaning from undative to agentive is made when verbs like kry is used in the passive voice.

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