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Third person pronouns

There are two distinctions between different types of third person pronouns in Afrikaans. The first regards animacyanimate and inanimate – and the second regards gender distinction of animate pronouns – male and female (Ponelis 1979:57). In the singular, natural sex is distinguished with hy/hom he/him for male reference (example 1) and sy/haar she/her for female reference (2). These are typically used with human referents and larger animals (Ponelis 1979:58).

a. Hy soek nog 'n nuwe doel.
he search still a new goal
He is still searching for a new goal.
b. Praat met hom in sy eie taal!
talk with him in his own language
Talk to him in his own language!
a. Sy is vanaand hier saam met ons.
she be.PRS tonight here together with us
She is here with us tonight.
b. Leon kyk haar met verbasing aan.
Leon look her with surprise on.PREP.PTCL
Leon looks at her with surprise.

The third person pronoun referring to inanimate referents is dit it (3). This pronoun can be used for several different functions, including singular and plural reference. It is also used as an empty subject pronoun, as exemplified in (3b).

a. Ons moet dit tot 'n einde bring en dit kan in ons huise begin.
we must.AUX.MOD it to a end bring and it can.AUX.MOD in our houses begin
We must put an end to it and it can start in our homes.
b. Dit gaan seker maar goed.
it go probably but good
It's probably going well.

The last third person pronoun is the plural form hulle they/them (4), which has the same form for both subject (4a) and object (4b) uses.

a. Hulle het foute begaan.
they have.AUX mistakes commit
They made mistakes.
b. Maar ons kan hulle nooit verwerp nie.
but we can.AUX.MOD them never reject PTCL.NEG
But we can never reject them.
[+]Third person singular pronouns

Third person singular pronouns are divided into three categories: female, male, and neuter or inanimate.

The female pronoun consists of different forms for subject (5a) and object (5b) uses. Typically, these are used when referring to female humans, but also animals, especially when regarded as individuals (5c).

a. Sy het Kaapstad as haar bestemming gekies.
she have.AUX Cape.town as her destination choose.PST
She chose Cape Town as her destination.
b. Mpho probeer keer dat die weerlig haar tref.
Mpho try.LINK prevent that.COMP the lightning her hit
Mpho is trying to prevent the lightning from hitting her.
c. My man het vir die kat gesê dat sy moet gaan slaap...
my man have.AUX to the cat say.PST that.COMP she must go.LINK sleep
My husband told the cat that she should go to sleep.

The male pronoun also has different forms for subject (6a) and object (6b), and is also used with reference to animals (6c). However, something that is not common with the female pronoun is that the male pronoun is also used with reference to inanimate objects (6d) or humans whose gender is not specified (6e), or groups of people or institutions where the focus is on the group as a whole and not the individuals (6f).

a. Hy het gedink hy kan ons uitoorlê.
he have.AUX. think.PST he can.AUX.MOD us outwit
He thought he could outwit us.
b. Julle kan ook by hom aansoek doen om toerusting.
you.PL can.AUX.MOD also by him application do for equipment
You can apply with him for equipment.
c. Napoleon is sy hond. Napoleon kon nogal 'n statement maak as hy wou.
Napoleon be.PRS his dog Napoleon can.AUX.MOD.PRT rather a statement make if he would
Napoleon is his dog. Napoleon could rather make a statement if he wanted to.
d. Die JOC deur was toe, ons kon hom nie oop kry nie.
the JOC door be.PRT closed we can.AUX.MOD.PRT him not open get PTCL.NEG
The JOC door was closed, we could not open it.
e. Die Afrikaanse trek lankal nie meer kaalvoet oor die Drakensberg nie. Hy dra duur Italiaanse skoene en ry met 'n luukse vierwielaangedrewe voertuig die berg uit.
the Afrikaans move long.ago not anymore barefoot over the Drakensberg PTCL.NEG he wear expensive Italian shoes and drive with a luxury four.wheel.driven vehicle the mountain out
The Afrikaans person has not trekked over the Drakensberg mountains for a long time. He wears expensive Italian shoes and drives the mountain with a four wheel drive vehicle.
f. Die Departement het geen handels- of openbare entiteite wat aan hom verslag doen nie.
the Department have no trade- or public entities that to him report do PTCL.NEG
The Department does not have trade or public entities that report to him.

For the sake of gender neutral reference to people, the male and female pronouns are often used in combination (7).

a. Hy / sy word deur die lede van die wetgewer gekies.
he / she be.AUX.PASS.PRS by the members of the legislature choose.PASS
He / she is chosen by the members of the legislature.
b. Die berader sal bepaal hoekom die persoon getoets moet word en hom of haar inlig oor hulle wetlike regte.
the counselor will.AUX.MOD determine why the person test.PASS must.AUX.MOD be.AUX.PASS.PRS and him or her inform of their legal rights
The counselor will determine why the person should be tested and will inform him or her about their legal rights.

Regarding reference to inanimate objects, the neuter pronoun dit it is used, with an invariable form regardless of syntactic role. While it is usually used for singular referents (8a), it can also be used with plural referents (8b) and referents that are unmarked for number (8c). Another important use of dit is as an empty subject pronoun (8d), that does not refer to an actual entity but just fills the role of syntactic subject. Sentence initial usage in particular often tends to result in the contracted form dis it's (as in 8e) instead of the seperate dit is it is, although it does not occur exclusively at the beginning of a sentence, such as (8f). The contracted form is generally accepted in written language.

a. Lees die gids sorgvuldig en bêre dit op 'n veilige plek.
read the guide carefully and place it on a safe place
Read the guide carefully and put it in a safe place.
VivA-KPO, adapted
b. Dit is die redes vir die naam van hierdie dier.
it be.PRS the reasons for the name of this animal
It is the reason for the aminal's name.
c. Maar waar dit alles begin het is interessant.
but where it everything begin have.AUX be.PRS interesting
But where it all started is interesting.
d. Dit het verlede jaar, vir die hele jaar, net so oor die 500mm gereën.
it have.AUX last year for the whole year just so over the 500mm rain.PST
Last year, for the whole year, it rained just over 500mm.
e. Dis jou reg om 'n gesonde omgewing te hê.
it.is your.SG right for.COMP a healthy environment PTCL.INF have.INF
It is your right to have a healthy environment.
VivA-KPO, adapted
f. Ek vermoed dis hoe dit vir 'n vrou ná 'n baba se geboorte voel.
I suspect it.is how it for a woman after a baby PTCL.GEN birth feel
I suspect this is how it feels for a woman after a baby's birth.

A slightly more controversial use, especially in written Afrikaans, is in demonstrative constructions with prepositions (9a-c) – in Standard Afrikaans, such a construction would usually entail a concatenated form with daar there (9d-f). This usage is so strongly proscribed, however (e.g. in Combrink and Spies 1986:61 and Van der Merwe and Ponelis 1982:46), that it does not occur very frequently in written Afrikaans (Kirsten 2016:183).

a. Maar gelukkig vir hierdie pateet is die hele sisteem te slapgat om iets aan dit te doen.
but happily for this pathetic be.PRS the whole system too lazy for.COMP something on it PTCL.INF do.INF
But luckily for this pathetic person, the whole system is too lazy to do anything about it.
b. Dit lyk asof niemand daar enige iets weet van dit nie.
it look as.if nobody there any something know of it PTCL.NEG
It does not seem like anybody knows anything about it.
VivA-KPO, adapted
c. Maar gaan word stil met dit.
but go become silent with it
But go and be silent with it.
d. En ons is magteloos om iets daaraan te doen.
and we be.PRS helpless for.COMP something PN.on PTCL.INF do
And we are helpless to do something about it.
e. Enige iemand wat 'n belangstelling het in sterrekunde, of jy iets weet daarvan of nie!
any somebody that.REL a interest have.PRS in astronomy if you.SG something know PN.of or not
Anybody that is interested in astronomy, whether you know something about it or not.
f. Neem dan die Woord wat julle vanoggend hoor en word stil daarmee.
take then the Word that you.PL this.morning hear and become silent PN.with
Then take the Word that you hear this morning and be still with it.

There is an interesting competition between dit and hy/hom, especially in spoken Afrikaans. The use of hom in (6d) with an inanimate referent sometimes performs the same function as dit as it is used in (8a). Scholars have been writing about this phenomenon, and the competition in particular, for several decades. While some propose that hy/hom is being used increasingly with reference to inanimate objects (Bouman and Pienaar 1924:74; Ponelis 1979:70, 585). Van der Merwe (1997:27) points out that there is still not observable change in the alternation between the two forms. This could be attributed to some division in functional load, where one form is preferred in certain contexts and the other in other contexts. The different contributing factors that have been proposed until now include:

  • With reference to living (but not animate) objects, such as trees, hy/hom would be used (Bouman and Pienaar 1924:179).
  • When a lifeless or inanimate object is used as a tool or instrument, hy/hom would be used (Van der Merwe 1997:29).
  • Where there is movement involved, hy/hom would be used (Van der Merwe 1997:29).
  • When objects are personified, for instance toy animals, hy/hom would be used (Bouman and Pienaar 1924:179; Malherbe 1917:78; Van der Merwe 1997:30).
  • When speakers refer to an object on a daily basis, they would often prefer hy/hom(Van der Merwe 1997:30).
  • With abstract referents, especially those that cannot be quantified, dit would be used (Langenhoven 1926:66; Müller 2003:692; Van der Merwe 1997:30).
  • With reference to a type or a category, dit would be used, but with reference to a specific object, hy/hom would be used (Van der Merwe 1997:31).
  • The highly polysemic nature of dit could make hy/hom a more attractive option sometimes (Van der Merwe 1997:32).

[+]Third person plural pronouns

The third person plural pronoun hulle they/them is used with an invariable form as syntactic subject (10a), object (10b), or in a PP (10c). This pronoun is not only used with reference to humans or animate referents, but can also be used when referring to inanimate objects (10e).

a. Hulle is die suksesvolste span in die geskiedenis van die Afrikabeker, met ses titels.
they be.PRS the successful.most team in the history of the Africa.cup with six titles
They are the most successful team in the history of the African Cup, with six titles.
b. Hy sal hulle kontak.
he will.AUX.MOD them contact
He will contact them.
c. Bespreek jy die werk met hulle voordat hulle begin?
discuss you.SG the work with them before they begin
Do you discuss the work with them before they start?
d. Baie van hierdie oorwegings is niks nuuts nie. Hulle is in die verlede toegepas deur die Departement by die toekenning van regte.
many of these considerations be.PRS nothing new PTCL.NEG they be.AUX.PASS.PST in the past apply.PASS by the Department with the allocation of rights
Many of these considerations are not new. In the past they were applied by the Department through the allocation of rights.

The third person plural pronoun can be used with a postmodifier, including a numeral (11a) or an indefinite pronoun (11b).

a. Met die hulp van my suster en haar man, het hulle drie seker gemaak ek kry my droomring.
with the help of my sister and her man have.AUX they three sure make.PST I get my dream.ring
With the help of my sister and her husband, the three of them made sure that I get my dream ring.
b. My besering was vir hulle almal 'n groot eerste.
my injury be.PRT for them all a big first
My injury was a big first for all of them.

Furthermore, similar to the second person plural pronoun, hulle also has a shortened form hul. This shortened form is typically used as an attributive possessive pronoun (Kirsten 2016:185), but it can also be used as a subject (12a) and an object (12b), and occasionally with postmodification (12c).

a. Hul is altyd gewillig om die sport te dien en te help waar hul kan.
they be.PRS always willing for.COMP the sport PTCL.INF serve.INF and PTCL.INF help where they can
They are always willing to serve the sport and help where they can.
b. Hulle glo als wat jy hul vertel.
they believe everything that.REL you.SG them tell
They believe everything you tell them.
c. Natuurlik sê hul almal met 'n kopknik "ja!".
naturally say them all with a head.nod yes
Of course all of them say "yes!" with a nod.

A particularly interesting use of the third person plural pronoun is what Den Besten (2012:26) calls the associative construction (13a). In this construction, -hulle is added to a proper noun, as in (13a), or a form of address (13b and 13c). This construction then uses an individual member of a group to identify the group as a whole, meaning more or less A and the people associated with them. It can be used to refer to any number of people, as long as it is two or more. It can also be used in second person contexts as a form of address (13d), and would function similarly to those discussed in Honorific second person pronouns and forms of address.

a. Wie sorg vir Koos-hulle op die plaas?
who.REL care for Koos-them on the farm
Who cares for Koos and them on the farm?
b. En toe kry Mevrou-hulle mos vir Salien ook.
and then get Misses-them surely for Salien also
And then the Misses and them got Salien as well.
c. Toe Pappa-hulle op die plaas kom, het ek by die kar gaan wag.
when Daddy-them on the farm come have.AUX I by the car go.LINK wait
When Daddy and them arrived on the farm, I waited at the car.
d. Ek dink aan Tannie-hulle in hierdie tyd.
I think about Auntie-them in this time
I'm thinking of you in this time.
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