Verbs in Afrikaans

This is a brief outline of how verbs function in Afrikaans. See also Modal verbs.

Afrikaans verbs are in some ways simpler than English verbs because they do not decline and there are only three main tenses. These are past, present and future.

In English (although our verbs do not decline to any great extent) when using the verb 'to read', we say 'I read' but 'he reads'.

Afrikaans in contrast uses the same form of the verb for all forms, which following this example is lees 'read'.

The Present Tense

The first tense is present describing an action taking place at the moment as in Ek lees 'I read' or Sy loop 'She walks'.

Afrikaans doesn't have all the additional present tenses found in English such as the present continuous (I am reading) so Ek lees can mean 'I am reading' as well as 'I read'.

I readek lees
you readjy lees
he readshy lees
she readssy lees
we readons lees
you (plural) readjulle lees
they readhulle lees

The Past Tense

The Afrikaans past tense is formed using the the particle het (which rougly corresponsds to 'have in English') and attaching ge to the main verb (normally the last word in the sentence).

So, for example, Ek het dit self gedoen 'I did it myself' is formed from doen 'do' with ge attached to the main verb which is doen.

A literal translation of Ek het dit self gedoen is 'I have it mysef done'.

I bought a paper Ek het ’n koerant gekoop
I did it myselfEk het dit self gedoen
The teacher walkedDie onderwyser het geloop
You went to LondonJy het na Londen gegaan
He went to schoolHy het skool toe gegaan
She read a bookSy het ’n boek gelees
We talked to our friendsOns het met ons vriende gepraat
They worked at the factoryHulle het by die fabriek gewerk
They went to the restaurantHulle het na ’n restaurant gegaan
I read itEk het dit gelees
He said itHy het dit gesê
He read it last weekHy het dit verlede week gelees
He said it last weekHy het dit verlede week gesê

Verbs beginning with be, her, ont and ver dont attach ge to form the past tense.

The verb 'to be' is irregular (as in many languages) and is was as in Ek was hier 'I was here' (but no longer am).

Questions has more examples on the Afrikaans past tense (did you ..?).

The Future Tense

The future tense in Afrikaans may be formed using the auxiliary verb sal 'will', and also by using the verb gaan 'going to'.

As a general rule:

gaan is used in Afrikaans when 'going to' is appropriate in English, and sal when the English 'will' would be appropriate.

Some contemporary linguists argue that English has no true future tense. English has no distinct endings for verbs in the future, and the the same is true in Afrikaans.

This makes life easier for learners of Afrikaans.

If you are interested in the distinction between time and grammatical tense, this link on grammar.com provides more detail.

The Future Tense using gaan

Gaan is used in a similar way to the English use of 'going to'.

It refers to an action that will take place in the future, a prediction of something that will happen, but with less intent than using sal in Afrikaans and 'will' in English.

Hy gaan dit doen. 'He is going to do it'.

It is a simple prediction of the future, or if you want to talk about a plan for the future.

'I'm going to go on holiday' compared to 'I will go on holiday'.

The Future Tense using sal

The future tense in Afrikaans is formed using sal.

It is formed by using the present tense with sal placed in front, an example of which is:

Hy sal môre gaan 'he will go tomorrow'.

This demonstrates the auxiliary the verb sal changing gaan 'go' from the present to the future tense.

Notes on the use of Sal

Sal used in the future tense corresponds to the English use of 'shall' (although 'will' is now more commonly used) to indicate strong intent or necessity.

Compare: Hy sal dit doen,  'He shall do it', or 'he will do it'.

It is going to happen. It is important and he will do whatever it (whatever it may be).

With: Hy gaan dit doen 'he is going to do this'.

It is less definite, and perhaps doesn't indicate the same intent.

I will goEk sal gaan
You will writeJy sal skryf
He will walkHy sal loop
We will eatOns sal eet
They will comeHulle sal kom
He will go tomorrowHy sal môre gaan

The Future Tense

The previous examples show Afrikaans verbs used in the future tense. These slightly longer sentences are used to illustrate word order in Afrikaans sentences, and also describe future time.

I will go to the cinemaEk sal na die bioskoop toe gaan
You will write to your uncleJy sal aan jou oom skryf
He will walk to workHy sal werk toe loop
She will buy a houseSy sal ’n huis koop
We will visit our motherOns sal ons ma besoek
They will paint our house Hulle sal ons huis verf
She will go to the shopSy sal na die winkel toe gaan


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