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Verb phrases

Verb markers

Verb phrases often include a verb marker. These markers are short words that may be placed before the verb in order to give more details about how it is to be understood.

Tense (time) markers

Lugamun has two verb markers indicating the time (formally: tense) when an action takes place: li marks the past, while ga marks the future.

Ya li mai ruma. – He/She bought a house. (sometime in the past)
Le ga go a Paris. – They will go to Paris. (sometime in the future)

No tense marker is used for actions taking place in the present (at this moment).

Ona soma buku. – The woman reads / is reading a book.

However, the absence of a tense marker does not necessarily indicate that the present tense is intended. If the context suggests another time, the tense markers may likewise be omitted. For example, adverbs and time expression can explain more precisely when an act takes place. In such cases, there is no need to include a tense marker as well, hence it is usually omitted.

Safirja baru tiba. – A/The traveler has just arrived.
Ya kvai lai. – He/She is about to come. / He/She will come soon.
Ya nyen laste mai ruma. – Last year he/she bought a house.
Le den tali go a Paris. – Tomorrow they will go to Paris.
Ona si tem soma buku. – The woman is now reading a book.

If you want, you can include the matching tense marker in such cases too – that’s not wrong, just a bit verbose. Adverbs expressing time are most typically placed between subject and verb phrase, which means that the tense marker will be placed after them, as in the first example that follows. But you can also place time adverbs elsewhere in the clause, e.g. at its end, as in the second example.

Ya kvai ga lai. – He/She is about to come. / He/She will come soon.
Ya li mai ruma nyen laste. – Last year he/she bought a house.

Adverbs and time expressions are not the only way to express context. When describing a past event, it’s often clear that one is talking about the past, hence in such cases it’s fine to omit the li. Novels and other narratives frequently omit it as well – maybe li is used once, to establish the past context, but in further sentences it is omitted. When no tense marker is used for the main course of events described, li and ga can instead be used in a relative rather than an absolute manner. Hence li might refer to acts that happened earlier than the main events, while ga refers to acts taking place later.

XXX Update this, since na is now again the (optional and relatively rarely used) present-tense verb marker.

Mood markers

Two other verb markers express what’s called by linguists the mood of a verb – the speaker’s attitude towards the indicated act.

Ba indicates that the speaker is unsure about the indicated action or regards it as something that is not real or at least not certain. Linguists may call it the “irrealis mood”; in English, it is often translated as ‘would’. It can be used to express possibilities, hypothetical situations, desires, fears, and opinions. It can also be used to make polite requests.

Mi yau to ya ba lai. – I wish he/she would come.
Mi ba go, se mi ha tem. – I would go if I had the time.
Ti ba abri vindo ka? – Would/Could you open the window?

Note that in clauses introduced with se ‘if’, ba is usually omitted, as explained in the section on that conjunction.

As an alternative to ba, adverbs such as rubama ‘perhaps, maybe’ may be used to express the speaker’s attitude.

Ya rubama den tali lai. – Perhaps he/she will come tomorrow. (I do not really know whether they will come, but I consider it possible)

Li ba, the combination of the past tense marker li with ba, is used for things that can no longer become true, also known as “counterfactuals”. It often corresponds to ‘would have’ in English.

Ya li ba xi sikaja hau. – He/She would have been a good teacher. (but for whatever reasons they chose another profession, and now it’s too late)

In clauses introduced with se, the ba marker is again usually considered implied, meaning that only li is used.

Se [taxi] li tiba ni tem, nas no li ba [miss] tara. – If the taxi had arrived on time, we would not have missed our flight.

Du is used to mark commands and requests. Linguists may call it the “imperative” and “hortative” mood.

Most typically it is directed at one or several persons one speaks with. In such cases the subject pronoun (ti or tum) is usually omitted, just as in English.

Du nulis! – Write! (talking to one or several persons)
Du fa safi tis kamar! – Clean up your room! (talking to a single person, as the possessive pronoun makes clear)
Du fa safi tumi kamar! – Clean up your room! (talking to several persons)

But it’s not wrong to include the pronoun, if you want to – occasionally it may be useful to make it clearer whether just one person or rather a group of persons is the intended recipient.

Ti du fa safi yas kamar! – Clean up her/his room! (explicitly talking to a single person)
Tum du fa safi yas kamar! – Clean up her/his room! (explicitly talking to several persons)

When addressing another group of persons, a pronoun or noun phrase identifying them must be used in the usual way. Most typically that’s the case when addressing a group that includes the speaker themselves.

Nas du nomu! – Let’s drink!

Except for the combination li ba, combinations of tense with mood markers are rare. But should you ever feel the need for such a combation, put the tense marker first (just as with li ba).

The progressive aspect

Sai indicates an action in progress. Linguistics calls this the progressive aspect; in English it is usually translated as ‘be …-ing’.

Ya li sai soma – She/He was reading.
Mi sai kula. – I’m eating / I’m in the middle of eating.

Note that the progressive aspect is used much rarer than in English. In English, it is commonly used with certain verbs at least in the present tense, while in Lugamun you use it only if you really want to stress that an action is in progress – but not when describing it as simply taking place.

Nas kula. – We are eating. (usually a statement such as this is sufficient and there is no need for sai)

Sai is placed after any tense and mood markers that may be used with the same verb.

XXX There is no habitual aspect (English has one, but only in the past: ‘used to (do something)'), but an adverb such as ?? ‘usually’ may be used to express actions occurring habitually.

The passive voice

Bi is used to form the passive voice. It is placed after any other markers used with the same verb.

Nas ga bi kula! – We will be eaten!

The agent responsible for an action expressed in the passive can be specified using the preposition be ‘by’.

Xvan li kamu kat. – The dog bit the cat.
Kat li bi kamu be xvan. – The cat was bitten by the dog.

The infinitive

The verb marker tu introduces the infinitive. It is used between verbs to connect them to verbs chains.

Mi yau tu xvo. – I want to speak.
Ti ama tu nulis. – You love to write.

It it also used to refer to activity in general – in such cases it often corresponds to the English gerund (“-ing” form).

Tu dansa xi [fun]. – Dancing is fun.
Mi ama tu kula. – I like eating / I like to eat.

Occasionally the infinitive may be used together with other verb markers. In this case, it is placed before them.

tu bi … – to be shot
tu li bi … – having been shot
Ya deklara ingi tu li ama ya. – She/He declared to have loved her/him very much.

In the most typical case, the subject of the first verb implicitly applies to any chained verbs as well.

Mi yau tu nulis buku. – I want to write a book.

But one can also use the infinitive if the first verb clearly indicates that some other person or group is addressed.

Mi minta tu xvo lugamun. – I request that one speaks Lugamun.

It’s also possible to explicitly express the subject of the chained verb, by adding a noun phrase or pronoun before the tu.

Le no ga permit ya tu fa it. – They won’t permit her to do it.
Yo sikaja minta yo baca tu xvo ruski. – The teachers request the children to speak Russian.

Such chained verbs with a subject are equivalent to subordinate clauses introduced by to. Instead of the above, one could equally well say:

Le no ga permit to ya fa it. – They won’t permit that she does it.
Yo sikaja minta to yo baca xvo ruski. – The teachers request that the children speak Russian.

Outside of verb chains, verbs used with tu never have an explicitly expressed subject. But regardless of where they are used, they can have an object.

Tu dansa tango no asan. – Dancing tango is not easy.
Mi yau tu dansa tango gen ti. – I want to dance tango with you.
Mi yau ti tu dansa tango gen mi. – I want you to dance tango with me.
Mi yau Tina tu nulis buku. – I want Tina to write a book.

Verbs preceded by tu can be considered as hybrids between regular verbs and nouns. On the one hand, they can be used as subject of a clause, just like any other noun. On the other hand, when used after another verb, they are not considered as object, but rather as part of a verb chain. Hence they are never preceded by o.

Mi yau tu aprende tu dansa (o) tango. – I want to learn to dance (the) tango. / I want to learn to tango dancing.

Auxiliary verbs

Auxiliary verbs are verbs that are always followed by another verb in a verb chain, rather than by a noun or pronoun used as object, or by nothing at all. Since a verb is known to follow, it’s not necessary to use the infinitive marker tu between the auxiliary and the following verb. It’s not wrong to use tu there either, but since it’s not needed, that particle is typically omitted.

Lugamun has only two nonderived auxiliary verbs:

  • bisa – can, may, be able to
  • debe – must, have to

Bisa is used in both senses of ‘be able’ and ‘have permission’, since most widespread languages use the same word for these concepts. If desired one can alternatively use more precise expressions.

XXX Give some examples.

Additionally, the suffix -u (or occasionally -t) can be used to turn a normal verb into an auxiliary one. The usual rules of word formation apply, which means that for verbs ending in a vowel, its final vowel is in most cases replaced by u. Only if the final vowel is the sole vowel in the verb, it is preserved, so that the auxiliary form of fa is fau (with a diphthong). This too follows the general rules.

This suffix can be quite convenient since it removes the need to put tu between two chained verbs.

Mi amu nulis. – I love to write.

It is especially useful in fixed expressions made up of two verbs, such as kaixu cvan ‘put on, don’ (begin to wear). Such expressions could be quite heavy if an additional tu was needed as well, hence they are commonly used with this suffix and are usually listed only in this form in the dictionary. Nevertheless, the tu form is always possible as well, so if you prefer saying kaixi tu cvan, you certainly can.

If a verbs ends in a standalone -u (which is not part of a diphthong), then -u cannot be added to it, since the resulting auxiliary version would be identical to the original verb. In such cases, one can use the alternative suffix -t (if one doesn’t want to use the full tu marker). For example, the auxiliary version of kontinu ‘continue, go on’ is kontinut. (As a memory guide: both -u and -t are derived from tu, through shortening.)

Auxiliaries formed using the -u/-t suffix are never re-used as nouns, since there is no need to do so – the original form of the word is used instead (e.g. kaixi).

XXX Mention that adverbs, other verb markers, and determiners may still interrupt verb chains and give some examples.

The copula

The copula xi – translated as a form of ‘be’ in this context – connects a noun phrase with an adjective or noun phrase that describes it. If a adjective follows, it can be and often is omitted, but if a noun phrase or a prepositional phrase follows, it should always be used. Note that an adjective or noun phrase that follows xi is considered a complement rather than an object, therefore it never takes the object marker o.

So if an adjective follows, xi is typically omitted:

Ti (xi) ingi dulse. – You’re really sweet.
Uma (xi) bai. – The horse is white.
Ya (xi) mardi den laste . – Yesterday he/she was ill.

Note that, if a a time expression (or another expression including a noun or a preposition) is placed after the subject, xi should always be used, to prevent possible confusion:

Ya den laste xi mardi. – Yesterday he/she was ill.

Xi it always used before a noun or preposition:

Ya xi baba hau. – He’s a good father.
Ta ona xi [actor] maxuhur. – That woman is a famous actress.
Le xi ni ruma. ­– They’re at home / They’re in the house.
Mi xi de Barat. – I’m from India. (I was born there or usually live there)

The negated form of the copula is just noxi is never used in this case.

Ta no sehati. – That’s not healthy.
Ya no man hau. – He’s not a good man.

When a noun is followed by several adjectives and no verb, one can consider the last adjective as descriptive complement.

Uma gran lela. – The big horse is tired.

For maximum clarity, it may be better to use the copula in such cases.

Uma gran xi lela.

Rationale: That the copula is required before noun phrases and locative phrases, but (typically) omitted before adjectives, follows the typical patterns in the majority of all languages (WALS 120) and specifically in creoles (APiCS 73–75).

Other verbs with a complement

XXX Maybe call these “copulas” as well and use a term such as “standard copula” when referring to xi?

Several other verbs are likewise commonly followed by a complement: an adjective or noun that complements their meaning. Such complements immediately follow the verb, and they may be followed by an object or a prepositional phrase. While the object marker o is usually optional, after a complement it must be used, since otherwise there might be some confusion about where the complement ends and the object starts. If a verb with a complement also takes an object, the complement refers to the object, otherwise it refers to the subject. These include, but aren’t limited to:

  • ban – become
  • fa – do, make
  • sente – feel, sense
  • xyende – seem, look (like), appear


Mi ga ban (president). – I will become president.
Le ga fa (president) o mi.– They will make me president.
Mi si den sente glupi glupi. – I feel very stupid today.
On li pentoda lal o ruma. – They have painted the house red.

Determiners referring to the complement are placed before it, as usual. Adverbs referring to the verb phrase are usually placed at the end of the verb phrase, i.e., after the complement.

Ya ban ingi lal ku suden. – He/She suddenly became very red.

Subjectless verbs

When used without a subject, ha means ‘there is, there are’.

Ha ona ni dor. – There is a woman at the door.

Generally a subjectless verb is used in cases there where is no actual entity that could be used as subject. English typically uses a generic ‘it’ in such cases.

Xyende to ya no lai si den. – It seems he/she won’t come today.
Xi sedi to nas no bisa go ta ples. – It’s sad we can’t do there.

Often, subject xi followed by a verb or adjective refers to the weather.

Xi garam garam si den. – It’s very hot today.
Xi ren den tali. – It’ll rain tomorrow.

While xi between a subject and an adjective is often omitted, when there is no subject, it’s better to include it for clarity.

Rationale: There is no info on this in WALS, but according to APiCS, most pidgins and creoles don’t use an “expletive” subject (i.e. a subject that doesn’t really refer to anything) in existential verb constructions corresponding to English ‘there is’. We follow this usage, choosing a widely used pattern to express ‘there is/are’. For consistency, we treat other expressions where the subject would be expletive the same way.


The negation particle no ‘not’ is usually placed before the verb.

If the subject or object is a negated pronoun (such as no jen ‘no one, nobody’ or no xos ‘nothing’) or if the clause includes a negated adverbial phrase (such as no ples ‘nowhere’ or no tem ‘never’), the verb is negated as well. In contrast to English, such a “double negative” doesn’t cancel itself out, but rather affirms the negative expression. This is known as emphatic negation.

Alisa no ha no xos gi tu fa. – Alice had nothing to do.
“Mi no tem no li miru it”, man xvo. – “I’ve never seen it,” the man said.

XXX Explain that quantifiers and selectors, including no, are placed after verb markers.

Mi no li miru ya. – I didn’t see him/her.

XXX Explain how negation works in verb chains and with auxiliaries: debe no ‘must not’ vs. no debe ‘doesn’t have to’.

Order of elements in verb phrases

A complete verb phrase, with just a single verb but including everything else that can potentially occur in a verb phrase, will have the following order:

determiners – verb markers – verb – complement – adverbs

The whole verb phrase may be preceded by a time expression, but such expressions are not considered a part of the verb phrase itself. Complements may themselves be preceded by determiners referring to them, but this is not shown here, to stop things from getting too complicated.

In verb chains, the whole sequence as described above may in principle be repeated two or more times – except that only the last verb of a chain may have a complement. Each verb in the chain, except for the last one, must be an auxiliary verb, or the marker tu must be placed between it and the subsequent verb. The final verb must not be an auxiliary verb.

Markers before a verb tend to occur in the following order:

  • The infinitive marker tu
  • The tense markers li and ga
  • The mood markers ba and du
  • The progressive aspect marker sai
  • The passive voice marker bi

Each verb is preceded by at most one marker of each kind – it would not make sense to use both tense or both mood markers before the same verb.

en/grammar/verb_phrases.txt · Last modified: 2023-02-02 12:35 by christian

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