Afrikaans grammar

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This article describes the grammar of Afrikaans, a language spoken in South Africa and Namibia which originated from 17th century Dutch.[citation needed]


There is no distinction for example between the infinitive and present forms of verbs, with the exception of these two verbs:

infinitive form present indicative form English
het have
wees is be

This phenomenon is somewhat akin to English verbs, since infinitives are mostly equivalent to verbs in the simple tense, except in English singular 3rd person forms, in which case an extra -s is added.

In addition, Afrikaans verbs do not conjugate differently depending on the subject. For example,

Afrikaans Dutch English
ek is ik ben I am
jy/u is jij/u bent you are (sing.)
hy/sy/dit is hij/zij/het is he/she/it is
ons is wij zijn we are
julle is jullie zijn you are (plur.)
hulle is zij zijn they are

For most verbs, the preterite (e.g. I watched) has been completely replaced by the perfect (e.g. I have watched), or in storytelling by the present tense (i.e. the use of a historical present, which is sometimes also employed in Dutch). The only common exceptions to this are the modal verbs (see the following table) and the verb wees "be" (preterite form was).

Modal verbs
present form preterite form
Afrikaans Dutch (3sg) English Afrikaans Dutch (3sg) English
kan kan can kon kon could
sal zal shall (will) sou zou should (would)
moet moet mote (must) moes moest must (had to)
mag mag may mog (arch.) mocht might (was allowed to)
wil wil will (want to) wou wilde / wou would (wanted to)

The following four full verbs also have (rarely used) preterite forms:

Afrikaans Dutch (3sg) English
present preterite present preterite
dink dag / dog denkt dacht think
het had heeft had have
weet wis weet wist know
word werd wordt werd become

Several verbs have irregular perfect forms which are used alongside regular forms, sometimes with different meanings:

Afrikaans Dutch (3sg) English
present perfect (irregular) perfect (regular) present perfect
baar gebore gebaar baart gebaard / geboren bear, give birth
dink dag(arch.)/dog gedink denkt gedacht think
oorly oorlede oorly overlijdt overleden die
sterf gestorwe (arch.)/gesterwe gesterf sterft gestorven die
trou getroud getrou trouwt getrouwd marry

The verb baar (to bear, to give birth) has two past participles: gebaar and gebore. The former is used in the active voice ("she has borne") and the latter in the passive voice ("she was born"). This is akin to Dutch, in which the verb baren has the past participles gebaard and geboren, with a similar distinction. Compare also the distinction between English born and borne.

Modern Afrikaans also lacks a pluperfect (e.g. I had watched). Instead, the pluperfect, like the preterite, is expressed using the perfect.

The perfect is constructed with the auxiliary verb het + past participle, which—except for the verb (past participle gehad), separable verbs such as reghelp (past participle reggehelp) and verbs with beginnings such as ver- and ont- (verkoop, ontmoet are both infinitive and past participle)—is formed regularly by adding the prefix ge- to the verb's infinitive/present form. For example,

Ek breek – I break
Ek het dit gebreek – I broke it, I have broken it, I had broken it

An object is necessary in this case, otherwise it implies that the subject (ek) is broken.

The future tense is in turn indicated using the auxiliary sal + infinitive. For example,

Ek sal kom – I will come (or literally I shall come)

The conditional is indicated by the preterite form sou + infinitive. For example,

Ek sou kom – I would come (literally I should come)

Like other Germanic languages, Afrikaans also has an analytic passive voice that is formed in the present tense by using the auxiliary verb word (to become) + past participle, and, in the past tense, by using the auxiliary is + past participle. For example,

Dit word gemaak – It is being made
Dit is (Dis) gemaak – It is made, It was made, It has been made (so it already exists)

Formal written Afrikaans also admits the construction of was gemaak to indicate passive voice in the pluperfect, which in this case corresponds to had been made. The meaning of the sentence can change based on which auxiliary verb is used (is/was), e.g. is gemaak implies that something has been made and is still in existence today, whereas was gemaak implies that something had been made, but was destroyed or lost.

The present participle is normally formed with the suffix -ende (kom/komende), but sometimes it is irregular (wees/synde, hê/hebbende, sterf/sterwende, bly/blywende), although this is considered archaic for function verbs. Sometimes there is a spelling change to the root which does not affect the pronunciation (maak/makende, weet/wetende)

The verb wees uniquely has subjunctive forms, although they are seldom ever used in the present day: sy is the present subjunctive form, and ware is the past subjunctive form.


Nouns in Afrikaans, as in modern Dutch, have no inflectional case system,[1] and do not have grammatical gender (unlike modern Dutch). However, there is a distinction between the singular and plural forms of nouns. The most common plural marker is the suffix -e, but several common nouns form their plural instead by adding a final -s. A number of common nouns have irregular plurals:

English Afrikaans Dutch
child, children kind, kinders kind, kinderen
woman, women vrou, vroue (vrouens) vrouw, vrouwen
shirt, shirts hemp, hemde hemd, hemden

No grammatical case distinction exists for nouns, adjectives and articles.

Definite Article(s) Indefinite Article
Gloss Afrikaans Dutch Gloss Afrikaans Dutch
the die de/het a(n) ʼn een/ʼn


Adjectives may, however, be inflected when they precede a noun. As a general rule, polysyllabic adjectives are normally inflected when used as attributive adjectives. Monosyllabic attributive adjectives may or may not be inflected, depending on the historical forms of the adjective. Inflected adjectives retain the ending -e and for some adjectives, word-final consonants that were lost in attributive uses are retained. For example, the final t following an /x/ sound that deleted in predicative uses in like reg (cf. Dutch recht), is retained when the adjective is inflected (regte). A similar phenomenon applies to the apocope of t after /s/. For example, the adjective vas becomes vaste when inflected. Conversely, adjectives ending in -d (pronounced /t/) or -g (pronounced /x/) following a long vowel or diphthong, lose the -d and -g when inflected. For example, look at the inflected form of:

Predicative Gloss Attributive Notes
goed good goeie
laag low lae
hoog high hoë (a diaeresis is used to mark a syllable break)

In some exceptional cases, after the syncope of the intervocalic consonant, there is also an additional apocope of the inflection marker. For example,

oud (old) – ou (when it precedes a noun)

Broadly speaking, the same morphological changes that apply to inflected adjectives also apply in the formation of the plural of nouns. For example, the plural of vraag (question) is vrae (questions).


Remnants of the case distinction remain in the pronoun system.[1] For example,

Personal Pronouns
Subject Pronouns Object pronouns
Afrikaans Dutch English Afrikaans Dutch English
ek ik I my mij/me me
jy/u jij/u/gij* ye*/you (sing.) jou/u jou/u you (sing.)
hy/sy/dit hij/zij/het he/she/it hom/haar/dit hem/haar/het him/her/it
ons we ons ons us
julle jullie/gij* you (plur.) julle jullie you (plur.)
hulle zij** they hulle hen them

*Archaic/regional variant

**Note that hullie and zullie are used instead of (subject, third person plural) in several dialects of Dutch.

No case distinction is made for the plural pronouns. There is often no distinction between object and possessive pronouns when used before nouns. For example,

mymy, me
onsour (the alternative form onse is now considered archaic)

An exception to the previous rule is the 3rd person singular masculine or neuter, where Afrikaans clearly distinguishes between hom (him) and sy (his). Likewise, the neuter pronoun dit (it, subject or object) is distinguished from the possessive sy (its), and the term hy can emphatically be used to describe inanimate objects in the same way as the feminine in English, such as in the Rooibaard hot sauce brand's slogan "hy brand mooi rooi" ("He burns beautifully red"), referring to its product's intense spice. For 3rd person plural pronouns, whereas hulle can also mean their, a variant hul is frequently used to mean "their" so as to differentiate between their and they/them. Similarly, julle when meaning your has a possessive variant jul.


Word order[edit]

Afrikaans has a strict word order, described in many South African text books using the so-called "STOMPI rule". The name of the rule indicates the order in which the parts of a sentence should appear.

The "STOMPI" rule
S v1 T O M P v2 I
Subject First verb Time Object Manner Place Second verb Infinitive

Word order in Afrikaans follows broadly the same rules as in Dutch: in main clauses, the finite verb appears in "second position" (V2 word order), while subordinate clauses (e.g. content clauses and relative clauses) have subject–object–verb order, with the verb at (or near) the end of the clause.

Afrikaans Dutch English
Hy is siek. Hij is ziek. He is sick.
Ek weet dat hy siek is. Ik weet dat hij ziek is. I know that he is sick.

As in Dutch and German, infinitives and past participles appear in final position in main clauses, split from the corresponding auxiliary verb. For example,

Afrikaans: Hy het 'n huis gekoop.
Dutch: Hij heeft een huis gekocht.
English: He (has) bought a house.

Relative clauses usually begin with the pronoun "wat", used both for personal and non-personal antecedents. For example,

Afrikaans: Die man wat hier gebly het was ʼn Amerikaner.
Dutch: De man die hier bleef was een Amerikaan.
English: The man who stayed here was an American.

Alternatively, a relative clause may begin with a preposition + "wie" when referring to a personal antecedent, or an agglutination between "waar" and a preposition when referring to a non-personal antecedent.

Double negative[edit]

A particular feature of Afrikaans is its use of the double negative. For example,

Afrikaans: Hy kan nie Afrikaans praat nie. (lit. He can not Afrikaans speak not.)
Dutch: Hij kan geen Afrikaans spreken.
English: He cannot speak Afrikaans.

Both French and San origins have been suggested for double negation in Afrikaans. While double negation is still found in Low Franconian dialects in West-Flanders and in some "isolated" villages in the centre of the Netherlands (i.e. Garderen), it takes a different form, which is not found in Afrikaans. The following is an example:

Afrikaans Dutch English
Ek wil dit nie doen nie.* (lit. I want it not do not.) Ik wil dit niet doen. I do not want to do it.

*Compare with "Ek wil nie dit doen nie", which changes the meaning to "I do not want to do this specific thing." Whereas "Ek wil dit nie doen nie" emphasises the unwillingness to act, "Ek wil nie dit doen nie" emphasises the unwillingness to do the specified action.

The double negative construction has been fully integrated into standard Afrikaans and its proper use follows a set of fairly complex rules as the examples below show:

Afrikaans Dutch English
Ek het nie geweet dat hy sou kom nie. Ik heb niet geweten dat hij zou komen.1 I did not know that he would be coming.
Ek het geweet dat hy nie sou kom nie. Ik heb geweten dat hij niet zou komen.² I knew that he would not come.
Ek het nie geweet dat hy nie sou kom nie. Ik heb niet geweten dat hij niet zou komen.³ I did not know that he would not come.
Hy sal nie kom nie, want hy is siek. Hij zal niet komen, want hij is ziek.4 He will not be coming because he is sick.
Dis (Dit is) nie so moeilik om Afrikaans te leer nie. Het is niet zo moeilijk om Afrikaans te leren. It is not so difficult to learn Afrikaans.

The word het in Dutch does not correspond to het in Afrikaans. The het in Dutch means it in English. The Dutch word that corresponds to het in Afrikaans (in these cases) is heb.

Note that in these cases, most Dutch speakers would say instead:

No. Dutch English
Ik wist niet dat hij zou komen. I knew not that he would come.
Ik wist dat hij niet zou komen. I knew that he would not come.
Ik wist niet dat hij niet zou komen. I knew not that he would not come.
Hij komt niet, want hij is ziek. (or more commonly Hij komt niet omdat hij ziek is.) He does not come because he is sick.

A notable exception to this is the use of the negating grammar form that coincides with negating the English present participle. In this case there is only a single negation.

Afrikaans English
Hy is in die hospitaal, maar hy eet nie. (lit. ...he eats not.) He is in hospital, but he isn't eating.

Certain words in Afrikaans arise due to grammar. For example, moet nie, which literally means "must not", usually becomes moenie; although one does not have to write or say it like this, virtually all Afrikaans speakers will change the two words to moenie in the same way as do not shifts to don't in English.

See also[edit]



  • de Stadler, Leon G. (1996). "The indirect object in Afrikaans". In van Belle, William; Langendonck, Willy (eds.). The Dative. Vol. 1. pp. 251–288.
  • Donaldson, Bruce C. (1993). A Grammar of Afrikaans. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
  • Donaldson, Bruce C. (2000). Colloquial Afrikaans. London/New York: Routledge.
  • de Villiers, Meyer (1951). Werkwoordsvorme in Afrikaans in die verlede tyd. Stellenbosch: Universiteit van Stellenbosch. See also Roy F. Fallis, Jr.; De Villiers (1954). "Review of de Villiers (1951)". Language. 30 (4): 544–549. doi:10.2307/410487. JSTOR 410487.