The verb is one of the most complex parts of Basque grammar. It is sometimes represented as a difficult challenge for learners of the language, and many Basque grammars devote most of their pages to lists or tables of verb paradigms. This article does not give a full list of verb forms; its purpose is to explain the nature and structure of the system.
- 1 Verb stems
- 2 Synthetic conjugation
- 3 Periphrastic conjugation
- 4 Non-finite verb forms
- 5 Compound verbs
- 6 Verbal particles
- 7 Subordinator affixes
- 8 Bibliography
- 9 External links
One of the remarkable characteristics of the Basque verb is the fact that only a very few verbs can be conjugated synthetically (i.e. have morphological finite forms); the rest only have non-finite forms, which can enter into a wide variety of compound tense structures (consisting of a non-finite verb form combined with a finite auxiliary) and are conjugated in this way (periphrastically). For example, 'I come' is nator (a synthetic finite form), but 'I arrive' is iristen naiz (a periphrastic form, literally 'arriving I-am').
Synthetically conjugated verbs like 'come' can also be conjugated periphrastically (etortzen naiz). In some such cases the synthetic/periphrastic contrast is semantic (e.g. nator and etortzen naiz are not generally interchangeable); in others the contrast is more a matter of style or register, or else of diachrony (some synthetic forms of conjugation are archaic or obsolete). A few synthetic forms occurring in twentieth-century Basque literature are even a posteriori extrapolations or back-formations of historically unattested forms, created for stylistic, poetic or puristic purposes.
Traditionally Basque verbs are cited using a non-finite form conventionally referred to as the participle (although not all its uses are really participial). Other non-finite forms can be derived from the participle, as will be seen in a later section. When the verb possesses synthetic finite forms, these are based on an ultimate stem (called the "basic stem" here) which is normally also present in the participle. For example, the verb etorri 'come' has the basic stem -tor- from which are derived both the participle etorri (with the non-finite prefix e- and the participle suffix -i) and the finite present stem -ator- and non-present stem -etor-.
The participle is generally obtained from the basic stem by prefixing e- or i- (there is no rule; if the stem begins with a vowel, j- is prefixed instead), and suffixing -i (to stems ending in a consonant) or -n (to stems ending in a vowel). Occasionally there is no suffix. The verbal noun stem, another non-finite form, is obtained by replacing the suffixes -i and -n (and also -tu or -du, see below) of the participle by either -tze or -te. A third non-finite form which we shall call the "short stem" is obtained from the participle by omitting any of these suffixes except -n, which is retained in the short stem in those verbs whose participle has it.
|Basic stem (root)||Present stem||Non-present stem||Participle||Verbal noun||Short stem|
|-uka- (< -duka-)||-auka-||-euka-||e-duki||e-duki-tze||e-duki||'hold, have'|
|(irregular: see below)||i-za-n||i-za-te||i-za-n||'be', auxiliary|
|-(a)ki-||-aki-||-eki- (dial. -aki-)||j-aki-n||j-aki-te||j-aki-n||'know'|
A larger number of Basque verbs have no finite forms, but their non-finite forms follow the same pattern described above (they show an e-/i-/j- prefix, and the participle ends in -i, -n or occasionally zero.
|Participle||Verbal noun||Short stem||Meaning|
|e-uts-i||e-us-te||e-uts||'take hold (of)'|
|e-go-(n)||e-go-te/tze||e-go-(n)||'go up, rise'|
|i-tzal-i||i-tzal-tze||i-tzal||'go/put out (light, fire)'|
There is also another large group of verbs which again have only non-finite forms, in which the non-finite stem is unanalysable (as a verb, at least), thus there is no e-/i-/j- prefix. In most cases the participle of such verbs has the suffix -tu (-du if the stem ends in n or l). Occasionally we find zero or -i instead. This is replaced by -tze or -te in the verbal noun, and by nothing in the short stem. The stems of these secondary verbs may be (1) a nominal or other non-verbal stem (e.g. poz-tu, garbi-tu...), (2) a phrase (e.g. ohera-tu), (3) a Latin or Romance verbal stem (e.g. barka-tu, kanta-tu...) or (4) an unanalysable (primary) verb stem (e.g. har-tu).
|Participle||Verbal noun||Short stem||Meaning||Lexical source|
|afal-du||afal-tze||afal||'eat supper'||afari 'supper'|
|garbi-tu||garbi-tze||garbi||'clean'||garbi 'clean (adj.)'|
|ohera-tu||ohera-tze||ohera||'go/put to bed'||ohe-ra 'to bed'|
|poz-tu||poz-te||poz||'be/become happy'||poz 'happiness, joy'|
|baina-tu||baina-tze||baina||'bathe'||Spanish baña- 'bathe'|
|barka-tu||barka-tze||barka||'forgive'||Latin parc- 'spare'|
|begira-tu||begira-tze||begira||'look after, look at, observe'||Latin vigila- 'watch'|
|kanta-tu||kanta-tze||kanta||'sing'||Spanish canta- 'sing'|
|ken-du||ken-tze||ken||'take away, remove'|
|atera||atera-tze||atera||'take out, go out'||ate-ra 'to (the) door'|
|bota||bota-tze||bota||'throw'||Spanish bota- 'throw'|
Defective or anomalous verb stems
The verb 'to be', the most common verb in the language, is irregular and shows some stem allomorphy in its finite forms. Its participle is izan.
Another verb, egon, is used in western dialects (and in writing) as a second verb 'to be' in a way similar to estar in Spanish.
The verb 'to have', also extremely common, also shows irregularities in its finite conjugation. In western and central dialects and in standard Basque, izan is used as its participle, i.e. the same participle as for 'to be'; the two meanings are disambiguated by the context. Given that Basque verbs are conventionally cited in their participle form, this presents a problem for metalinguistic terminology, because the verb izan is ambiguous.
Eastern dialects avoid this ambiguity by using ukan as the participle of 'to have', reserving izan for 'to be', and some grammarians employ izan and ukan in this way for convenience, but this could create confusion since most Basque speakers do not actually employ ukan (or even know it as a metalinguistic term). Other grammarians refer to 'to have' as *edun, which is a hypothetical, unattested form derived from the finite stem -du-; again, the problem is that *edun does not exist in real Basque usage.
To avoid such problems, this article simply refers to "the verb 'to be'" and "the verb 'to have'".
The two standard aorist auxiliaries (see below) lack any non-finite forms, and so also have no obvious citation forms. As with *edun, some grammars construct hypothetical participles based on the finite stems, referring to *edin (the intransitive aorist auxiliary) and *ezan (the transitive aorist auxiliary).
There is another verb which also means 'have', at least in western dialects, namely eduki. As a lexical verb (rather than an auxiliary), many speakers and writers frequently use this verb. (This is somewhat reminiscent of, though not entirely parallel to, the Spanish distribution of haber and tener.)
The verb esan ('to say') possesses finite forms which have a different stem, -io- (e.g. diot 'I say'). Some grammarians treat these as different defective verbs, while others consider them a single word with stem allomorphy.
Tense structure and stem forms
Synthetic (single-word) conjugation involves the following finite "tenses":
Finite verbs have a basic finite stem that is either an unanalysable lexical root (e.g. -bil- 'go about, move (intr.)') or such a root preceded by the causative/intensive prefix -ra- (e.g. -rabil- 'cause to move, use'). From regular basic stems two tense stems are derived as follows: the present stem with prefix -a- and the non-present stem with prefix -e-, e.g. -abil- and -ebil- are the regular present and non-present stems of -bil-, -arabil- and -erabil- are the corresponding tense stems of -rabil-, and so on. The present stem is used in the present tense, the present potential tense and the non-third-person imperative, e.g. present d-abil 'he/she/it goes about', present potential d-abil-ke 'he/she/it may go about', second-person imperative h-abil! 'go about!'. The non-present stem is used in the past and hypothetic tenses (non-potential and potential), and in third-person imperative forms, e.g. z-ebil-en 'he/she/it went about', ba-l-ebil 'if he/she/it went about', z-ebil-ke-en 'he/she/it might or would have gone about', l-ebil-ke 'he/she/it might or would go about', b-ebil! 'let him/her/it go about!' (not in common use).
Non-present stems are further characterised by prefixes containing an n whenever the primary index (defined below) is non-third-person, e.g. z-ebil-en 'he went about' but n-enbil-en 'I went about', h-enbil-en 'you went about'; l-erabil-ke 'he would use it' but n-inderabil-ke 'he would use me'.
The suffix -(e)n is a marker of the past tenses, and -ke of the potential tenses (the past potential has both: -ke-en). The hypothetic non-potential tense usually occurs with the subordinator prefix ba- 'if', which will therefore be shown in examples; use of ba- is not restricted to the hypothetic, however (e.g. ba-dabil 'if he goes about', etc.). Apart from the tense markers mentioned, third-person prefixes distinguish between present, past, hypothetic and imperative tenses, as will be seen below.
Synopses of two verbs are given in the following table as illustrations. The verb 'to be' (izan) is irregular but in extremely frequent use, because it also serves as an important auxiliary. The verb ibili 'go about, move, etc.' (root -bil-) is regularly conjugated, although not all its synthetic forms are in widespread use. This synoptic table shows third-person forms.
|izan 'to be'||ibili 'to go about'|
|Present||da 'is'||dateke 'may be'||biz (archaic) 'let (it) be!'||dabil 'goes about'||dabilke||bebil|
|Past||zen 'was'||zatekeen 'would have been'||zebilen||zebilkeen|
|Hypothetic||ba-litz 'if X were'||litzateke 'would be'||ba-lebil||lebilke|
Primary person indices
All conjugating verb stems (unless defective) can take the following set of person-indexing prefixes: n- (first-person singular), h- (second-person singular informal), g- (first-person plural), z- (second-person singular formal and second-person plural). With intransitive verbs, these prefixes index the subject; with transitives, they index the direct object. For convenience, we shall refer to this as the set of 'primary person indices'.
|2 singular informal||hi||h-|
|2 singular polite/plural||zu/zuek||z-|
The following table shows some examples of how these prefixes combine with verb stems to produce a wide range of finite verb forms.
|'to be'||ibili 'to go about'||'to have'||ekarri 'to bring'|
(I go about)
(if I were)
Third-person verbs (here the 'person' again refers to the subject in intransitive verbs but the object in transitives) also take a prefix, which is invariable for number (singular or plural) but varies for tense, as follows: d- is used in the present tense, z- in the past, l- in the hypothetic and b- in third-person imperative forms (generally archaic or literary).
Some illustrative examples follow.
|'to be'||ibili 'to go about'||'to have'||ekarri 'to bring'|
(let him/her/it be)
|b-ebil (rare)||b-eu (obsolete)||b-ekar (literary)|
(let them be)
|b-ebiltza (rare)||b-ekartza (literary)|
Plural number is marked in finite verbs in various ways, depending on the arguments whose plurality is being indexed. One set of plural forms are 'primary', that is, once again they refer to either the 'intransitive subject' or the 'transitive object' (the absolutive case agreement). The form of primary plural marking varies irregularly according to the verb stem, and may involve miscellaneous stem changes or the placement of a plural marker immediately adjacent to the singular stem (-z, -zki, -tza, it-, -te). Singular and plural forms of some finite verb stems are shown in the following table.
|Singular subject||Plural subject||Meaning||Singular object||Plural object||Meaning|
|-a-iz, -a-∅||-a-ra (< *-a-ira), -∅-ira
(verbal root change)
|'be'||-a-u, -∅-u||-a-it-u, -∅-it-u||'have'|
|-a-go||-a-u-de (< *-a-go-te)||'stay, be'||-a-u-ka||-a-u-z-ka||'hold, have'|
|-a-bil||-a-bil-tza||'go about, move'||-a-kar||-a-kar-tza||'bring'|
|-oa||-oa-z||'go'||-a-ra-ma / -a-r-oa
(both from *-a-ra-oa,
with causative infix -ra-)
|-a-ra-ma-tza / -a-r-oa-z||'take'|
|-a-tor||-a-to-z (< *-a-tor-z)||'come'||-a-ki||-a-ki-zki||'know'|
Primary plural marking occurs whenever the indexed argument (subject or direct object) is plural. The second-person singular polite (pronoun zu) is also treated as plural for this purpose (because originally it was a second-person plural), although syntactically and semantically singular. To index the second-person plural (pronoun zuek), in addition to the markers corresponding to zu a further ('secondary') plural marker -te is suffixed.
|'to be'||i-bil-i 'to go about'||'to have'||e-karr-i 'to bring'|
|Plural||gu||g-a-ra (< *g-a-ira)||g-a-bil-tza||g-a-it-u||g-a-kar-tza|
|zu||z-a-ra (< *z-a-ira)||z-a-bil-tza||z-a-it-u||z-a-kar-tza|
|zuek||z-a-re-te (< *z-a-ira-te)||z-a-bil-tza-te||z-a-it-u-z-te (*)||z-a-kar-tza-te|
Note: The second -z- in zaituzte is not here a plural marker, but merely an epenthetic sound inserted where the sequence tute would otherwise occur; this happens in other similar cases as well, such as dituzte for *ditute.
Ergative person and number suffixes
The ergative case is the case of subjects of transitive verbs. Such arguments are indexed in a different way from 'primary' arguments. Person of the ergative marker may be indexed in one of two ways: using suffixes or prefixes. The ergative-index plural marker is always a suffix (-te). The ergative person suffixes are as follows; those for the first- and second-person singular end in -a whenever another suffix morpheme follows them. The absence of an ergative suffix in transitive verbs (except those discussed in the next section) implies a third-person subject.
|2 singular informal masculine||hik||-k||-a-|
|2 singular informal feminine||-n(a)||-na-|
|2 singular polite||zuk||-zu(-)|
A few sample paradigms follow.
|'to have'||ekarri 'to bring'|
|'(I ... ) have him/her/it'||'(I ... ) have them'||'(you ... ) have me'||'(I ... ) bring him/her/it'|
|Past||nik||(See following section)||—||(See following section)|
|guk||(See following section)||—||(See following section)|
Ergative person prefixes
Instead of the ergative suffixes, ergative prefixes are used to index first- or second-person ergative arguments if the tense is non-present and the direct object is third person (see the gaps in the previous table). The ergative prefixes are identical to the primary prefixes in the singular, but in the plural -en- is added to the primary prefix forms:
|2 singular informal||hik||h-|
|2 singular polite/plural||zuk/zuek||zen-|
The ergative plural suffix -te only occurs when required (a) to indicate the third person plural, or (b) to indicate the (real) second-person plural.
|'to have'||ekarri 'to bring'|
|'(I) had him/her/it' (past)||'(I) had them' (past)||'if (I) had him/her/it' (hypothetic)||'(I) would have him/her/it' (hypothetic potential)||'(I) brought him/her/it' (past)|
Dative argument indices
Finite verbs that have an argument in the dative case also index the dative argument using the following set of dative suffixes (which are identical in form to the ergative suffixes except in the third person):
|2 singular informal masculine||hiri||-k||-a-|
|2 singular informal feminine||-n (-na)||-na-|
|2 singular polite||zuri||-zu(-)|
Both intransitive and transitive verbs may take dative indices, and the mechanism for incorporating these is the same in either case. Dative suffixes immediately follow the verb stem, preceding other suffixes such as the ergative suffixes (thus in d-i-da-zu 'you have it to me', -da- is the dative suffix and -zu is the ergative suffix) or the potential suffix -ke (as well as the past suffix -(e) n, which is always word-final).
Only the primary plural marker, if present, and the dative-argument marker precede the dative suffix. The dative-argument marker, whose regular form is -ki-, is added to basic verb stems to indicate that these are taking a dative argument. With -ki-, the primary plural marker always takes the form of -z- immediately preceding -ki-. A few verb stems have an irregular dative-argument form.
|Basic stem (present)||Dative stem||Meaning||Basic stem||Dative stem||Meaning|
|Sing. subject||Plur. subject||Sing. dir. obj.||Plur. dir. obj.|
|-aiz, -a||zai-||zaizki-||'be'||-au, -u||-i-||-izki-||'have'|
|-abil||-abilki-||-abilzki-||'go about, move'||-arama||-aramaki-||-aramazki-||'take'|
The most commonly used dative verb forms are those of the irregular verbs 'to be' and 'to have', which are in constant use as tense auxiliaries, when these verbs have no lexical meaning of their own. This is the reason why many of the glosses given below sound odd (e.g. dit 'he has it to me'); an example of a more natural-sounding use of this form as an auxiliary would be eman dit 'he has given it to me'. Nevertheless, the following table serves to clarify the morphological structure of dative-argument verb forms.
|INTRANSITIVE VERBS||'to be'||etorri 'to come'|
|'he/she/it is to (me ... )'||'they are to (me ... )'||'he/she/it was to (me ... )'||'he/she/it comes to (me ... )'||'I come to (him/her/it ... )'|
|TRANSITIVE VERBS||'to have'||ekarri 'to bring'|
|'he/she/it has him/her/it to (me ... )'||'you have him/her/it to (me ... )'||'he/she/it has them to (me ... )'||'he/she/it had him/her/it to (me ... )'||'he/she/it brings him/her/it to (me ... )'|
Familiar forms and allocutive indices (hika)
In colloquial Basque, an informal relationship and social solidarity between the speaker and a single interlocutor are expressed by employing a special mode of speech often referred to in Basque as either hika or hitano (both derived from hi, the informal second-person pronoun; in other places the same phenomenon is named noka and toka for female and male interlocutors respectively). The obligatory grammatical characteristics of this mode are:
- The personal pronoun hi is used (rather than the polite second-person singular pronoun zu).
- All finite verb forms that index a second-person argument take (as one would expect) the corresponding hi forms, e.g. haiz "you are" (rather than zara), dun or duk "you have it" (rather than duzu), etc.:
|"you have it"||duzu||dun||duk|
|"you have them"||dituzu||ditun||dituk|
|"you had it"||zenuen||huen|
|"you know it"||dakizu||dakin||dakik|
|"it is to you"||zaizu||zain||zaik|
|"(s)he has it to you"||dizu||din||dik|
|"(s)he has them to you"||dizkizu||dizkin||dizkik|
|"I have it to you"||dizut||dinat||diat|
|"(s)he had it to you"||zizun||zinan||zian|
|"I had it to you"||nizun||ninan||nian|
- Obligatorily in independent declarative clauses with finite verb forms not indexing a true second-person argument, an additional second-person index is incorporated. This is known as the allocutive construction, and we may refer to these second-person indices that do not refer to a syntactic argument of the verb as "allocutive indices".
The allocutive suffixes are identical in form to the ergative and dative suffixes.
|2 singular informal masculine||-k||-a-|
|2 singular informal feminine||-n (-na)||-na-|
Allocutive suffixes follow the dative suffixes, the potential -ke- and ergative third-person plural -te-, and precedes other ergative suffixes (except for the synthetic forms of the verb esan with plural object). Depending on the verb in question, there may also be some other changes:
- The allocutive forms of the verb "to be" (izan) without a dative argument use the root -(it)u-. They are identical to the forms of the verb "to have", except for third-person in non-present tenses:
|Meaning||Polite||Familiar||Also means ...||Notes|
|"(s)he/it is"||da||dun||duk||'you have him/her/it'|
|"(s)he/it was"||zen||zunan||zuan||cf. huen "you had it/her/him"|
|"(s)he/it would be"||litzateke||luken||lukek||cf. huke "you would have it/her/him"|
|"I am"||naiz||naun||nauk||"you have me"|
|"I was"||nintzen||nindunan||ninduan||"you had me"|
|"I would be"||nintzateke||ninduken||nindukek||"you would have me"|
|"we are"||gara||gaitun||gaituk||"you have us"|
|"they are"||dira||ditun||dituk||"you have them"|
- In the allocutive forms of the verb "to have" (izan) without a dative argument the -u- in the root changes to -i- (so the root becomes -(it)i). Some form are identical to the forms of the verb "to have" with dative argument
|Meaning||Polite||Familiar||Also means ...||Notes|
|"(s)he/it has it"||du||din||dik||"he/she/it has it to you"|
|"I have it"||dut||dinat||diat||"I have it to you"|
|"we have it"||dugu||dinagu||diagu||"we have it to you"|
|"they have it"||dute||diten||ditek||and not *di(n)ate|
|"(s)he/it has them"||ditu||ditun||dituk||"(s)he/it has them to you"|
|"I have them"||ditut||ditinat||ditiat||cf. dizki(n)at "I have them to you"|
|"(s)he/it had it"||zuen||zinan||zian||"(s)he/it had it to you"|
|"I had it"||nuen||ninan||nian||"I had it to you"|
|"(s)he/it has me"||nau||nain||naik|
|"they had us"||gintuzten||gintiztenan||gintiztean||and not *ginti(n)aten or anything like *gindizki(n)aten|
- In all other verb forms, the procedure is as follows, sometimes (there is considerable dialectal variation on this point), the third-person present-tense primary prefix d- changes to z- and/or the present-tense stem formant -a- changes to -ia- or -e- in the allocutive forms.
- In standard Basque, d- changes to z- in transitive aorist auxiliaries (*ezan) and all non-auxiliary verbs. The present-tense format may or may not change to -e-. If the allocutive suffix immediately follows the verb stem ending in a consonant, a vowel is inserted (-a- after -z- pluralizer, -e- otherwise).
- In the synthetic forms of the verb esan with plural object, the allocutive suffix is placed after the pluralizer -z- (which, as an exception, is placed after an ergative suffix). In the singular forms of this verb the allocutive suffix is placed as usual (i.e. before ergative suffix).
|"(s)he/it comes"||dator||zatorren, zetorren||zatorrek, zetorrek|
|"(s)he/it knows"||daki||zakin, zekin||zakik, zekik||cf. dakin/k "You know"|
|"I know it"||dakit||zakinat, zekinat||zakiat, zekiat|
|"(S)he/it brings me"||nakar||nakarren||nakarrek||cf. nakarna/k "You bring me"|
|"I can be"||izan naiteke||izan naiteken||izan naitekek||and not nazaken/k|
|"I can see it"||ikus dezaket||ikus zezakenat||ikus zezakeat|
|"I say these"||diodaz||ziodazan||ziodazak|
|"I say it"||diot||zionat||zioat|
|"it/(s)he is to it/her/him"||zaio||zaion||zaiok|
|"it/(s)he is to me"||zait||zaidan||zaidak|
|"it/(s)he has it to it/her/him"||dio||zion||ziok||cf. dion/k "You have it to it/her/him"|
|"it/(s)he has it to me"||dit||zidan||zidak||cf. didan/k "You have it to me"|
Eastern Basque dialects extend the allocutive system to the more polite form of address, zu (known as zuka or zutano), or the affectionate variant xu. The rules are similar.
Such dialects have three levels of address:
- allocutive hi (with a female/male distinction) is the most intimate
- allocutive zu or xu is polite but friendly
- the absence of allocutive constructions is the most neutral or formal
But most dialects lack the middle level.
Compound tense stem forms
Compound tense forms consist of a non-finite verb form (the compound tense stem) and a finite auxiliary form. We shall begin by looking at the non-finite stems. Each verb has four: the perfect, future, imperfect and short stems. The perfect stem is identical to the participle (see above). The future stem is obtained from the participle by adding -ko (-go after n). The imperfect stem is the verbal noun (see above) plus the suffix -n. The form of the short stem was discussed above. Some examples follow.
|Perfect stem||Future stem||Imperfect stem||Short stem||Meaning|
|kendu||kenduko||kentzen||ken||'take away, remove'|
Compound tense auxiliaries
By combining the four compound tense stems with various auxiliaries, one obtains four groups of compound tense, sometimes referred to in Basque grammar as "aspects", which we shall call Imperfect, Perfect, Future and Aorist (= "aspect"-less) respectively.
The choice of auxiliary depends on the "aspect" and also on whether the verb is intransitive or transitive. Except in the aorist, the auxiliary for intransitives is the verb 'to be', while that for transitives is the verb 'to have'. In the Aorist a different pair of auxiliaries is used, one for intransitives and another for transitives. Since neither of the latter is used other than as an auxiliary, and neither has a participle (or other non-finite form) to provide a convenient citation form, we shall simply refer to them as the (intransitive and transitive) aorist auxiliaries.
The auxiliaries adopt all the argument indices (for subject, direct object and/or indirect object as the case may be, as well as the allocutive where applicable) that correspond to the verb within its clause.
|IMPERFECT||IMPERFECT +||'to be'||'to have'|
|PERFECT||PERFECT +||'to be'||'to have'|
|FUTURE||FUTURE +||'to be'||'to have'|
|AORIST||SHORT +||Intransitive Aorist Auxiliary||Transitive Aorist Auxiliary|
The above diagram illustrates the patterns with auxiliaries in the present tense. However, the same auxiliaries may be used in a wide variety of tenses, not only in the present. The following two tables lay out synoptically the possible auxiliary/tense combinations for intransitive and transitive auxiliaries respectively.
|'Be' auxiliary||Aorist Auxiliary|
|'Have' auxiliary||Aorist Auxiliary|
Simple and compound tenses
The following are the most usual Basque tenses. By considering both simple and compound tenses as part of a single list, one can better see how the whole system fits together and compare the tenses with each other.
|Present simple||SYNTHETIC PRESENT||
||Only those few verbs that can be conjugated synthetically have this tense. With stative verbs (e.g. izan 'be' or 'have', egon, eduki, jakin...) it expresses present state, e.g. da 'is'. With dynamic verbs (e.g. etorri, joan, ibili, ekarri, eraman...) it most often expresses ongoing action at the time of speaking, e.g. dator 'is coming', but note also badator 'if (X) comes', datorrenean 'when (X) comes' etc.|
|Present habitual||IMPERFECT STEM + present of 'be'/'have'||
||With dynamic verbs or verbs possessing synthetic conjugation, this tense usually expresses habitual action within the present time frame, e.g. kantatzen dut, etortzen naiz.... With stative verbs lacking a simple present, this tense also expresses a present state, e.g. ikusten dut 'I (can) see', ezagutzen dut 'I am acquainted with'. The habitual sense can also be absent in kantatzen badu 'if he sings', etortzen denean 'when he comes' (= datorrenean), etc.|
|Future||FUTURE STEM + present of 'be'/'have'||
||This is the basic future tense for all verbs. It can also convey conjecture, most obviously with stative verbs when it is clear that no future reference is expressed, e.g. izango da for 'probably is': Egia izango da 'It is probably true.' In illocutionary contexts this tense is equivalent to English modal 'shall' or 'will', e.g. Kantatuko dut? 'Shall/Should I sing?', Lagunduko didazu? 'Will/Would/Could you help me (please)?'|
|Simple past||SYNTHETIC PAST||
||Limited to verbs that can be conjugated synthetically, with which it expresses a past state or ongoing action.|
|Past habitual||IMPERFECT STEM + past of 'be'/'have'||
||With dynamic verbs and stative ones with synthetic conjugation, expresses habitual action in the past (etortzen nintzen, izaten nintzen). With stative verbs, past state (ikusten nuen).|
|Near past||PERFECT STEM + present of 'be'/'have'||
||Originally this tense expressed perfect in a present time-frame, e.g. ikusi dut 'I have seen (at some time in the past)'. Also used as a perfective past tense within the "current" time unit, usually interpreted as the day of speaking: ikusi dut 'I saw (usually understood: at some time today)'.|
|Remote past||PERFECT STEM + past of 'be'/'have'||
||Originally this expressed a pluperfect, i.e. perfect in a past time-frame, e.g. ikusi nuen 'I had seen'. Also used as a perfective past tense within a past time unit, which must be earlier than the day of speaking: ikusi nuen 'I saw (yesterday, three years ago ... )'.|
|Future-in-the-past||FUTURE STEM + past of 'be'/'have'||
||(a) Future action in past time frame: Etorriko zela esan zuen 'He said he would come'. (b) Consequence of an unfulfilled hypothesis, e.g. Jakin izan balu, etorriko zen 'If he had known, he would have come'. (c) Conjecture about past action, e.g. Gure aurretik etorriko zen 'He probably came/must have come before us.'|
|Hypothetic||FUTURE STEM + hypothetic of 'be'/'have'||
|Conditional||FUTURE STEM + hypothetic potential of 'be'/'have'||
||Consequence to a hypothetical premise (explicit or implied).|
|Present subjunctive||SHORT STEM + present of aorist auxiliary||
||Complement clauses and purpose clauses. More common in literary than colloquial style.|
|Present potential||SHORT STEM + present potential of aorist auxiliary||
||Possibility or ability.|
|Simple imperative||SYNTHETIC IMPERATIVE||
|Compound imperative||SHORT STEM + imperative of aorist auxiliary||
|Non-finite imperative||SHORT (or PERFECT) STEM||
More periphrastic constructions
Some other constructions that commonly express a range of aspectual or modal notions show a greater degree of periphrasis than those considered so far. A brief selection of some of the most important of these are shown in the following table:
|Progressive aspect ('be doing something')||-tzen/-ten + ari DA||
|Volition ('want to do something')||-tu/-i/-n (etc.) + nahi DU||
|Necessity/obligation ('must/have to/need to do something')||-tu/-i/-n (etc.) + behar DU||
|Ability ('can/be able to do something')||-tu/-i/-n (etc.) or -tzen/-ten + ahal DA/DU||
Non-finite verb forms
Basque verbs have a fairly wide range of non-finite forms. Morphologically these can all be derived via suffixation from the three non-finite forms presented at the beginning of this article: the participle, the verbal noun and the short stem. Apart from the short stem (which has a rather limited set of functions), all other forms are built on either the participle or the verbal noun.
The participle and derived forms
The participle and some other non-finite forms derived therefrom are as follows. To avoid repetition, mention will not be made of the use of the participle as a perfect stem in the formation of periphrastic tenses (see above).
|unmarked non-finite form (chain clauses, modal complement, citation form ... )||
|commonly replaces the short stem in all uses (western colloquial)|
|Participle + -(r)ik / Participle + -ta (da)||
||stative adverbial participle||
|Participle + -tako (dako)||
||adjectival (= non-finite relative)||
|Participle + -(e)z||
||dynamic adverbial participle||
The verbal noun and derived forms
The verbal noun and some other non-finite forms derived therefrom are as follows. Again, to avoid repetition, mention will not be made of the use of the -t(z)en form as an imperfect stem in the formation of periphrastic tenses (see above).
|Verbal noun + determiner||
|Verbal noun + -ko||
|Verbal noun + -ra||
||complement of verbs of movement||
|Verbal noun + -n||
|Verbal noun + -an||
Basque has a fairly large number of compound verbs of a type also known as light verb constructions, consisting of two parts. The first component is a lexical element which is often (but not always) an undeclined noun. The second is a common verb which contributes less semantic content to the construction but is the part that is conjugated, thus lending to the whole its verbal character. Details of conjugation depend on the light verb used, which may be one that has synthetic finite forms (e.g. izan), or a verb without synthetic finite forms (e.g. egin or hartu).
|Light verb||Examples||Meaning||Meaning of first component|
|izan 'be'||bizi izan||'live'||'alive'|
|ari izan||'be doing something'|
|izan 'have'||maite izan||'love'||'dear'|
|uste izan||'believe, think'||'opinion'|
|egin 'make, do'||lan egin||'work'||'work (n.)'|
|lo egin||'sleep'||'sleep (n.)'|
|amets egin||'dream'||'dream (n.)'|
|dantza egin||'dance'||'dancing' < French danse, Spanish danza ...|
In synthetically conjugated light-verb constructions such as bizi naiz 'I live' or maite dut 'I love', care must be taken not to confuse the light verb (naiz, dut...) with tense auxiliaries; bizi naiz and maite dut are simple present forms, for example. The modal verbs nahi izan and behar izan are also of this kind. In the periphrastic tenses of compound verbs with izan, some contractions occur, e.g. in the future of bizi izan 'live', where we would expect bizi izango naiz for 'I will live', biziko naiz is more common, with -ko attached directly onto the lexical component bizi as if this were a verb.
Compound verbs, especially those with the light verb egin, offer an alternative way (besides direct derivation with -tu, as seen above) for incorporating new verbs into the language, either through the incorporation of onomatopoeic words (kosk 'bite', oka 'vomit', hurrup 'sip' or 'slurp', klik 'click' ... ) or of loanwords (dantza 'dance', salto 'jump' etc.) as lexical components.
|al||yes/no questions||Etorriko al da? 'Will he come?'|
|ote||tentative questions, 'I wonder ... '||Etorriko ote da? 'I wonder if he will come.'|
|omen||hearsay||Etorriko omen da. 'I have heard/They say that he will come.'|
The only exception is that ote and omen are sometimes used in isolation where the ellipsis of a verb is understood. E.g. Egia ote? 'I wonder if it's true' is easily recognised by speakers to be an ellipsis of Egia ote da? Or if someone says Badator 'She's coming.' and someone else responds Omen! 'Supposedly!', this is as much as to say that the first utterance should incorporate omen, i.e. Ba omen dator 'Supposedly she is coming.'
Another set of preverbal particles consists of the affirmative particle ba- (by modern convention joined to a following finite verb form) and the negator ez. These are compatible with the modal particles, which they precede (e.g. ba omen dator in the preceding paragraph; ez al dakizu? 'don't you know?', etc.); apart from this, they too immediately precede the finite verb form.
|ba||affirmative emphasis||Badator. 'He is coming.'|
|ez||negation||Ez da etorriko. 'He won't come.'|
The forms of verbs cited throughout the general presentation of the finite verb system are normally those that occur in main clauses. (However, certain forms, such as the non-potential hypothetic, e.g. -litz, or the subjunctive, e.g. etor dadi-, never occur in such main-clause forms and these are therefore cited in subordinate forms such as balitz, etor dadin etc.)
In subordinate clauses, the finite verb takes a subordinator affix, i.e. a suffix or prefix which establishes (to some extent) the kind of subordination. Basically there are four such affixes, two suffixes and two prefixes, and one (and only one) of these is found in every subordinate form.
|-(e)n||suffix||relative clauses, indirect questions, other uses|
|-(e)la||suffix||indirect statements, circumstantial clauses|
Both of the suffixes, however, may take further suffixes (mostly nominal declension suffixes) which serve to further specify the type of subordination. The following table provides a brief overview of some of the main uses and forms.
|Suffixed to finite forms:||-(e)n||indirect question||Ez dakit nor den. 'I don't know who he/she is.' (Cf. Nor da? 'Who is he/she?')|
|relative clause||Hor dabilen gizona nire aita da. 'The man who is walking there is my father.' (Cf. Hor dabil gizona. 'The man is walking there.')|
|complement or purpose clause (with subjunctive)||
Edan dezagun! 'Let us drink!'
|-(e)nik||negation-polarity complement clause||
Ez dut esan etorriko denik. 'I didn't say (that) he is going to come.'
|-(e)nean||time clause, 'when'||
Etortzen denean esango diot. 'When she comes I will tell her.'
Uste dut etorriko dela. 'I think she will come.'
Kaletik zetorrela hauxe kantatu zuen. 'As she came (walking) along the street, this is what she sang.'
|complement clause (with subjunctive)||
Hona etor dadila esango diot. 'I will tell him to come here.'
Berak jan dezala! 'Let him eat it!'
|-(e)larik||time/circumstance clause ('while, when')||
Ondo pasako duzu euskara ikasten ari zarelarik. 'You will have a good time while/when (you are) learning Basque.'
|-(e)lako||reason clause, 'because'||
Zuk deitu didazulako etorri naiz. 'I have come because you called me.'
|Prefixed to finite forms:||ba-||condition clause||
Euskara ikasten baduzu, euskaldunak ulertuko dituzu. 'If you learn the Basque language, you will understand the Basques.'
|bai(t)-||explanatory or reason clause||
Ez baituzu euskara ikasi, ez dituzu euskaldunak ulertzen. 'Since you haven't learnt Basque, you don't understand the Basques.'
(see also the bibliography in Basque grammar)
- Allières, Jacques (1983). De la formalisation du système verbal basque. Article in Pierres Lafitte-ri omenaldia, pp. 37–39, Bilbo: Euskaltzaindia. (in French)
- Bonaparte, L-L. (1869). Le verbe basque en tableaux. London. (in French)
- Euskara Institutua, Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea (UPV/EHU) (2013), "Euskal Adizkitegi Automatikoa" (Automatic Basque Verbal Forms Generator)
- Euskaltzaindia (1973). Aditz laguntzaile batua. (in Basque)
- Euskaltzaindia (1987). Euskal gramatika: lehen urratsak (volume 2). Bilbao: Euskaltzaindia. (in Basque)
- Euskaltzaindia (1994). Adizki alokutiboak (hikako moldea) (in Basque)
|For a list of words relating to Basque verbs, see the Basque verbs category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|