Chichewa (also but less commonly known as Chinyanja, Chewa or Nyanja) is the main lingua franca of central and southern Malawi and neighbouring regions. Like other Bantu languages it has a wide range of tenses. In terms of time, Chichewa tenses can be divided into present, recent past, remote past, near future, and remote future. The dividing line between near and remote tenses is not exact, however. Remote tenses cannot be used of events of today, but near tenses can be used of events earlier or later than today.
The Chichewa tense system also incorporates aspectual distinctions. Except for the Present Simple, nearly every tense in Chichewa is either perfective or imperfective in aspect; for example the Recent Past ndinapíta "I went" is perfective, describing a simple action, while the Past Imperfective ndimapíta "I was going, I used to go" is imperfective, describing a continuing or habitual action. In the imperfective tenses for the most part there is no distinction between habitual and progressive aspect; however, in the present tense there is such a distinction; for example, ndímapíta "I go (every day)" (habitual) vs ndikupíta "I am going (now)" (progressive).
Another aspectual distinction in Chichewa is that between perfect and past. A perfect tense is one which carries an implication that the result of a past action still holds at the present time; for example, wabwera "he has come" implies that the person is still here. The past tenses in Chichewa carry exactly the opposite implication, namely that the result of the past action no longer holds; for example the Recent Past tense anabwéra "he came" implies that the person has now gone. This kind of tense is known in modern linguistics as discontinuous past. It differs from the English Past Simple, which is generally neutral in implication.
The distinction between one tense and another in Chichewa is made partly by changing the tense-marker, which is an infix such as -ku-, -na-, -ma- etc. added to the verb, and partly by the use of tone. Often two different tenses, such as ndimapíta "I was going" and ndímapíta "I go", have the same tense-marker but are distinguished by their tonal pattern.
Compound tenses are also found in Chichewa to express more complex meanings, such as ndimatí ndipité "I was about to go" or ndakhala ndíkúpíta "I have been going".
In addition to ordinary tenses, Chichewa also has tenses to express obligation ("I should go"), potentiality ("I might go"), and persistence ("I am still going"), participle-like tenses with meanings such as "while going", "having gone", "before going", and a number of tenses meaning "when..." or "if..." such as akapita "when he goes", átápíta "if he were to go", and ákadapíta "if he had gone".
Formation of the tenses
Basic tense formation
Chichewa verbs in their basic form are made with a subject-marker (ndi- "I", u- "you (sg)", etc.), which is followed by a tense-marker (if present), and then the verb stem. The Present Continuous (Present Progressive) tense, which has tense-marker -ku-, goes as follows:
- ndi-ku-thándiza "I am helping"
- u-ku-thándiza "you (sg.) are helping"
- a-ku-thándiza "he or she is helping"
- ti-ku-thándiza "we are helping"
- mu-ku-thándiza "you (pl. or polite) are helping"
- a-ku-thándiza "they are helping"
Other subject-markers are possible, e.g. chi- (referring to chímanga "maize"), i- (referring to nkhúku "chicken"), zi- (referring to mbálame "birds") and so on.
Freestanding pronouns such as ine "I", iwe "you", iyé "he, she" are available and may be added for emphasis: ine ndikuthándiza "I am helping".
The Present Simple, Present Subjunctive, and Basic Imperative have no tense-marker; all the rest have a tense-marker.
In modern standard Chichewa except in the Perfect tense there is no difference between the 3rd person singular "he/she" and the 3rd person plural "they", although there are some dialects such as the Town Nyanja spoken in Lusaka, Zambia where the 3rd person plural is still βa- and thus different from the singular.
The Perfect tense is exceptional in that the subject-marker is shortened when followed by the tense-marker -a-. It is also exceptional in that the 3rd person singular has w- instead of a-, and is thus different from the 3rd person plural:
- nd-a-thandiza "I have helped"
- w-a-thandiza "you (sg.) have helped"
- w-a-thandiza "he/she has helped"
- t-a-thandiza "we have helped"
- mw-a-thandiza "you (pl. or polite) have helped"
- a-thandiza "they have helped" (or "he/she (polite) has helped")
Other elements can be added between the tense-marker and the verb-stem, such as aspect-markers and object-markers. So for example the object-marker -mu- "him" or "her" can be added to any of the above verbs: nd-a-mú-thandiza "I have helped him".
A table of tenses
The main tenses used in independent clauses in Chichewa are as follows:
|I help, I'll help||Tone on subject-marker (which may spread)|
|Present Habitual||ma||ndí-ma-thandíza||I help (regularly)||Tones on subject-marker (which never spreads) and penultimate|
|Present Continuous||ku||ndi-ku-thándiza||I am helping||Tone on syllable after -ku-|
|Present Frequentative||ku-ma||ndi-ku-má-thandíza||I am always helping||Tones on -ma- and penultimate|
|Present Persistive||kada, kana, daka||ndi-kada-thandíza||I am still helping||Tone on the penultimate|
|Perfect||a||nd-a-thandiza||I have helped||Toneless (unless the verb-stem itself has a tone)|
|I helped, I have helped||Tone on -na- or -da- (which may spread)|
|Recent Past||na||ndi-na-thándiza||I helped (recently)||Tone on the syllable following -na-|
|Remote Past||na-a, da-a||ndí-ná-a-thandíza
|I had helped; I helped (but...)||Tones on subject-marker, na (optional), and penultimate.|
|Past Imperfective||ma||ndi-ma-thándiza||I was helping, used to help||Tone on the syllable following -ma-|
|Remote Past Imperfective||nká||ndi-nká-thandíza||I was helping, used to help||Tones on -ka- and the penultimate|
|I will help||Tones on subject-marker (optional) and -dza- (which may spread)|
|I will help (when...)||Tones on subject-marker (optional) and -ka- (which may spread)|
|Future Continuous||zí||ndí-zi-thandíza||I'll be helping||Tones on subject-marker and penultimate|
|Remote Future Continuous||zi-dza||ndí-zí-dza-thandíza||I'll be helping||Tones on subject-marker, -zi-, and penultimate|
|Present Potential||nga||ndi-nga-thandize||I can help, I would help||Toneless|
|Perfect Conditional||kadá, kaná, daká||ndi-kadá-thandiza||I would have helped||Tone on second syllable of tense-marker (which may spread)|
|Present Subjunctive||–||ndi-thandizé||I should help||Tone on the final -e|
|-zi- Subjunctive||zí||ndi-zí-thandíza||I should be helping||Tones on -zi- and penultimate|
|-ba- Subjunctive||ba:||ndí-bâ:-thandíza||I should be helping meanwhile||Tones as for Remote Past|
|-ta- Subjunctive||ta||ndi-ta-thándiza||let me help||Tone following ta|
|Present Participial||ku||ndí-kú-thándiza||when I am/was helping||Tones on subject-marker and 3rd syllable, which usually link|
|Persistive Participial||kada, kana, daka||ndí-daka-thandíza||while I am still helping||Tones on subject-marker and penultimate|
|Perfect Participial||ta||ndí-tá-thándiza||having helped, after I help(ed)||Tones as for Present Participial|
|Negative Perfect Participial||sana, sada||ndí-sana-thandíze||before I help(ed)||Tones on subject-marker and penultimate|
|When / if||ka||ndi-ka-thandiza||when/if I help||Toneless|
|Whenever / if ever||kama||ndi-kamá-thandíza||whenever I help(ed)||Tones on ma and penultimate|
|When / if in future||kadza||ndi-kadzá-thandiza||when one day I help||Tone on dza|
|If (hypothetical future)||ta||ndí-tá-thándiza||if I were to help||As for Perfect Participial|
|If (hypothetical past)||kada, kana, daka||ndí-kada-thandíza||if I had helped||Tones on subject-marker and penultimate|
Near and remote tenses
Certain tenses in Chichewa, such as those with -ná-, -nká- and -dzá-, are used for events remote in time, while others are used mainly for events of today (including last night). However, although the remote tenses are never used for events of today, the opposite is not true. As one scholar Jack Mapanje puts it: "Although traditional and other grammarians have latched on to the idea of immediate, near or remote past or future time, this is not a hard and fast rule for our languages. Usually the decision as to how immediate, near or remote past or future time is from the speech time is dependent on subjective factors."
-na- and -da-
The Remote Perfect (or Past Simple) tense (e.g. ndinábwera or ndidábwera "I came") can be made with either -na- or -da-. The difference is partly regional, since -da- is heard mainly in parts of the Central Region, especially in the area around Lilongwe. -da- was also chosen by the first President of Malawi, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, in his wish to standardise the language and to make the Central Region variety the basis of that standard, as the correct form to be used in written Chichewa for this tense. Banda is said to have declared: "The real Chichewa is what is spoken by the villagers in Dowa, Lilongwe, Dedza, Salima; in the Southern Region, Namkumba's area in Fort Johnston [Mangochi]". Thus -da- has come to be used as the standard form in written Chichewa, and books describing the language prescriptively for Malawian schools allow only -da- as the Remote Perfect tense-marker. Colloquially, however, -ná- seems to be more common, and is the form given for this tense in the majority of publications describing Chichewa grammar. In the older 1922 translation of the Bible, -na- is more commonly used than -da- (although -da- is used occasionally), whereas in the more recent translation of 1998, -da- is the usual past tense marker.
For the Remote Past tense, some dialects use -na:- and others -da:-. In some books, such as the 1998 Bible translation, Buku Loyera, this tense-marker is always spelled -daa-, but in other publications the spelling -na- or -da- is used, so that only the context makes it clear whether the Past Simple or the Remote Past is intended.
Tense and tone
Tones (the rises and falls in pitch of the voice) play an important part in the grammar of the Chichewa verb. Each tense has its own tonal pattern, although often the same pattern is used by more than one tense. For instance, the Present Continuous, Recent Past, and Imperfect all have a high tone on the syllable following the tense-marker:
- ndi-ku-thándiza "I am helping"
- ndi-na-thándiza "I helped (just now)"
- ndi-ma-thándiza "I was helping"
The Present Habitual, on the other hand, has two high tones, one on the subject-marker and the other on the penultimate syllable:
- ndí-ma-thandíza "I (usually) help"
The Past Simple (Remote Perfect) has a tone on the tense-marker itself, which in some dialects spreads to the following syllable:
- ndi-ná-thandiza or ndi-ná-thándiza "I helped"
Further tonal patterns are noted in the table above.
The same tonal pattern is used whether the verb is short or long. However, when the verb is a short one of one or two syllables only, certain adjustments may be made. For example, a penultimate tone may move to the final or sometimes disappear:
- ndí-ma-werénga "I usually read"
- ndí-ma-dyá "I usually eat"
- ndi-nká-thandíza "I used to help"
- ndi-nká-pítá "I used to go"
- ndi-nká-dya "I used to eat"
The addition of an aspect-marker or object-marker to a verb can cause an extra tone on the verb-stem:
- a-ku-sókosera "they are causing a disturbance"
- a-ku-má-sokoséra "they are always causing a disturbance"
In negative tenses different tonal patterns are used. For example:
- mu-pité "you should go"
- mu-sa-píte "you shouldn't go"
Some tenses have two different negative intonations, depending on the shade of meaning. For example, the Remote Perfect ndi-ná-gula "I bought" has the following negatives with different meanings:
- sí-ndí-na-gúle (or sí-ndi-na-gúle) "I didn't buy"
- si-ndi-na-gúle "I haven't bought yet"
Another factor causing a change of tone is whether a verb is being used in a relative clause or certain other types of clause. For example, there is a difference in meaning between:
- ndi-ku-píta "I am going"
- ndí-kú-píta "when I am/was going"
Another factor affecting the tones of a verb is that when a verb is followed by an object or a place-argument, the tone usually spreads:
- mú-ma-khála "you stay"
- mú-ma-khálá kuti? "where do you live?"
For further details see Chichewa tones.
Following the tense-marker it is possible to add one or more aspect-markers, which are infixes which modify the meaning of the tense. There are four different aspect-markers, which usually are added in the order: -ma-, -ka-, -dza-, -ngo-.
-Ma- can be used in its own right as a tense-marker, or can be added to other tense-markers to make the tense habitual:
- Usachíte "don't do", vs. usamáchíté "don't keep on doing".
- Ndikagula "if I buy", vs. ndikamágúlá "whenever I buy".
The meaning of -ka- is usually "go and...".
- adákágula pétulo "he went and bought some petrol"
Sometimes it can mean "go in order to":
- tidzápemphera "we will pray" vs. tidzákápemphera "we will go and pray"
In combination with the Present Simple tense it makes the Contingent Future (see below):
- mwína akándithandiza.
"perhaps he'll help me (if I ask him)."
-Dza- has various meanings. The first meaning is "come and...":
- dzaonéni! "come and see!"
With an Infinitive or Subjunctive after a verb of coming, it can mean "in order to":
- kuthándiza "to help" vs. ndabwera kudzáthandizá "I have come to help".
The second meaning is or "at a later time, in future":
- zikadámúvuta "it would have caused him problems" vs. zikadádzámúvuta "it would have caused him problems later"
When combined with the Present Simple tense, it converts it to the Remote Future:
- ndidzáthandiza "I will help" (tomorrow or later)
The aspect-marker -ngo- means "just". As it is derived from the Infinitive, the tone, as in the Infinitive itself, goes on the syllable following -ngo-, and the final vowel is always -a, never -e:
- Ndimafúna "I wanted", vs. Ndimángofúna "I just wanted".
The Present Simple tense is formed without any tense-marker, but with a tone on the subject-prefix: ndíthandiza "I help, I will help" (the first tone can spread, making ndíthándiza). The Present Simple of the verb -li ("is") is irregular, in that it has no tone on the subject prefix: ndili "I am". The negative has two different intonations depending on whether it has a future meaning: síndíthandiza "I don't help", sindithandíza "I won't help".
The Present Simple tense can be both perfective and imperfective in aspect. When the Present Simple is perfective, the meaning is usually immediate future:
- Ndínyamula katúndu, musavutíke.
"I'll carry the bags, don't trouble yourself."
It can sometimes, however, be used perfectively referring to the present, for example in chapter headings or newspaper headlines.
When the Present Simple is imperfective, it refers to present time, and is usually habitual. In earlier Chichewa the simple tense was more widely used than today, and there are many places in the 1922 Bible translation (Búkú Lópátuliká) where the Present Simple is replaced in the more modern 1998 version by the Present Habitual or Present Continuous, for example:
- Mphépo íomba pomwé ífuna. (1922 version)
"The wind blows where it will."
- Mphépo ímaombéra komwé íkúfúna. (1998 version)
"The wind blows where it will (lit. usually blows to where it is wanting)."
The modern tendency is to use the Present Habitual or Present Continuous even for stative verbs such as "I love", "I know", "I want", "I believe", "I hope" and so on, although the simple form can also sometimes be used. Certain verbs, such as ndíkhoza "I might (do)" and ndili "I am", however, are always used in the simple form.
The Present Simple tense is more commonly used in an imperfective sense when negative. Often it is used for the negative of a stative verb:
- Ine síndídziwa kuyéndetsa gálímoto.
"I don't know how to drive a car."
At other times it has a habitual meaning, and some authors see it as being the negative of the Present Habitual. In the following example, the Present Habitual is used for the positive, but the Present Simple for the negative:
- Nthénjere tímadyá koma nthúla sítidya.
"We eat sour-plums but we don't eat bitter-apples."
With negative monosyllabic verbs when negative, the Present Continuous is sometimes used, even though the meaning is habitual:
- Amaláwi ámbíri sákumwá mowa.
"Many Malawians don't drink alcohol."
However, sámwá and sámámwá are also possible here.
The Present Habitual tense (ndí-ma-thandíza "I help, habitually") is formed by adding -ma- to the Present Simple tense. The tones are on the subject-marker and penultimate; the first tone never spreads. It is typically used for situations in the present which are repeated habitually or which are continuous and expected to continue indefinitely:
- Mvúlá ikagwa, mitsínje ímadzála.
"When it rains, the rivers get full."
- Ndímakhálá ku Lilongwe.
"I live in Lilongwe."
As noted above, the negative of this tense usually omits -ma-. However, the infix -ma- (with a tone) can be added especially if the meaning is emphatic:
"I never complain".
The tense-marker -ma- appears to derive from an earlier -mba-. (-mba- is also used as a habitual marker in the Malawian variety of Chisena.) Kanerva (1990) records forms like ndíímaphíika "I cook", showing a long vowel in the first syllable in the Nkhotakota dialect; however, other dialects have a short vowel.
The Present Continuous (or Present Progressive) tense uses the tense-marker -ku-, with the tone on the syllable immediately after -ku-: ndi-ku-thándiza "I am helping". The negative also has a tone in the same place: sí-ndí-ku-thándiza "I am not helping". (Note that since -ku- can also mean "you (sg.)" these words, with the intonation ndíkúthandiza and sindikuthandíza, can also mean "I will help you" and "I won't help you", assuming that the person being addressed is younger than or a close friend of the speaker.)
It is used much like the English Present Continuous for temporary situations which are not expected to continue for long. It can also be used, as in English, for events which are already planned, e.g. "I'm going to Zambia next week" or which are still incompleted but under way:
- Ndikupítá ku msika.
"I'm going to the market." (now)
- Ndikupítá kwáthu máwa.
"I'm going home tomorrow."
- Iyé akumángá khítchini kwáwo.
"He's building a kitchen at his house."
This tense is used in a wider range of contexts than the English equivalent, since it is also often used with stative verbs such as "know", "want", "remember", "believe", "expect", "think", "see":
- Ukugániza kutí síndikudzíwa?
"Do you think that I don't know?"
It is also used for performative verbs, such as ndikulónjeza "I promise", although some older speakers use the Present Simple in such contexts.
In some contexts the Present Continuous can be used where English uses the Perfect Continuous:
- Chigwetséreni ndalámayo zinthu zikuthína.
"Since the devaluation of the currency things have been getting difficult."
The longer form of this tense, ndinalí kuthándiza or ndínalí kuthándiza, mentioned in some older books, is not often used nowadays, the simpler form being much more common.
A Present Frequentative tense can be made by combining the Present Progressive -ku- and the aspect-marker -má-. It is generally used for situations which the speaker disapproves of. Again, the addition of -ma- is emphatic. The tones are on -ma- and the penultimate:
- Akumásokoséra ndí máwáilesi.
"They are always causing a disturbance with radios."
This tense is formed with the tense-marker -kada-, -kana-, or -daka- and a single tone on the penultimate syllable: ndikadathandíza or ndidakathandíza "I am still helping". (This tone moves to the final in monosyllabic verbs.) It is most often used with the verb -li "be". With other verbs the tendency is to replace this tense with the suffix -be "still": ndikuthándizábe "I am still helping", but this suffix is not available with the verb -li, since ndilíbe has a different meaning, namely "I do not have".
- Mwanáyo akadavutíka.
"The girl is still suffering."
- Malipiro akadalí wótsíka.
"Wages are still low."
Sometimes the tense-marker -kada- is shortened to -ka-.
Another way of expressing "still" is a form in chi-...-re; but this is used only for a few verbs:
- Ali chigonére.
"She's still in bed."
For the participial form of the persistive tense, see below.
A perfect tense is usually defined as one which indicates the continuing present relevance of a past situation. Thus the use of the Perfect tense in the sentence "I have lost my penknife" indicates that the penknife is still missing.
Several different typical uses of perfect tenses are distinguished in linguistics textbooks: the Perfect of Result (e.g. "I have lost my penknife"); the Experiential Perfect (e.g. "Bill has been to America (at least once)"); the Perfect of Persistent Situation (e.g. "I've been waiting for hours"); and the Perfect of Recent Past (e.g. "I've seen her this morning"). All of these uses can be found in the Chichewa Perfect.
In English, the use of the Perfect is incompatible with a time adverb referring to a time completely in the past (e.g. "yesterday"). However, this is not necessarily the case in all languages; in Spanish, for example, the Perfect is compatible with an adverb such as ayer "yesterday". As will be seen below, Chichewa may also combine the Perfect with a past time adverb.
The Perfect Simple tense in Chichewa is formed as described above with the tense-marker -a-, e.g. nd-a-gula "I have bought (some)". It is toneless, unless the verb-stem itself has a tone (e.g. nd-a-topá "I am tired"). There is no exact negative, although a particular intonation of the negative past with the tone on the penultimate only is often regarded as the equivalent of a negative Perfect (si-ndi-na-gúle "I haven't bought it yet").
Perfect of result
As with the English Perfect, the Perfect tense is often used as a perfect of result, usually referring to very recent events:
- Máyo! Sélula yángá yabedwa!
"Oh no! My phone's been stolen!" (implying that it is still lost)
Unlike the English Perfect, it is possible to combine it with an adverb of time such as "at ten o'clock":
- Tamúpeza pa téni koloko.
"We found him at ten o'clock."
Perfect of experience
As in English also it can be used as a Perfect of experience to describe something which has happened once or more and which may happen again:
- Ndapitánsó ku Chitípa katátu.
"I've been back to Chitipa three times."
Perfect with present meaning
A usage less familiar from English but common in other Bantu languages such as Swahili is to express a present state resulting from a recent event. For example, "he is wearing a suit" is expressed in Chichewa as "he has put on a suit"; "he is sitting on a chair" is expressed as "he has sat down on a chair"; "I am tired" is expressed as "I have become tired", and so on.
- Wavala súti.
"He's wearing a suit." (literally "he has put on a suit")
- Mangó aja apsa.
"Those mangoes are ripe." (lit. "have ripened")
"I am tired." (lit. "I have become tired")
- Wakhala m'khítchini.
"She's sitting in the kitchen (right now)"
- Zatheká bwánji?
"How is it possible?"
To express the past version of such situations ("he was wearing a suit") the Recent Past or Remote Past is used.
The Perfect tense of the verb -khala ("stay" or "be") either by itself or combined with another verb is used as the equivalent of the English Perfect Continuous to express a situation which began some time ago but which is still continuing now:
- Ndakhala pano (kwá) miyezí isanu.
"I've been here for five months."
- Takhala tíkúgwíra ntchíto kuyámbira Lólémba.
"We've been working since Monday."
- Akhala chiimíre kwá maólá ámbíri.
"He has been standing for many hours."
This construction is not mentioned in any of the early writers on Chichewa grammar.
This tense is formed with the tense-marker -ná- or -dá- (see above for the distinction between these). The tone is on the tense-marker itself. In longer verbs in some dialects this tone spreads forward one syllable: ndi-ná-landira / ndi-ná-lándira 'I (have) received'.
This tense is sometimes referred to as the "Past" or "Simple Past". However, the descriptions given by several authors make it clear that, except in its use in narrative, it should be classified as one of the perfect tenses, since like the Perfect it usually carries the implication that the effect of the action still holds. Watkins calls it the "Remote Past With Present Influence". It refers to events of yesterday or earlier.
Remote Perfect of result
One common use is as a perfect of result, referring to an event whose result is still true at the time of speaking:
"He came some time ago (and is still here)."
- Adápita kumudzi.
"He went home (supposes that he did not turn back)."
"He has eaten (and is not now hungry)"
It can be used with a past time adverb such as "yesterday" or "last year". "When this happens the 'perfect meaning' of the utterance is not lost" (Mapanje).
- Anáfa chaká chátha.
"He died last year."
As Watkins noted, this is the appropriate tense to use to describe the creation of the world, since the result of the creation is still evident:
- Pachiyámbi Mulungu adálenga kumwambá ndí dzíkó lápánsí.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth."
Like the Perfect tense it can also be used with the adverb masíkú ano "these days" to describe a change that has come about, but not recently:
- Masíkú ano mpira unásintha kwámbíri.
"These days football has changed a lot."
Remote Perfect of experience
Like the Perfect, it can also be used experientially. In this sense, often -po or -ko is added to the verb.
- Ndinákhala ku África kawíri.
"I have lived in Africa twice."
- A Chibambo adáphunzitsápo m'sukúlú zá sékondale zósíyanásiyaná.
"Chibambo has taught in various secondary schools."
Remote Perfect in narrative
Another use is in narrative:
- Ndinkáyéndá m'nkhalangó. Mwádzídzidzi ndidáponda njóka.
"I was walking in the forest. Suddenly I stepped on a snake."
The narrative Remote Perfect is typically used for the action in novels and short stories and in narratives such as the 1998 Bible translation. In this usage, it has the meaning of a simple past tense, and the implication that the result of the action still holds does not apply.
Remote Perfect negative
The negative of this tense has the final vowel -e. The tones of the ordinary negative are on the negative marker (which may spread) and the penultimate; but when it has the meaning of an experiential perfect there is a single tone on the penultimate:
- Síndínapíté ku Lilongwe.
"I didn't go to Lilongwe."
- Sindinapítépó ku Lilongwe.
"I have never been to Lilongwe."
The negative of the Recent Past is rarely used in modern Chichewa, and the Remote Perfect negative is used instead. When negative therefore this tense can refer to events of today as well as events in the more remote past.
The past tenses in Chichewa differ from the perfect tenses in that they all describe situations which were true in the past but of which the results no longer apply at the present time. Thus Maxson describes the Recent Past and the Remote Past as both implying that the situation has been "reversed or interrupted by another action". According to Watkins, the Remote Past tense would be appropriate in a sentence such as "Jesus Christ died (but rose again)"; whereas it would not be appropriate in the sentence "God created the world" since it would imply that the creation was cancelled and "a second creator did a more enduring piece of work". Similarly, according to Kulemeka, the Recent Past would be inappropriate in a sentence such as "our cat died", since it would imply that the act of dying was not permanent but would allow the possibility that the cat could come to life again at some future time.
These two tenses, therefore, appear to differ from the English past tense (which is neutral in implication), and would seem to belong to the category of past tenses known in modern linguistics as discontinuous past. Just as the Perfect and the Past Simple both carry the implication that the action had an enduring effect which continues to the present time, so the Recent Past and Remote Past carry the opposite implication, that the action was not permanent but was reversed or cancelled by a later action.
The Recent Past tense can also be used for narrating events that occurred earlier on the day of speaking. (The use of the Perfect tense for narrative as described by Watkins is now apparently obsolete). However, for narrating a series of events of yesterday or earlier, the Remote Perfect tense is used.
The Recent Past is made with the tense-marker -na-. The tone comes on the syllable immediately after -na-: ndinathándiza "I helped (but...)".
The Recent Past is most often used for events of today, but it can also be used of earlier events. Although it can be used for simple narrative of events of earlier today, it usually carries the implication that the result of the action no longer holds true:
- Anapítá ku Zombá, koma wabweráko.
"He went to Zomba, but he has come back."
- Ndinaíká m'thumba.
"I (had) put it in my pocket (but it isn't there now)."
"He came just now (but has gone away again)."
With the same verbs in which the Perfect tense describes a state in the present, the Recent Past describes a state in the recent past:
- Anaválá súti.
"He was wearing a suit" (literally, "he had put on a suit").
It can also be used, however, as a simple past tense for narrative of events of earlier today:
- Ndimayéndá m'nkhalangó. Mwádzídzidzi ndinapóndá njóka.
"I was walking in the forest. Suddenly I stepped on a snake."
Although the tenses with -na- are usually perfective, the verb -li "be" is exceptional since the Recent Past and Remote Past in this tense usually have an imperfective meaning:
- Ndinalí wókóndwa kwámbíri.
"I was very pleased."
A negative form of this tense (síndínafótókoza "I didn't explain", with a tone following na, and with the ending -a}}) is recorded by Mtenje. However, the negative seems to be rarely if ever used in modern standard Chichewa, and it is not mentioned by most other writers. Instead, the negative of the Remote Perfect (síndínafotokóze, with tones on the first and penultimate, and with the ending -e) is generally used.
The tense-marker is -dáa- or -náa- (which are, however, usually written -da- and -na-). There are tones on the 1st, 2nd, and penultimate syllables. The first tone or the second tone can be omitted: ndi-ná-a-gúla; ndí-na-a-gúla "I (had) bought (but...)". This tense is a remote one, used of events of yesterday or earlier. The a of the tense-marker is always long, even though it is often written with a single vowel.
As might be expected of a tense which combines the past tense marker -na- or -da- and the Perfect tense marker -a-, this tense can have the meaning of a Pluperfect:
- Mkatí mwá chítupamo ádâdíndá chilolezo.
"Inside the passport they had stamped a visa."
- Khamú lálíkúlu lidámtsatira, chifukwá lídáaóná zizindikiro zózízwitsa.
"A large crowd followed him, because they had seen amazing signs."
It can also be used to describe a situation in the distant past, using the same verbs which are used in the Perfect tense to describe a situation in the present:
- Ánáaválá súti.
"He was wearing a suit." (literally, "he had put on a suit")
- Ndídáalandírá makúponi koma ndidágulitsa.
"I received some coupons but I sold them."
- Anzáke ádamulétsa, iyé sádamvére.
"Her friends tried to stop her but she wouldn't listen."
- Nkhósa ídáatayíka.
"The sheep was lost (but has been found)."
- Ádáabádwa wósapénya.
"He was born blind (but has regained his sight)."
The usual Past Imperfective tense (or simply the Imperfect tense) is made with the tense-marker -ma-. The tones are the same as for the Present Continuous and the Recent Past, that is, there is a tone on the syllable immediately after -ma. The negative also has a tone after -ma-: síndímathándiza "I wasn't helping". This tense can refer either to very recent time or to remote time in the past.
It can be used for progressive events in the past:
- Ntháwi iméneyo umachókera kuti?
"At that time where were you coming from?"
It can also be used for habitual events in the past:
- M'kalási timakhálira limódzi.
"In class we used to sit together."
Remote Past Imperfective
This tense is formed with the tense-marker -nka-. There are tones on nká and on the penultimate: ndinkáthandíza "I was helping/ used to help". It refers to events of yesterday or earlier. Since the Past Imperfective with -ma- can be used of both near and remote events, whereas -nka- can be used only for remote ones, the -nka- tense is perhaps less commonly used.
This tense is used for both habitual events in the distant past, and progressive events in the distant past:
- Chaká chátha ankápítá kusukúlu, koma chaká chino amángokhála.
"Last year he used to go to school, but this year he just stays at home."
- Ndinkáyéndá m'nkhalangó.
"I was walking in the forest."
The tense-marker -nká-, which is pronounced with two syllables, is possibly derived from the verb muká or mká 'go'.
Present Simple as future
The Present Simple, as noted above, is often used for events in the near or immediate future:
- Ndíyimba fóni ndikafika.
"I'll give you a ring when I arrive."
Usually it refers to events of today, but it can also be used for tomorrow or even later times:
- Tíkúmana máwa.
"We'll meet tomorrow."
- Máwa úkhala bwino. Ndikulónjeza.
"You'll be fine tomorrow, I promise."
The negative of this tense has a single tone on the penultimate syllable:
- Ine sindipíta kuukwati.
"I'm not going to go to the wedding."
For events in a "general or more distant future (not today)" the Future Tense with -dza- is used. Some dialects put a tone on the first two syllables (e.g. ndídzáthándiza "I will help"); more frequently authors report a tone on -dza- only (ndidzáthandiza) The tone of -dza- may spread. In the negative, as with most negative future tenses, there is a single tone on the penultimate: sindidzathandíza "I won't help".
- Tsíkú lá Válentine ndidzápita kuófesi.
"On Valentine's day I shall go to the office."
- Ife sitidzamuiwála.
"We will not forget him."
Another future tense is formed with -ka-, with the same tones as -dza-. It usually refers to events in the near future. Maxson characterises this tense as follows: "The sense sometimes seems to be that the action will take place in relation to or dependent on something else. It might presuppose an unspoken conditional clause." The name "Contingent Future" was suggested by Henry (1891), as opposed to the -dza- Future, which he called the "Indefinite Future".
- Mukándípezá kuntchíto.
"You'll find me at work (when you come)."
- Makíyi mukáwápezá ndí álónda.
"You'll find the keys with the security guards (if you go there)."
- Mwína akándithandiza.
"Perhaps he'll help me (if I ask him)."
The future tense-marker -ka- is not to be confused with the aspect-marker -ka- "go and", which can be used combined with various tenses, for example:
- Ndikátenga pa bánki.
"I'll go and get it from the bank."
Another future tense can be made with the tense-marker -zi-, with tones on the initial syllable and penultimate. This usually refers to a situation in the near future, and has an imperfective meaning:
- Sitíma ízinyamúka.
"The train will be leaving soon."
In the negative, the tones are on -zi- and on the penultimate syllable:
- Sazíyimíránsó Maláwi.
"He will not be representing Malawi again."
In some dialects, -zi- in this tense and the Imperfect Subjunctive becomes -dzi-.
The -zidza- Future is an imperfective tense referring to events that will regularly take place in the distant future. The tones are on the initial syllable (which may spread) and the penultimate:
- Idzákhala ntchító yánji? Ndízidzalandírá ndaláma zingáti?
"What sort of work will it be? How much money will I be getting?"
The tense-marker -zika- is sometimes used in place of -zidza-, perhaps with the implication that the events will take place elsewhere:
- Tízíkádya maúngu.
"We will be going to eat pumpkins."
Another tense referring to events in the distant future is -madza-, which means "it will usually happen". The tones are on the initial and penultimate syllables:
- Munthu wódzítukumúla ndí wódzíthémbá tsíkú líná ámadzamutsítsa.
"When a person is arrogant and overconfident it will usually happen that one day he will be brought down to earth."
- Chówúlúká chímakhála ndí tsíkú limódzi lomwé chímadzatéra.
"Something that flies generally has one day when it will usually happen that it will come down to land."
The Present Potential is made with the tense-marker -nga- and the final vowel -e-. It is toneless, unless the verb-stem itself has a tone. The negative has tones on the tense-marker and penultimate: sindingáthandíze "I can't help"; there is an alternative pronunciation: síndíngathandíze.
Although sometimes referring to the present, this tense more often refers to something that might happen in the future. It can be translated "can", "could", "may", or "might":
- Kodí mungandíthandize?
"Could you help me?"
- Ndingabwerekéko njíngá yánû?
"Could I borrow your bike?"
- Yendetsani bwino njingá, mungagunde mténgo.
"Ride the bike carefully, in case you crash into a tree."
- Ndikuópa kutí angandímenye.
"I am scared that he might hit me."
- Sindingávomerézé ziménezo.
"I can't agree to that."
Frequently this tense is used with the verb -tha "be able":
- Mungathe kupítá kwánu.
"You can go home."
The aspect-marker -dza- can be added to this tense: angadzáthandize "he might one day help".
In conditional clauses referring to a hypothetical situation in the future, -nga- can mean "would". (See below.)
This tense is made with -kada-, -kana-, or -daka-. There is a tone on the second syllable of the tense-marker, which is often also found in the negative (síndíkadáthandiza or síndikadathandíza "I would not have helped"). The meaning is "I would have done", "I could have done".
"I would have helped."
Sometimes the aspect-marker -ma- is added to this tense to make it imperfective: ndikanámathandíza "I would be helping; I could be helping". The aspect markers -ka- and -dza- may also be added: ndikadádzáthándiza "I would have helped later".
- Adádziŵa kutí ngati chílichonsé chíkadachitíka, zikadádzámúvuta.
"He knew that if anything had happened, it would have caused him problems later."
Further information is given under Conditional Clauses below.
The Present Subjunctive has no tense-marker; the final vowel changes to -e, which has a tone: ndithandizé "I should help". When an object-marker is added to the subjunctive, there is another tone following the object-marker, e.g. mundifótokozeré "please explain to me". In shorter verbs the tones are: mundithándízé "please help me", mundipátse "please give me", muzídye "please eat them".
The Subjunctive usually expresses "either an order, or a wish, or an invitation to do something." It can be a polite form of the imperative, or be used as the imperative of the 3rd person, or make suggestions for the 1st person:
"Please give it to me."
- Abweré msánga!
"Let him come at once!" (an order, not permission).
- Tipité kuti?
"Where should we go?"
When the aspect-marker -ká- or -dzá- is added, there are tones on -ka- and the penultimate:
"Let's go and swim!"
The negative, which has the negative-marker -sa- after the subject-marker, has a single tone on the penultimate:
- Asabwéré máwa.
"He shouldn't come tomorrow."
The Subjunctive can also be used in various subordinate clause constructions, for example to express purpose or a wish or an indirect command:
- Ndinámubwereká njingá kutí afiké msánga.
"I lent him the bicycle so that he would arrive quickly."
- Ndífuna mubweré máwa.
"I want you to come tomorrow."
- Tinawáúzá (kutí) agoné.
"We told them to sleep." (lit. "that they should sleep")
Other clauses where the Subjunctive can be used are those where the meaning is "such as", and, as an alternative to an Infinitive, after m'maló mótí "instead of":
- Sindipezá ntháwi yótí ndichezé náye.
"I won't have time to chat with him." (lit. "such as I may chat")
- M'maló mótí akonzé njíngá, waíwononga kweníkwéní.
"Instead of mending the bicycle, he has completely broken it."
It can also be used, with the relative clause intonation, after ngati "if" and ngakhále "even if" when the meaning is "if it should be the case that...":
- Ndípita ngakhále mvúla ígwe kapená ayí.
"I'll go whether it rains or not."
- Ngati múkondé nyímboyi...
"If you like this song..."
An imperfective form of the Subjunctive is made by adding the tense-marker -zi-. There are tones on -zi- and on the penultimate. The final vowel is -a: ndizíthandíza "I should be helping".
This tense can express an obligation that should be carried out regularly or at all times, or as a "habit or general requirement":
- Muzílemekézá makóló anú.
"You must (always) respect your parents."
Just as with the ordinary subjunctive, it can also be used in purpose clauses after kutí "that":
- Fóni ndidágula kutí ndizílumikizáná ndí anzánga.
"I bought the phone so that I could be keeping in touch with my friends."
Another of its uses is to express a "strong obligation equivalent to an order" (Salaun):
- Munthuyo azípítá kwáwo.
"That man should go home!"
This tense has no negative. As with the Imperfective Future, in some regions -zi- can be replaced with -dzi-.
Another kind of subjunctive, much less common than the two described above, is a tense with the aspect-marker -ba- (pronounced -baa- and with tones similar to the remote past tense), which means "while waiting for something else to happen":
- Mphunzitsi sanafíke; tíbâkasewéra.
"The teacher hasn't come yet; let's go and play meanwhile."
It seems possible that -ba- has developed by contraction from the construction yamba "begin" plus the Perfect participle described above.
A form of the verb with -ta- can be used to express sentences of the kind "Let me do it" or "May I do it", referring to an action which the speaker would like to see done at once. There is a tone on the syllable after -ta-:
"Let me see!"
- Nditakúfunsáni chinthu chimódzi.
"Let me ask you one thing."
These same three prefixes, zi-, ba-, and ta- can also be added to the Imperative, with similar meanings (see below).
The imperative is the command form of the verb. In Chichewa its basic form consists of the verb stem and final vowel -a. The suffix -ni is added to make it plural or more respectful. The imperative is toneless unless the verb-stem itself has a tone:
- Pitani bwino!
"Go well!" (plural or respectful) (root pita)
- Tsalání bwino!
"Stay well!" (root tsalá)
If the verb-stem is monosyllabic, however, such as -dya "eat", a supporting i- is added before it:
- Idya! (plural idyani!)
- Tulutsani ndaláma, muyiké pansí muzípítá!
"Take out your money, put it on the ground, and be off!"
Imperative with object-marker
If an object-marker is added to the Imperative, the final vowel changes to -e, and the tones are similar to those in the Subjunctive, that is, the tone of the object-marker goes on the syllable which follows, and there is a second tone on the final -e:
But in verbs of one or two syllables, there is a single tone on the penultimate:
The Imperative can be made less direct by adding the suffix -ko, which puts a tone on the syllable before it:
"Give me some please."
Imperative with other prefixes
The Imperative can also take the aspect-markers -ka- "go and" and -dza- "come and". In this case although -ka- and -dza- are toneless, the final vowel becomes -e with a tone:
- Kaitané mnzáko.
"Go and call your friend."
"Come and see!"
-Ngo- "just" can also be added, with the supporting vowel i. In this case the final vowel is -a and there is a tone on the syllable after -ngo-:
Like the Subjunctive, the Imperative can have the prefixes ta-, ba- "meanwhile", and zi- (imperfective). -Ta- is fairly common and is used when the speaker wishes something to be done straightaway. It puts a tone on the following syllable:
"Please come (now)!"
Ba- (pronounced baa) and zi- put a tone on the penultimate syllable (not counting the plural suffix -ni). These are less commonly used:
- Baothérani dzúwa.
"Carry on warming yourselves in the sun (while I fetch the teacher)."
"Keep on reading."
To make a negative command, either the negative subjunctive is used or a form (derived from the negative Infinitive) starting with ósa- (with tones on o- and the penultimate):
- Musádye nthochízo.
"Don't eat those bananas."
- Ósadyá nthochízo.
"Don't eat those bananas."
Adding the aspect-marker -ma- to either of these gives the meaning "don't keep on doing...". The final vowel is usually -e:
- Usamáchíté zópúsa!
"Don't keep on doing stupid things!"
Tenses of "to be"
There are several verbs used for expressing different tenses of the verb "to be".
The verb -li is used mainly for temporary states and for location:
- Ali bwino.
- Alí kuti?
"Where is he?"
It is irregular and has very few tenses. These are:
ndili "I am" (toneless)
- Recent Past:
ndinalí "I was"
- Remote Past:
ndínaalí or ndídaalí "I was"
ndikadalí (ndikalí) "I am still"
- Present Participial:
ndíli "while I am", "while I was"
- Persistive Participial:
ndíkádalí (or ndíkalí) "while I am still", "while I was still"
Some authors describing Southern Region Chichewa write tones ndináli for the Remote Past, perhaps a regional variation.
In this verb there is no distinction between perfective and imperfective. Like the Past Imperfective with -ma-, the tense -na-lí can be used equally of situations of today or of the remote past:
- Dzíko lápánsílo linálí lópándá maonekedwe.
"The earth was without form." (Genesis 1:2, 1998 translation)
Negative forms also exist except for the persistive tense: síndili "I am not", síndinalí "I was not", ndísalí "without my being".
- Sáli ku Lilongwe.
"They are not in Lilongwe."
There is also an applied form ending in -lílí used in phrases of manner:
- Momwé ndílílí.
"The way I am".
The phrase ndili ndí (lit. "I am with") means "I have". The negative is ndilíbe "I do not have".
- Ndili ndí áná awíri.
"I have two children."
- Ndilíbé aná.
"I don't have any children."
The forms kuli, pali, muli mean "there is". The negative is kulíbe, palíbe, mulíbe "there isn't":
- Mulíbé ndaláma m'gálímoto.
"There is no money in the car."
These forms can be strengthened to -liko, -lipo, -limo. Of these, -lipo is the most common:
- Kodí bambo alípo? – Ĭnde, alípo. / Ayí, palíbe.
"Is your father here?" – "Yes, he is." / "No, he isn't here."
Another word for expressing "is" or "are" is ndi (negative sí), used in the present tense only. This word is used for permanent states or identity:
- Madzí ndi ófúniká.
"Water is important."
- Kuyéndá usíku sí bwino.
"Walking at night isn't good."
- Búku liméné lílí pathébulo ndi lánga.
"The book which is on the table is mine."
The toneless ndi "is" is to be distinguished from ndí "with", "and", which has a tone.
Ndi can have pronominal endings attached to it, e.g. ndine "I am", ndiwe "you are". The first and second persons are toneless; all the other endings have a tone, e.g. ndiwó "they are":
- Ine ndine mphunzitsi.
"I am a teacher."
- Síndine mphunzitsi.
"I am not a teacher."
- Ichi ndichó chímavúta.
"This is what causes problems."
Ndi has no past tense, so the past tense of -li is used instead:
- Ndinálí (ndínalí) mphunzitsi.
"I was a teacher."
- Nyumbá ínalí yáíkúlu.
"The house was a big one."
For all other tenses of "to be", including the Immediate Future, Future, Perfect, Infinitive, Subjunctive, Imperative, and so on, the verb -khala ("sit" or "stay") is used:
- Khalani chete.
- Tidzákhala ndí áná.
"We will have children."
- Máwa úkhala bwino.
"You'll be OK tomorrow."
The Infinitive is formed with the prefix ku-, which is proclitic, that is, it puts a tone on the syllable following itself: kuthándiza "to help". The negative is made by adding -sa- after -ku-, and has a single tone on the penultimate: kusathandíza "not to help".
Ordinary uses of the Infinitive
The Infinitive can be used as the subject of a verb, in which case it is translated as a gerund:
- Kusúta kúmaonóngá moyo.
"Smoking damages the health."
It can also be the object of verbs such as "want", "be able", "like", "know how to" and so on:
- Ndikufúna kupíta.
"I want to go."
- Sindíthá kubwéra.
"I can't come."
- Ndímadzíwa kuchítá táipi.
"I know how to type."
With the infix -ka- or -dza- the Infinitive can be used to express purpose, following a verb of going or coming respectively:
- Ndikupítá kunyumbá kukáchápá zôvála.
"I am going home to wash some clothes."
- Ndabwera kudzákúonáni.
"I have come to see you."
But -dza- with the Infinitive can also simply have a future meaning, referring to an event or situation in the distant future:
- Síndíkufúna kudzákhálá ndí áná ámbíri.
"I don't want to have a lot of children (lit. to be in future with a lot of children)."
Another idiomatic use of the Infinitive is to represent the second of two verbs in the same tense which have the same subject. The Infinitive is preceded by ndí "and" (or after a negative koma "but"). The word ndí is often shortened to ń:
- Anthu ámakolóla chímanga ndí kúócha.
"People harvest maize and roast it."
- Aná sámápita ku sukúlu koma kumáthandízá azibambo áwo.
"The children don't go to school but help their parents."
- Mbavazi zidáthyola polísi ń'kúményá ápólísi.
"These thieves broke into a police station and beat up the policemen."
- Ndimabá gálímoto ń'kúmákagulítsa ku Mozambíque.
"I used to steal cars and go and sell them in Mozambique."
There was formerly another idiom of using the prefix na-, ni- or nu- (depending on the class concord) to represent the second of two past or perfect tenses; however, it is not much used in modern Chichewa:
- Ánagwá panjingá náthyóká mwendo.
"He fell from his bike and broke his leg."
Sometimes the Infinitive can be used as a tense in its own right, to represent actions happening right now:
- Wájabu kulándíra mpira, kudyétsá njomba, ndí kúpátsira Keegan.
"Wajabu gets the ball, dribbles it, and passes to Keegan."
The Infinitive can also follow the preposition pa "on", which combines with ku to make po- (with a low tone):
- Ndavutiká pobwérá kuno.
"I have had difficulty in getting here."
The Infinitive is frequently combined with á "of" to make a verbal adjective or adverb. The syllables á and ku usually merge to become a high-toned ó, except when the verb is monosyllabic, when they usually remain separate. Thus ákuthándiza "of helping" is shortened to óthándiza, but ákúbá "of stealing" remains unshortened. Since á "of" changes to wá, yá, chá etc. according to the noun it refers to, the verbal adjective changes similarly.
Frequently this form of the Infinitive is used as an adjective or adjectival participle:
- Njira yôpítá ku Mwanzá.
"The road going (which goes) to Mwanza."
- Ndinu ókwátira?
"Are you married?"
- Njingá yókóngola.
"A beautiful bicycle."
It can also be used as a noun, with the noun it agrees with understood:
"Clothes." (lit. "(things) of wearing")
"Thieves." (lit. "(people) of stealing")
"Exit." (lit. "(place) of going out")
- Wóyéndetsa gálímoto.
"The driver of the car." (lit. "(the person) of driving the car")
Another use is in combination with the prefix mwá-, contracted to mó-, to make an adverb:
"Rapidly (lit. "in (a manner) of hurrying")
"Without any haste."
The prefix pó- (with a high tone) can also sometimes be used as an adverb:
"Soon" (lit. "at (a time) of not being late")
"A short time ago."
The verb ganiza "think" combined with the zó- form of the Infinitive is a common way of saying "decide to":
- Ndináganiza zópíta kupolísi.
"I decided to go to the police."
The negative Infinitive with ósa- has various uses:
- As a command: Ósalówa. "Do not enter."
- As an adverb: Ósazindikíra. "Without realising."
- As a noun: Ósaóna. "Blind people."
The word ósatí (from the irregular verb -ti "say") is frequently used to mean "not":
- Akázi ósatí amúna.
"Women, not men."
Tenses in subordinate clauses
These tenses occur only in dependent clauses. They generally have relative clause intonation, that is, with a high tone on the subject-marker. In their usage they resemble participles in European languages, but differ from them in that they have a personal subject.
Present Participial (-ku-)
This tense is resembles a present participle in meaning: ndíkúthándiza "while (I am/was) helping". It is formed like the Present Continuous, but with a tone on the first syllable as well as the third (the two tones link into a plateau). It can refer to the subject, object, or another noun in the sentence:
- Ndíkúyénda ndinaóná munthu ákúkwérá mténgo.
"While I was walking I saw a man climbing a tree."
The verb -li is again an exception, since in this tense it has no -ku-, but merely a tone on the first syllable:
- Amadwála kwámbíri áli mwaná.
"He was very sick when he was a child."
A negative of this tense is sometimes found, made with the negative-marker -sa-, which follows the subject-marker:
"Without his realising."
The negative is often replaced by the negative verbal adjective starting with ósa-: ósazindikíra "without realising".
Persistive Present Participial (-kada-)
The Persistive Present with -kada- etc. can also be used in a dependent form, especially with the verb -li. In this case there is also a tone on the initial syllable:
- Ndidáyamba ndíkadalí ku sukúlu.
"I began when I was still at school."
A frequent use is in the phrase pákádalí pano "at the present time" (lit. "it still being now").
- Sákupézéká pákádalí pano.
"He is not available at present."
Past Participial (-ta-)
This tense is formed in the same way, but with -ta- instead of -ku-. The meaning is usually "after doing something":
- Átádzúka, anapítá kumsika.
"After getting up, she went to the market."
- Anatípézá títáchóka.
"When he arrived we had already left." (lit. "He found us having left.")
- Tidzátha ntchítoyi inu mútáchóka.
"We will finish this work after you've left."
However, it can also be used with the meaning "when" of an event simultaneous with the main verb:
- Átáfíká kunyumbá dzulo, ánalí wótópa kwámbíri.
"When he arrived home yesterday, he was very tired."
Combined with the aspect-marker -ngo-, it can mean "as soon as":
"As soon as he arrived" / "No sooner had he arrived than..."
It can also be combined with the verbs -li and khala "be" to make compound tenses:
- Ndítábwérá kumudzi ánalí átálémba makálata awíri.
"When I arrived home, (I found that) he had written two letters."
- Ntháwi iméneyo anthu ámakhála átáthá kusósa.
"At this time of year people have generally finished clearing the fields."
Another idiomatic use is after the word n'kutí in sentences such as the following:
- Ntháwiyi n'kutí átádyá kálé.
"By this time he had already eaten."
- Pantháwiyi n'kutí anzáke ónse átákwátiwa.
"By this time all her friends had already got married."
Often the Past Participial tense is used following a verb of wishing, especially when the thing wished for is unrealisable:
- Amalákalaka átákhála ngati mnzáke.
"He wished he could be like his friend."
Another use is in conditional sentences (see below).
It appears from Watkins (1937) that the tense-marker -ta- derives from a compound tense formed with the verb -ti "say" which has fused into a single verb. Thus átákhúta "after his hunger was satisfied" derives from an earlier wátí wákhúta.
Negative Past Participial (-sana-)
The opposite of -ta- is -sana- or -sada-, which means "not yet having done", i.e. "before doing". It can be used of past or future time:
- Akufúna kudzálá mbéwu mvúlá ísanabwére.
"He wants to plant the seed before the rain comes."
- Dzulo madzuló ndídâkagóna achimwené ásanabwére.
"Last night I had gone to bed before my brother came."
- Ádalí ásadakwatíre.
"He had not yet married."
It can also mean "since":
- Papita ntháwi tísanaténgé chikho.
"It's been a while since we won the cup." (lit. "time has gone our not having taken the cup")
- Patenga ntháwitú ndísadamuóne.
"It's been a long time indeed since I saw him."
Relative clause intonation of Perfect
The relative clause intonation of the Perfect Simple has a tone on the first syllable (which may link or spread) and another on the penultimate (which may shift). As well as being used in relative, conditional, and concessive clauses, it also has several other idiomatic uses in some of which is resembles a participial tense.
It may be used as an adjective:
- Chaká chátha.
"Last year (lit. the year which has finished)."
- Mwezí wápítáyo.
"Last month (lit. that month which has gone)."
It can also be used as a noun, with the noun it describes being understood:
- Wámwálírayo (or wámwáliráyo).
"The deceased (person)."
- Wákhálá pampando ndaní?
"The (person) sitting on the chair is who?"
- Mwátsékuláyi ndi Z.B.S.
"This (radio station) which you have opened is Z.B.S.", i.e. "You are listening to Z.B.S."
Thirdly it can be used in a construction with any tense of the verb yamba "begin" to mean "begin by doing":
- Muyambé wákónzá njingá.
"Begin by repairing the bicycle / First repair the bicycle."
Other clauses of time
Adverbial clauses of time (temporal clauses) are clauses such as those which begin with "when" or "after". One way of making them is to use a participial verb, as described above. But there are also other ways of expressing time, as follows.
The tense -ka-, which is toneless, refers to a possibility, usually in the future. It can be translated "when" or "if":
- Ndíyimba fóni ndikafika.
"I'll ring when I get there."
- Ndikamúsíyá ádzádwalánso.
"If I leave him, he'll get sick again."
Sometimes -ka- is used in the place of -kama- to refer to a past habitual situation:
- Akalandira ndaláma amagúlira msúngwana mphátso.
"Whenever he received money, he used to buy the girl a present."
The same tense with -kadza- refers to a time "far in the future":
- Ndikadzálemera ndidzágula nyumbá yáíkúlu.
"When I get rich I shall buy a big house."
This tense means "if ever" or "whenever" and unlike -ka- it refers to past or present time according to context. The tones are on -ma- and the penultimate syllable:
- Ukamándilankhúla úmandisangalátsa.
"Whenever you talk to me, you make me happy."
- Ntháwi zónse akamákwérá bási, iyé ankásánkhá yomwé íli ndí chóyímbira chábwino.
"Whenever he used to get on a bus, he would always choose one with a good music system."
To refer to a situation in the future, the aspect-marker -dza- can be added:
- Adámúuza kutí akamádzadútsá pá Chitákálé adzáyímé pa nyumbá yáké.
"She told him that if ever he were passing through Chitakale he should stop by at her house."
Another way of expressing a temporal clause is to use paméne or m'méne "when", which are followed by the relative clause intonation of the verb. If two events happened or are going to happen at the same time, the Chichewa idiom is that the verb in the "when" clause usually uses an imperfective tense, as in the examples below:
- Amavála paméné ndímálówa.
"He was getting dressed when I entered (lit. was entering)."
- Ndídalí ndítádyá paméné ánkafíka.
"I had already eaten when he arrived (lit. was arriving)."
- Jóni amapámbana mjahowo paméné ámákómóká.
"John was winning the race when he fainted (lit. was fainting)."
- Ádzákhala átásósa paméné mvúla ízidzayámba.
"He will have finished clearing the field by the time the rain starts (lit. will be starting)."
However, other tenses are possible; for example, the following uses a form of the Subjunctive with -dza-:
- Mudzákhala mútádyá paméné ndídzafíké kwánu.
"You will have eaten by the time I get to your house."
A way of expressing "since" is to use a nominalised form of the verb beginning with chi- and ending in -íre or -íreni (in some verbs -ére or -éreni). There is a single tone on the penultimate syllable (not counting -ni):
- Chidzukíre sindinasámbe.
"Since getting up I haven't yet had a bath."
- Takhala ndí chisóni chimwalilíre chá abambo áthu.
The same form of the verb with chi...-ire can also mean "still" or "always".
Another way of expressing "since" is to use kuyámbira "to begin from" followed by a dependent clause verb:
- Zonsézi ndakhala ndíkúzítsátá kuyámbira ndílí mwaná.
"All these things I have been following since I was a child."
For a third way of expressing "since", see -sana- above.
Conditional clauses are those which begin with a word such as "if".
Simple present situations
One way of making a condition is to use the conjunction ngati "if", followed by the relative clause intonation. (This is in fact the only way conditions can be expressed with the verb -li.) Ngati can also be used to make indirect questions:
- Síndídziwa ngati álípó.
"I don't know if he's there."
- Asapíté kumsonkhano ngati sáli bwino.
"He should not go to the meeting if he's not well."
- Ngati múkondé nyímbo múmvetseréyi, sindikizani "star" kutí mugulé.
"If you like this music you are hearing, press * to buy it."
Simple future situations
A simple conditional clause about the future can be made with the toneless -ka- tense:
- Mukakaná ndíkuwa.
"If you refuse, I shall shout."
There is no negative, but a negative meaning can be expressed with the verb panda "be without":
- Ndikapanda kumúitaná sadzabwéra.
"If I don't invite him, he won't come."
The infix -dza- can be added to refer to the distant future:
- Tikadzákufunani tidzákúyitanáni.
"If we need you at some future date, we'll call you."
Hypothetical future situations
The participial tense -ta- can also have the meaning "if", referring to a hypothetical situation in the future. The main clause will often use -nga- or khoza "be able":
- Pátádútsá munthu, ungathe kumángá buléki?
"If someone stepped in front of the car, could you brake in time?"
- Mútáséma mútávála chíngachitíke n'chiyáni?
"If you were to cut (this root) with your clothes on, what would happen?"
- Ngakhále mútákáná bwánji palíbé ákukhulupiriréni.
"Even if you were to deny it, there's no one who would believe you."
Another possibility is to use ndítátí (lit. "if I say") with the subjunctive:
- Mútátí mumuóne mkáziyo, múkhoza kudábwa.
"If you were to see that lady, you might be surprised."
Hypothetical past situations
To make a condition about a hypothetical situation in the past, -kada- or -kana- or -daka- is used in both halves of the sentence, with the relative clause intonation in the "if" clause:
- Ákadadzíwa sákadáchita.
"If he had known, he wouldn't have done it."
- Ndíkadamuitána akadábwera.
"If I had called him, he would have come."
- Múkadapítá ku chipatala, mukadáchira msánga.
"If you had gone to hospital, you would have got better quickly."
The "if" clause alone can also mean "should have" or "if only":
- Múkadandiúzá msánga.
"You should have told me at once." (lit. "if only you had told me...")
- Ákadamvérá mawú á agógo.
"If only he'd listened to his grandparent's advice!"
The same tense can be used when wishing for some past hypothetical situation:
- Akulákalaka ákanabadwírá kwína.
"He wishes he'd been born somewhere else."
For a negative conditional, the verb -panda ("be without") is used in the "if" clause:
- Ndíkadapánda kumúitaná, sákadábwera.
"If I hadn't called him, he wouldn't have come."
Sometimes, instead of using -kada- in the main clause, the word bwenzi "it would be the case that" or síbwenzi "it would not be the case that" is used, followed by a participial verb:
- Múkadapítá kuchipatala, bwenzi mútáchíra msánga.
"If you had gone to hospital, you would have got better quickly."
The following example, instead of -kada-, uses the relative clause intonation of -li in the "if" clause:
- Múlí inu, mukanátání?
"If it were you, what would you have done?"
Hypothetical present situations
Since -kada- is a perfective tense, sentences with -kada- usually refer to the past. However, sometimes if -khala is used, the reference can be to a hypothetical situation in the present:
- Pákadapándá ine, iwe ukadákhala kuti?
"If it were not for me, where would you be?"
A present situation can also be expressed with bwenzi "it would be the case that" and a Present Participial tense:
- Ádakakhálá nyénga, bwenzi tíkúóna bweyá wáké wósósoká.
"If it were a mongoose (stealing the chickens), we would be seeing its torn off fur."
In some varieties of Chichewa the tense-marker -chi- can be used instead of -kada- in the "if" clause in hypothetical conditional sentences, but this is rare except in the word pachipanda "were it not for":
- Pachipanda asíng'anga síbwenzi mnyamatáyu álí ndí moyo.
"If it were not for the herbalist, this boy wouldn't be alive."
Tenses in indirect statements
In English, as in some other languages, a verb in an indirect statement usually goes into the past tense when the main verb is in the past tense. However, in Chichewa this rule does not apply and sentences such as the following, in which there is no change of tense in the dependent clause, are common:
- Anáganiza kutí íyé waledzera.
"They thought that he was drunk (lit. he has become drunk)."
- Anándíuza kutí sáli bwino.
"He told me that he wasn't well (lit. isn't well)."
In the same way, the participial tenses can refer to a present, past, or future situation according to the tense of the main verb which they are used:
- Ndináwápeza (ndináápézá) ákúpémphera.
"I found them (while they were) praying."
- Ndingawápeze (ndingaápézé) átádyá.
"l might find them having already eaten."
Compound tenses are also found in Chichewa. Among them are the following:
Compound tenses with -li
-li can be followed by an infinitive:
But a participial tense is also sometimes used:
- Mvúla ídalí íkúgwábé.
"The rain was still falling."
- Análi átádyá.
"He had already eaten."
Compound tenses with -khala
-khala is generally combined with one of the participial tenses:
- Ndakhala ndíkúkúdikiríra kwá záká zitátu.
"I have been waiting for you for three years."
- Ádakhála ákúsúngira ndaláma kwá ntháwi yáítáli.
"He had been saving up money for a long time."
- Tíkhala títádyá maúngu.
"We will have eaten the pumpkins.”
- Mudzákhala mútádyá.
"You will have eaten.”
Compound tenses with -ti
The verb -ti "say", followed by one of the subjunctive tenses, makes a future in the past:
- Timatí tikádye maúngu.
"We were going to eat pumpkins."
- Mméné ámátí adzíkwérá bási kondákitala adámuuuza kutí sángakwére ndí nkhúku.
"When he was about to get on the bus, the conductor told him that he couldn't get on with a chicken."
The literal meaning of timatí tikádye is "we were saying we should go and eat". Other ways of expressing the future in the past are to add -dza- to the Past Imperfective tense (ndimadzáthandizá "I was about to help") or to use -funa "want" with the Infinitive (ndinkáfuná kuthándiza "I was wanting to help").
Compound tenses with -chita
The verb -chita "do" can be used in various tenses followed by an Infinitive, e.g.:
- Ankáchitá kunénétsá.
"He used to say insistently."
- Zikusónyeza kutí iyé adáchita kuphédwa.
"The indications are that she was murdered."
- Mbátata síichita kufúná zámbíri pa ulimi wáke.
"Sweet potatoes don't require many things for their cultivation."
The difference in meaning, if any, between this and the simple form of the verb is not clear.
A further auxiliary verb, yenda "walk, go", is mentioned by Watkins in the form Present Simple plus Infinitive; it was used in narrative with the meaning "and then" (ayéndopíta "he then went"). However, this verb is no longer used as an auxiliary in current standard Chichewa.
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- Watkins, Mark Hanna (1937). A Grammar of Chichewa: A Bantu Language of British Central Africa, Language, Vol. 13, No. 2, Language Dissertation No. 24 (Apr.-Jun., 1937), pp. 5–158.
- Comrie (1978), Aspect, p. 52.
- Maxson (2011), p. 40.
- Maxson (2011), p. 19.
- Gray et al. (2013), p. 16.
- For references, see individual tenses below.
- Watkins (1937), p. 53.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 131.
- Kiso (2012), p.109.
- Kamwendo, (1999), p. 48.
- e.g. Chibambo (2008), p. 56; Ngoma & Chauma (2011), p. 55.
- e.g. Stevick, Louw, Mtenje, Mchombo, Maxson, Mapanje, Katsonga-Woodward.
- Kiso (2012), p. 116
- Kiso (2012), p. 108.
- Chibambo (2008), p. 56; Ngoma & Chauma (2011), p. 55.
- Kiso (2012), p. 119.
- Mtenje (1987).
- Hyman & Mtenje (1999a), p. 100.
- For different negative tenses see Mtenje (1986), p. 244ff; Mtenje (1987), p. 183ff; Kanerva (1990), p. 23.
- Louw (1987), vol. 3, p. 3.
- Hyman & Mtenje (1999a), pp. 94f.
- Salaun (1993), p. 77.
- Maxson (2011), p. 88.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-ka-"; Maxson (2016), p. 115.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-dza-"; Maxson (2016), p. 115.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-ngo-".
- Maxson (2011), p. 168.
- Maxson (2011), p. 79.
- John 3:8
- See table in Kiso (2012), p. 93; Maxson (2011), p. 79.
- Salaun (1993), p. 18; Mtenje (1987), p. 184.
- Salaun (1993), pp. 18f.
- Mtenje (1995), p. 7n.
- Chibambo (2008), p. 57.
- Scott & Hetherwick (1929), s.v. "ma", "mba"; cf. -kamba- for -kama- in Watkins (1937), p. 99.
- Funnell (2004), p. 55.
- Kanerva (1990), p. 22.
- Mtenje (1986), p. 248.
- Chibambo (2008), p. 58.
- Maxson (2011), p. 79; Kiso (2012), p. 93.
- Kiso (2012), p. 89, 93.
- e.g. Scotton & Orr (1980).
- Paas (2016), s.v. -kuma-; Maxson (2011), p. 126.
- Watkins (1937), p. 99; Salaun (1993), p. 75; Scotton & Orr (1980), vol. 2, p. 266.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 276f.; Kiso (2012), p. 150.
- Salaun (1993), p. 11.
- Watkins (1937), p. 99; Salaun (1993), p. 75.
- Salaun (1993), p. 75; Maxson, p. 200
- Comrie (1978), Aspect, pp. 56-61.
- Comrie (1978), Aspect, p. 54.
- Mtenje (1986), p. 249.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 76.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 78.
- D.V. Perrott (1951/1957) Swahili, pp. 125-126.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 71; cf Kiso (2012), p. 106.
- Scotton & Orr (1980), vol.1, p. 424.
- Scotton & Orr (1980), vol.2, p. 207.
- Maxson (2011), p. 200.
- Kiso (2012), p.108
- Maxson (2011), p. 77.
- Mtenje (1987), p. 172; Mapanje (1983), p. 121.
- Watkins (1937), p. 54.
- Katsonga-Woodward (2012), p. 44; cf. Mapanje (1983), p. 119.
- Salaun (1993), p 22.
- Mapanje, (1983), p. 196.
- Watkins (1937), p. 56.
- Genesis 1:1 (1998 translation).
- Daily Nation 2 Sep 2010.
- Kiso (2012), p. 156.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 153.
- Chibambo (2008), author information.
- Kiso (2012), p. 110.
- Mtenje (1987), p. 183.
- Maxson (2011), p.77; cf. Watkins (1937) p. 54ff
- Watkins (1937), p. 36.
- Kulemeka (2002), p. 15.
- Kiso (2012), p. 121; Plungian & van der Auwera (2006).
- Kiso (2012), pp. 110f.
- Maxson (2011), p. 77; cf. Salaun (1993), p. 22.
- Katsonga-Woodward (2012), p. 44.
- Kiso (2012), p. 111.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 224.
- Mtenje (1987), p. 183; cf. Stevick et al. (1965), p. 174.
- Mtenje (1987), p. 173.
- cf. Mapanje (1983), p. 130.
- Moto, Nzeru Umati Zako, p. 62.
- 1998 Bible translation, John 6:2.
- Kiso (2012), p. 120f.
- cf. Luke 15:6 (1998 translation).
- cf. John 9:19 (1998 translation).
- Mtenje (1986), p. 246.
- Kiso (2012), p. 127.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 122.
- Salaun (1993), p. 76.
- Kiso (2012), p. 125.
- Scott & Hetherwick (1929), s.v. Nka.
- Maxson (2011), p. 75.
- Kiso (2012), p. 135.
- Maxson (2011), p. 41.
- Cf. Kiso (2012), pp. 131ff.
- cf. Mtenje (1987), p. 173.
- cf. Stevick et al. (1965), p. 95; Maxson (2011), p. 41; Kanerva (1990), p. 21.
- Mtenje (1987), pp. 183f.
- Maxson (2011), p. 116.
- See Kiso (2012), p. 131.
- Maxson (2011), p. 115; Salaun (1993), p. 44; Kiso (2012), p. 147.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-ka-".
- Kiso (2012), p. 136.
- cf. Mapanje (1983), p. 142.; Stevick et al. (1965), p. 240, 257.
- Kiso (2012), p. 138.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 128.
- Kiso (2012), p. 138f.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 142.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-dzithemba'".
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 203.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 198.
- Salaun (1993), p. 74; Maxson (2011), pp. 156f; Katsonga-Woodward (2012), p. 52.
- Katsonga-Woodward (2012), p. 52.
- For tones of the negative, see Downing & Mtenje (2017), p. 194.
- Salaun (1993), p. 72.
- Mtenje (1995), p. 7; Stevick et al. (1965), p. 222
- Salaun (1993), p. 20.
- Maxson (2011), p. 134.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 222.
- Maxson (2011), p. 133.
- Salaun (1993), p. 93.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 221.
- Scotton & Orr (1980), vol 2, p. 200.
- Salaun (1993), p. 92.
- Salaun (1993), p. 94.
- Scotton & Orr (1980), vol. 2, p. 180; Salaun (1993), p. 74.
- Maxson (2011), pp. 134, 135, 136.
- Mchombo (2004), p. 32; Mtenje (1987) p. 194.
- Salaun (1993), p. 6.
- Meeussen (1967), p. 121.
- Stevick et al. (1965), pp. 220f; Salaun (1993), p. 77.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 217.
- Although cf. Maxson (2011), p. 136.
- Maxson (2011), p. 107f.
- For the tone, Stevick et al. (1965), p. 206.
- Maxson (2011), pp. 110f.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 141; Stevick et al.(1965), p. 157
- Kiso (2012), p. 83.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 206; Maxson, p. 108.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-lili", "momwe", "umo".
- Maxson (2011), p. 105; Stevick et al. (1965), p. 205.
- Maxson (2011), p. 97.
- Salaun (1993), p. 16f.
- Maxson (2011), p. 108; Salaun (1993), p. 38.
- Salaun (1993), p. 38.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "ndi".
- Stevick et al. (1965), pp. 160, 161, 163, 165.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 157.
- Kiso (2012), p. 84.
- Maxson (2011), p. 107.
- Louw (1987), vol. 3, s.v. "chete".
- Salaun (1993), p. 23.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 196.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 33, pp. 94ff.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "dza".
- Stevick et al. (1965), pp. 302, 306; Salaun (1993), p. 88.
- Salaun (1993), p. 88.
- cf. also Kiso (2012), p. 146
- Mapanje (1983), p. 117.
- Salaun (1993), p. 71.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 104
- Maxson (2011), pp. 91-5; Scotton & Orr (1980), vol. 2, pp. 8-10.
- Stevick et al. (1965) p. 96; p. 209; tones, p. 214.
- cf. Stevick et al. (1965) p. 114
- Salaun (1993), p. 69; Maxson (2011), pp. 171f.
- Maxson (2011), p. 171.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "ganiza".
- Maxson (2011), p. 210; Kanerva (1990), p. 140; Paas (2016), s.v. "osati".
- Maxson (2011), pp. 85-87
- Maxson (2011), p. 85.
- Maxson (2011), p. 86.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "without"
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-li}}, "when".
- Maxson (2011), p. 126.
- Maxson (2011), pp. 87; Stevick et al. (1965), p. 286.
- Maxson (2011), p. 90.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 286.
- Kiso (2012), p. 144.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-tango-".
- Kiso (2012), p. 128
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 285.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-ta-".
- Paas (2016), s.v. -lakalaka
- Watkins (1937), p. 94.
- Maxson (2011), p. 89.
- Kiso (2012), p. 142.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "not yet".
- Paas (2016), s.v. "kwapita".
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 170.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 196; Stevick et al. (1965), p. 192.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "ndani".
- Zodiak Radio call sign.
- Salaun (1993), p. 71; for the tones, Watkins (1937), p. 93.
- Kiso (2012), p. 145.
- Katsonga-Woodward (2012), p. 54.
- Ngoma & Chauma (2011), p. 55.
- Chibambo (2008), p. 56.
- Mapanje (1983), p. 170.
- Chibambo (2008), p. 59.
- Scotton & Orr (1980), vol. 2, p. 210.
- Maxson (2011), p. 200; Salaun (1993), p. 75.
- Mark 10:20 (1998 translation); cf. Kiso (2012), p. 108.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "-dza-"
- Salaun (1993), pp. 72f.
- Salaun (1993), p. 73.
- Dossi, Makangano.
- Paas (2016), s.v. "bwenzi".
- Maxson (2011), pp. 208-9.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 98.
- Stevick et al. (1965), p. 126
- Mapanje (1983), p. 141.
- Chibambo (2008), p. 58
- Paas (2016), s.v. "chita".
- Watkins (1937), p. 92.