This is a brief outline of how verbs function in Afrikaans. See also Modal verbs.
Afrikaans verbs are in some ways simpler than English verbs because they do not decline and there are only three main tenses. These are past, present and future.
In English (although our verbs do not decline to any great extent) when using the verb 'to read', we say 'I read' but 'he reads'.
Afrikaans in contrast uses the same form of the verb for all forms, which following this example is lees 'read'.
The first tense is present describing an action taking place at the moment as in Ek lees 'I read' or Sy loop 'She walks'.
Afrikaans doesn't have all the additional present tenses found in English such as the present continuous (I am reading) so Ek lees can mean 'I am reading' as well as 'I read'.
|I read||ek lees|
|you read||jy lees|
|he reads||hy lees|
|she reads||sy lees|
|we read||ons lees|
|you (plural) read||julle lees|
|they read||hulle lees|
The Afrikaans past tense is formed using the the particle het (which rougly corresponsds to 'have in English') and attaching ge to the main verb (normally the last word in the sentence).
So, for example, Ek het dit self gedoen 'I did it myself' is formed from doen 'do' with ge attached to the main verb which is doen.
A literal translation of Ek het dit self gedoen is 'I have it mysef done'.
|I bought a paper||Ek het ’n koerant gekoop|
|I did it myself||Ek het dit self gedoen|
|The teacher walked||Die onderwyser het geloop|
|You went to London||Jy het na Londen gegaan|
|He went to school||Hy het skool toe gegaan|
|She read a book||Sy het ’n boek gelees|
|We talked to our friends||Ons het met ons vriende gepraat|
|They worked at the factory||Hulle het by die fabriek gewerk|
|They went to the restaurant||Hulle het na ’n restaurant gegaan|
|I read it||Ek het dit gelees|
|He said it||Hy het dit gesê|
|He read it last week||Hy het dit verlede week gelees|
|He said it last week||Hy het dit verlede week gesê|
Verbs beginning with be, her, ont and ver dont attach ge to form the past tense.
The verb 'to be' is irregular (as in many languages) and is was as in Ek was hier 'I was here' (but no longer am).
Questions has more examples on the Afrikaans past tense (did you ..?).
The future tense in Afrikaans may be formed using the auxiliary verb sal 'will', and also by using the verb gaan 'going to'.
As a general rule:
gaan is used in Afrikaans when 'going to' is appropriate in English, and sal when the English 'will' would be appropriate.
Some contemporary linguists argue that English has no true future tense. English has no distinct endings for verbs in the future, and the the same is true in Afrikaans.
This makes life easier for learners of Afrikaans.
If you are interested in the distinction between time and grammatical tense, this link on grammar.com provides more detail.
Gaan is used in a similar way to the English use of 'going to'.
It refers to an action that will take place in the future, a prediction of something that will happen, but with less intent than using sal in Afrikaans and 'will' in English.
Hy gaan dit doen. 'He is going to do it'.
It is a simple prediction of the future, or if you want to talk about a plan for the future.
'I'm going to go on holiday' compared to 'I will go on holiday'.
The future tense in Afrikaans is formed using sal.
It is formed by using the present tense with sal placed in front, an example of which is:
Hy sal môre gaan 'he will go tomorrow'.
This demonstrates the auxiliary the verb sal changing gaan 'go' from the present to the future tense.
Sal used in the future tense corresponds to the English use of 'shall' (although 'will' is now more commonly used) to indicate strong intent or necessity.
Compare: Hy sal dit doen, 'He shall do it', or 'he will do it'.
It is going to happen. It is important and he will do whatever it (whatever it may be).
With: Hy gaan dit doen 'he is going to do this'.
It is less definite, and perhaps doesn't indicate the same intent.
|I will go||Ek sal gaan|
|You will write||Jy sal skryf|
|He will walk||Hy sal loop|
|We will eat||Ons sal eet|
|They will come||Hulle sal kom|
|He will go tomorrow||Hy sal môre gaan|
|I will go to the cinema||Ek sal na die bioskoop toe gaan|
|You will write to your uncle||Jy sal aan jou oom skryf|
|He will walk to work||Hy sal werk toe loop|
|She will buy a house||Sy sal ’n huis koop|
|We will visit our mother||Ons sal ons ma besoek|
|They will paint our house||Hulle sal ons huis verf|
|She will go to the shop||Sy sal na die winkel toe gaan|