Afrikaans/Lesson 04

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Lesson Four: The Basics #4 — Les Vier: Die Grondbeginsels #4

Welcome to Afrikaans Lesson Four. There are a great number of rules and information this lesson, so it is recommended that you take things slowly and not to overload without key understanding. It's expected that you should take a while before progressing, and so, many exercises are included to get you as confident as possible. This lesson only covers auxiliary verbs, the individual usage of each auxiliary and the general word order of Afrikaans.

Verbs: Auxiliaries

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Auxiliary Definition and Modal List

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Auxiliaries tend to be a wide-branching subject. To first get one familiar with the terms,

  • An auxiliary = A verb that modifies other verbs in a clause, this modification based on either tense, mood, person or number.
  • A modal = A type of auxiliary that describes a potential desired occurrence.
  • A lexical verb = A verb that is neither an auxiliary nor a modal.

You don't need to be completely familiar with the definitions but you must know what is a modal and what isn't. As the majority of auxiliaries are classified as modals, the ones that AREN'T are 'to be' and 'to have' (and ONLY in English, 'to do'), which we covered last lesson.

Present Tense Modal Verbs Past Tense Modal Verbs
Afrikaans English Afrikaans English
kan can
(to) be able (to)
kon (het) could (have)
sal will sou (het) would (have)
sou would
moet must moes should have
have to had to
need to needed to
mag may
dalk might
dalk may

Now that you're familiar with the idea of the auxiliary, this presents us with a sort of 'verb hierarchy' in language. This is a definitive structure in verb phrases and its ordering is set in stone. In English, we use the order:

Subject ½will 1auxiliary 2(to) have 3(to) be 4lexical Object
  • Here are a couple of examples:
    • I ½will 4run.
    • She 1must 2have 4forgotten.
    • You 1could 2have 3been a chef.
    • I 1should 2have 4won the prize.

One may have noticed that 'will' ("sal"), though technically a modal, transcends that definition when used in a sentence. No matter what, it will always be first.

The Afrikaans language has a different phrasal verb structure. If to look at the positive, notice that the only difference between the English and Afrikaans orderings is that the lexical and to be verbs have been reversed. Remember that the object in the sentence will follow the first verb.

Subject ½sal 1auxiliary 2lexical 3(om te) wees 4(om te) hê Object
  • And again, here are a few examples:
    • Ek ½sal 2ˈhardˌloop.
    • Sy 1moes 2verˈgeet 4het.
    • Jy 1kon ʼn sjef 3geˈwees 4het.
    • Ek 1moes die prys 2geˈwen 4het.

Don't be fooled by sentences that state a desire for something (such as 'I wish...'). Though not completely obvious, there is a clause break and we won't be covering complex sentences for a while yet. However, with no conjunction, the sentence works as it does in English:

  • I wish | I 1had a car. → Ek wens | ek 1het ʼn ˈmotor 4gehad. (remember Afrikaans past tense.)
  • I wish | I 1could 2have 4eaten rice everyday. → Ek wens | ek 1kon ˈelke dag rys 2geˈëet 4het.

English 'Infinitive Modals'

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Looking at the table of modals above, one may note that some of the English modals require the usage of 'to' to denote the infinitive where this isn't the case in Afrikaans. These are 'have to', 'need to' and 'want to'. One simply needs to recall that no auxiliary in Afrikaans requires the infinitive marker.

  • I have/need to run the mile. → Ek moet die myl ˈhardˌloop.
    • I had/needed to run the mile. → Ek moes die myl ˈhardˌloop. (Remember: "het" does not need to be added with "moes".)
    • I will have/need to run the mile. → Ek sal die myl moet ˈhardlˌoop.
  • I want to read the book. → Ek wil die boek lees.
    • I wanted to read the book. → Ek wou die boek lees.
    • I will want to read the book. → Ek sal die boek wil lees.

And because no auxiliary requires an infinitive marker, this brings us into a rule for triple verb clauses. Whenever there are two or more lexical verbs in a clause, "om te" is added to the final lexical verb. No matter the tense, the infinitive remains.

  • I need to play the game to win. → Ek moet die spel speel om te wen. ("speel" is a lexical verb; thus: "om te".)
  • I will have to write the exam. → Ek sal die ekˈsamen moet skryf. ("moet" is an auxiliary; thus: no "om te".)

However, past three verbs in the sentence, the infinitive is added to any lexical verb that follows.

  • I will need to play to win to buy tickets. → Ek sal moet speel om te wen om ˈkaartjies te koop.
  • I will have to write the exam to pass. → Ek sal die ekˈsamen moet skryf om te slaag.

Auxiliaries: Individual Usage

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Despite a general similarity to the English language, we will have to go through the auxiliaries individually in order to see correct usage in their correct contexts.

"Kan" and "Kon"

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'Could' in English has the ability to be used to refer to permissions, opinion and possibility of occurrence, as well as use the construction, 'to be able to'. In the instances that 'could' refers to one of things, Afrikaans uses "kan", NOT "kon". "Kon" is specifically reserved for the past tense.

  • (Permission) Could I use your car? → Kan ek jou ˈmotor geˈbruik?
  • (Opinion) I think she could do it. → Ek dink sy kan dit doen.

When expressing a possibility, we also use sal in order to show a future action.

  • (Possibility) He could change the schedule. → Hy sal die skeˈdule kan verˈander.

There is a small note when referring to ability; One could express it as {PRN. in staat + INF.}, and as it's exact words suggest, it describes more an abstract, general situation of being rather than a physical ability. Another translation for it is 'to be capable of'.

  • (Ability) I am able to buy that bag for you. → Ek is in staat om vir jou daardie sak te koop.

"Sal" and "Sou"

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Like 'could', 'would' has such an ability to be used in the present context. In most instances, the Afrikaans works like the English. When referring to hypothetical situations and matters of opinion, "sou" is used like in English

  • (Hypothetical) I would write about him. → Ek sou oor hom skryf.
  • (Opinion) I thought ~ he would have kept his prize. → Ek het geˈdink ~ hy sou sy prys beˈhou het.

However, when asking for something or someone to do something, "sal" is used. Even then, one must be careful as Afrikaans still uses other expressions depending on circumstance.

  • (Permission) Would you give (to) me the package later tonight? → Sal jy ˈlater vanˈaand aan my die pakˈkie gee? (NOTE: give togee aan)

"Mag" and "Dalk"/"Miskien"

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In contrast to the English 'may', "mag" is restricted to permission and the expressing of a wish.

  • (Permission) You may have the book. → Jy mag die boek hê.
  • (Wishes) May God bless you! → Mag God jou seën!

Both "dalk" and "miˈskien" play completely different roles as auxiliaries as they technically aren't; they're both adverbs. So, instead of applying the rules that have been listed above, new ones must be considered. The two adverbs can either place directly before the main lexical verb that they are modifying or always after the first verb of the sentence. These adverbs refer to possible occurrences and actual fact in spite of the circumstances. When referring to possible occurrences, they are ALWAYS used with sal. In instances when we refer to possibilities (that may already be true), "sal" is optional.

  • (Possible Occurrence) I am afraid it may rain tomorrow. → Ek is beˈvrees dit sal môre dalk/miˈskien reën. / Ek is beˈvrees dalk/miˈskien sal dit môre reën.
  • I might be able to listen tonight. → Ek kan dalk vanˈaand ˈluister.  OR  Ek sal dalk vanˈaand kan ˈluister.
  • I may have to write to the committee. → Ek moet dalk aan die komiˈtee skryf.  OR  Ek sal dalk aan die komiˈtee moet skryf. (NOTE: write toskryf aan)
  • (A Possible Occurrence at Present) He may already know the answer. → Hy ken dalk reeds die ˈantwoord.

The last construction concerning the usage of the English 'might' (and in this case, 'may be') is when they are used to show the 'instance' of one adjective in spite of another 'present' adjective. Afrikaans introduces this with {Al is [adj.], is...}, where Al roughly means al(though). Notice that the second clause is introduced with the verb first: This is a very common grammatical structure in Afrikaans of which you will start seeing more next lesson.

  • (In spite of) He might/maybe be old, but he is strong. → Al is hy oud, is hy sterk.
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Usage of the English should is a little trickier. English "should" can refer to a multitude of things. When indicating action or opinion, or rather, a necessity of action, "moet" is used to express this.

  • (Obligation) I should write that document. → Ek moet daardie gesˈkrif skryf.
  • (Question) Should I prepare the chicken? → Moet ek die ˈhoender ˈvoorbeˌrei?

However, another usage in English is to indicate a likelihood of an event. Afrikaans uses different constructions depending on this likelihood.

  • The sal dalk/miskien construction of which you saw earlier to refer to 'might', indicates an uncertainty.
    • (an expected, but inconclusive occurrence) The temperature should rise this week. → Die temperaˈtuur sal hierdie week dalk styg.
  • There are also two constructions which indicate a high certainty of a situation occurring. Using the verb beˈhoort' on its own, or using the phrase, sal waarˈskynlik.
  • In the instance of "behoort", the main verb gets the infinitive, but ONLY "te".
    • (a likely occurrence) The temperature should rise this week. → Die temperaˈtuur beˈhoort hierdie week te styg.
  • "Waarˈskynlik" (meaning 'likely, probably') is an adverb in this instance, so, it will usually go behind the verb it is modifying.
    • (a likely occurrence) It should (likely) rain tomorrow. → Dit sal môre waarˈskynlik reën.

Word Structure: Time, Place and Manner

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As well as a general structure for verb phrases, there is a general structure for sentences. English has quite a rigid structure and deviations are usually clunky. While Afrikaans has a structure that sounds most natural, it isn't etched in stone and can easily be broken for the purpose of emphasis. As such, one should definitely not restrict their thought process to the following completely. That being said, it almost always works and is certainly the most natural.

Afrikaans is what is referred to as a V2 language, which in short, emphasizes that statements are always restricted in having a verb appear in the second position. This means that whatever you start a sentence with, whether the subject, time, place or manner, the verb always remains in the second position. Another feature is that no matter which part you move to the front of the sentence, the rest of the order does not change. So, the general Afrikaans word order is:

(S)ubject Verb (T)ime
*{Noun Phrase}

*Remember that a noun phrase includes adjectives.

  • I ate a sandwich in the cafeteria yesterday. → EkS het gisterT ʼn toeˈbroodjieO in die kafeˈteriaP geˈëet.
  • In the cafeteria, I ate a sandwich yesterday. → In die kafeˈteriaP het ekS ˈgisterT ʼn toeˈbroodjie O geˈëet.
  • Yesterday, I ate a sandwich in the cafeteria. → ˈGisterT het ekS ʼn toeˈbroodjieO in die kafeˈteriaP geˈëet.


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Another structure possible is the manner which refers to adverbs and adverbial phrases. Whereas the order of the Time, Object and Place are pretty steadfast in their placement, the manner in which an action is done can be placed almost anywhere in the sentence (except after the final verb), and this has more to do with emphasis than anything else. For instance, the numerous places an adverb could fall is:

  • I quickly finished my work in the office today. → Ek het vanˈdag (ˈvinnig) my werk in die kanˈtoor ˈklaargeˌmaak. = Emphasis is placed on the time.
  • I quickly finished my work in the office today. → Ek het vanˈdag my werk (ˈvinnig) in die kanˈtoor ˈklaargeˌmaak. = Emphasis is placed on the place.
  • I quickly finished my work in the office today. → Ek het vanˈdag my werk in die kanˈtoor (ˈvinnig) ˈklaargeˌmaak. = Emphasis is placed on the verb.
  • Quickly, I finished my work in the office today. → Vinnig het ek vanˈdag my werk in die kanˈtoor ˈklaargeˌmaak. = Emphasis is (technically) on the verb.

Chapter Vocabulary

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Unfortunately, you won't be spared of a lengthy wordlist this lesson. From this point on, you will probably start noticing that many verbs in Afrikaans have more specific definitions than their English counterparts, so it's important to pay attention to each definition of a word.

Nouns and Adjectives Verbs and Adverbs Days of the Week Prepositions
English Afrikaans English Afrikaans English Afrikaans English Afrikaans
broken (into pieces) ˈstukkend1 to attend (an event) om te ˈbywoon (PAST: bygewoon) Monday ˈMaandag (-dae) against
by (time period)
towards (time period)2
coat jas (-se) always ˈaltyd Tuesday ˈDinsdag (-dae)
cold koud to change om te verˈander Wednesday ˈWoensdag (-dae)
committee komiˈtee (-s) to complete om te volˈtooi (PAST: voltooi) Thursday ˈDonderdag (-dae)
easy ˈmaklik to cultivate; (for someone) to grow (plants) om te kweek Friday ˈVrydag (-dae)
garlic ˈknoffel to drop (of the temperature) om te daal Saterday ˈSaterdag (-dae)
warm to carry
to wear (attire)
to bear fruit (of a tree)
om te dra Sunday ˈSondag (-dae)
house huis to get (any sort of object)
to find (an object)
om te kry
ingredient beˈstanddeel (-dele) to finish om te ˈklaarˌmaak (PAST: ˈklaargeˌmaak)
minced meat ˈmaalvleis to keep (an object) om te beˈhou
(il)legal (on)ˈwettig to leave (an object or person) om te los
office kanˈtoor (-ore) to open (something) om te ˈoopˌmaak (PAST: ˈoopgeˌmaak)
over (to be finished) verˈby to pay om te beˈtaal
picture prent (-e) to rise (of the temperature) om te styg
pepper ˈpeper to shine (an object)3 om te skyn (met)
ready geˈreed to say om te
salt sout to take (an object) om te neem
situation situˈasie (-s) to tell (someone)
to tell (expound on something)2
om te(vir)
om te verˈtel3
street straat (-ate)
tonight vanˈaand
tepid lou
reis (-e) to journey om te reis
wedding ˈtroue (-s) to marry om te trou (met)4
weekend ˈnaweek (-weke)
yesterday ˈgister
  1. ˈStukkend = Refers to objects that have either broken into fragments (e.g. glass) or of objects that have had their inner parts break (e.g. a vehicle).
  2. Teen = 'By' in such a context means 'until [a time period]'; And when referring to 'towards', the definite article must follow.
    • By the weekend → Teen die ˈnaweek.
    • By tonight → Teen vanˈaand.
    • Towards the morning. → Teen die ˈoggend.
  3. Verˈtel = This is used when expounding on things (e.g. stories or information tracts) as opposed to telling someone something short.
  4. Skyn & Trou met = When one shines using something that's physical such as a torch, lantern or light, "met" must be used.
    • He shone his lamp. → Hy het met sy lamp geˈskyn.
    • He married a Frenchwoman. → Hy het met ʼn ˈFranse vrou geˈtrou.


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NOTE: In these exercises, we only use "dalk" instead of "miskien" for convenience's sake.

It's recommended you do these exercises multiple times over for the best chance at a natural grasp of the material.

Exercise A: 'Can' and 'Could'

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  • I can prepare the food tonight.
  • I am able to speak now.
  • We could go later in the day.
  • They could give us water.
  • You could have said!
  • I could listen to this music all day.
  • I can leave the picture here.
  • Could you tell him to keep the letter?
  • Ek kan vanaand die kos voorberei.
  • Ek kan nou praat.
  • Ons sal later in die dag kan gaan.
  • Hulle sal vir ons water kan gee.
  • Jy kon gesê het!
  • Ek kan heeldag na hierdie musiek luister.
  • I can leave the picture here.
  • Ek kan die prent hier los.
  • Kan jy vir hom sê om die brief te behou?

Exercise B: 'Will' and 'Would'

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  • Would he open the door for us?
  • I would take this.
  • Would he tell the neighbours about the committee?
  • He would always do everything for me.
  • Would he spoil the prize?
  • Will you make him a toy?
  • Sou hy die deur vir ons oopmaak?
  • Ek sou dit neem.
  • Sou hy die bure oor die komitee vertel?
  • Hy sou vir my alles altyd doen.
  • Sou hy die prys bederf?
  • Sal jy vir hom ʼn speelding maak?

Exercise C: 'Must' and 'Should'

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For these exercises, 'should' in italics shows that the speaker is unsure.

  • Maybe we should have talked to him.
  • You should look for your coat.
  • The rain should be over by the weekend.
  • She should be ready for the party.
  • I should be in the café today.
  • We need to talk to him about the situation.
  • Should we reply?
  • You (pl.) should see him.
  • This should be illegal!!!
  • Miskien moes ons met hom gepraat het.
  • Jy moet jou jas soek.
  • Die reën sal dalk teen die naweek verby wees.
  • She should be ready for the party.
    • Sy behoort vir die partytjie gereed te wees.
    • Sy sal vir die partytjie waarskynlik gereed wees.
  • I should be in the café today.
    • Ek behoort vandag in die kafee te wees.
    • Ek sal vandag in die kafee waarskynlik wees.
  • Ons moet met hom oor die situasie praat.
  • Moet ons antwoord?
  • Julle sal hom dalk sien.
  • Dit moet onwettig wees!!!

Exercise D: 'May' and 'Might'

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  • She might be young, but she understand physics!
  • He might know where we can buy carrots.
  • You might like it.
  • His trees might grow fruit.
  • He might be busy in the office now.
  • Al is sy jonk, verstaan sy fisika.
  • Hy weet waar ons wortels dalk kan koop.
  • Jy sal daarvan dalk hou.
  • Sy bome sal dalk vrugte dra.
  • Hy sal nou besig in die kantoor dalk wees.

Exercise E: Infinitives and Modals

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  • He might have to use your car.
  • I should be able to pay for the food.
  • We will be able to attend your wedding.
  • They might pay for his trip to work overseas.
  • Hy sal jou motor dalk moet gebruik.
  • Ek behoort vir die kos te kan betaal.
  • Ons sal jou troue kan bywoon.
  • Hulle sal dalk vir sy reis betaal om oorsee te werk. (Read carefully.)

Exercise F: Translate Into English

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  • Hulle moet kampioene wees, maar hul is te lui!
  • Jy moet by die see kom woon! Die lug is vars en goed vir jou gesondheid!
  • Hy het ons met sy dade geseën.
  • Ek kan Oorlog en Vrede lees, maar die boek is vir my te lank!
  • Mag die son môre weer skyn.
  • They should be champions, but they are too lazy!
  • You should come live by the sea! The air is fresh and good for your health.
  • He had blessed us with his deeds.
  • I could read War and Peace, but the book is too long for me!
  • May the sun shine again tomorrow.

Exercise G: Translate Into Afrikaans

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  • I wanted to write her a poem yesterday, but every pencil of mine was broken.
  • They are busy working on the houses in this street. (NOTE: work onwerk aan)
  • You should easily find him in the garden.
  • Could you please give me your books?
  • I will buy many ingredients for the food today. I think we might need herbs, minced meat, garlic, salt and pepper.
  • Ek wou gister ʼn gedig vir haar geskryf het, maar elke potlood van my was stekkend.
  • Hulle is besig om aan die huise in hierdie straat te werk.
  • Jy behoort hom in die tuin maklik te vind.
  • Kan jy asseblief aan my jou boeke gee?
  • Ek sal vandag baie bestanddele vir die kos koop. Ek dink ons sal miskien (dalk) kruie, maalvleis, knoffel, sout en peper benodig.

The Next Lesson

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Congratulations for making it to the end! This lesson will be a great test, there is no doubt, but once you've mastered its forms, so much more will feel easier. At this point, you're not far from a total of 300 words in your vocabulary. In the next lesson, we shall cover questions, interrogative pronouns, prepositions, and cardinal numbers over 20. Good luck on your studies!

On to Lesson Five!>>

If you're still feeling shaky or want to review the previous chapter:

<<Back to Lesson Three.