Basque verbs

Basque verbs

The verb is one of the most complex parts of Basque grammar. It is sometimes represented as a difficult challenge for learners of the language, and many Basque grammars devote most of their pages to lists or tables of verb paradigms. This article does not give a full list of verb forms; its purpose is to explain the nature and structure of the system.

Verb stems

One of the remarkable characteristics of the Basque verb is the fact that only a very few verbs can be conjugated synthetically (i.e. have morphological finite forms); the rest only have non-finite forms, which can enter into a wide variety of compound tense structures (consisting of a non-finite verb form combined with a finite auxiliary) and are conjugated in this way (periphrastically). Thus for example 'I come' is nator (a synthetic finite form), but 'I arrive' is iristen naiz (a periphrastic form, literally 'arriving I-am').

It should be noted that synthetically conjugated verbs like 'come' can also be conjugated periphrastically (etortzen naiz). In some such cases the synthetic/periphrastic contrast is semantic (e.g. nator and etortzen naiz are not generally interchangeable); in others the contrast is more a matter of style or register, or else of diachrony (some synthetic forms of conjugation are archaic or obsolete). A few synthetic forms occurring in twentieth-century Basque literature are even a posteriori extrapolations or back-formations of historically unattested forms, created for stylistic, poetic or puristic purposes.

Traditionally Basque verbs are cited using a non-finite form conventionally referred to as the participle (although not all its uses are really participial). Other non-finite forms can be derived from the participle, as will be seen in a later section. When the verb possesses synthetic finite forms, these are based on an ultimate stem (called the "basic stem" here) which is normally also present in the participle. For example, the verb etorri 'come' has the basic stem -tor- from which are derived both the participle etorri (with the non-finite prefix e- and the participle suffix -i) and the finite present stem -ator- and non-present stem -etor-.

The participle is generally obtained from the basic stem by prefixing e- or i- (there is no rule; if the stem begins with a vowel, j- is prefixed instead), and suffixing -i (to stems ending in a consonant) or -n (to stems ending in a vowel). Occasionally there is no suffix. The verbal noun stem, another non-finite form, is obtained by replacing the suffixes -i and -n (and also -tu or -du, see below) of the participle by either -tze or -te. A third non-finite form which we shall call the "short stem" is obtained from the participle by omitting any of these suffixes except -n, which is retained in the short stem in those verbs whose participle has it.

Some primary verb stems having finite forms
FINITE NON-FINITE Meaning
Basic stem (root) Present stem Non-present stem Participle Verbal noun Short stem
-tor- -ator- -etor- e-torr-i e-tor-tze e-tor 'come'
-bil- -abil- -ebil- i-bil-i i-bil-tze i-bil 'go about'
-kar- -akar- -ekar- e-karr-i e-kar-tze e-kar 'bring'
-uka- (< -duka-) -auka- -euka- e-duki e-duki-tze e-duki 'hold, have'
(irregular: see below) i-za-n i-za-te i-za-n 'be', auxiliary
-go- -ago- -ego- e-go-n e-go-te e-go-n 'stay, be'
-oa- -oa- -i(h)oa- j-oa-n j-oa-te j-oa-n 'go'
-rama- -arama- -erama- e-rama-n e-rama-te e-rama-n 'take'
-(a)ki- -aki- -eki- (dial. -aki-) j-aki-n j-aki-te j-aki-n 'know'

A larger number of Basque verbs have no finite forms, but their non-finite forms follow the same pattern described above (they show an e-/i-/j- prefix, and the participle ends in -i, -n or occasionally zero.

Some primary verb stems without finite forms
Participle Verbal noun Short stem Meaning
e-baki e-baki-tze e-baki 'cut'
e-da-n e-da-te e-da-n 'drink'
e-gos-i e-gos-te e-gos 'boil'
e-ho e-ho-tze e-ho 'grind'
e-ror-i e-ror-tze e-ror 'fall'
e-ros-i e-ros-te e-ros 'buy'
e-uts-i e-us-te e-uts 'take hold (of)'
e-zarr-i e-zar-tze e-zar 'put, place'
i-go-(n) e-go-te/tze e-go-(n) 'go up, rise'
i-kas-i i-kas-te i-kas 'learn'
i-pin-i i-pin-tze i-pin 'put'
i-reki i-reki-tze i-reki 'open'
i-tzal-i i-tzal-tze i-tzal 'go/put out (light, fire)'
i-tzul-i i-tzul-tze i-tzul 'return'
j-aits-i j-ais-te j-aits 'go down'
j-a-n j-a-te j-a-n 'eat'
j-antz-i j-anz-te j-antz 'dress'
j-arr-i j-ar-tze j-ar 'put'
j-i-n j-i-te j-i-n 'come'
j-o j-o-tze j-o 'strike'

There is also another large group of verbs which again have only non-finite forms, in which the non-finite stem is unanalysable (as a verb, at least), thus there is no e-/i-/j- prefix. In most cases the participle of such verbs has the suffix -tu (-du if the stem ends in n or l). Occasionally we find zero or -i instead. This is replaced by -tze or -te in the verbal noun, and by nothing in the short stem. The stems of these secondary verbs may be (1) a nominal or other non-verbal stem (e.g. poz-tu, garbi-tu...), (2) a phrase (e.g. ohera-tu), (3) a Latin or Romance verbal stem (e.g. barka-tu, kanta-tu...) or (4) an unanalysable (primary) verb stem (e.g. har-tu).

Some secondary verb stems
Participle Verbal noun Short stem Meaning Lexical source
afal-du afal-tze afal 'eat supper' afari 'supper'
alda-tu alda-tze alda 'change' alde 'difference'
garbi-tu garbi-tze garbi 'clean' garbi 'clean (adj.)'
ohera-tu ohera-tze ohera 'go/put to bed' ohe-ra 'to bed'
poz-tu poz-te poz 'be/become happy' poz 'happiness, joy'
baina-tu baina-tze baina 'bathe' Spanish baña- 'bathe'
barka-tu barka-tze barka 'forgive' Latin parc- 'spare'
begira-tu begira-tze begira 'look after, look at, observe' Latin vigila- 'watch'
kanta-tu kanta-tze kanta 'sing' Spanish canta- 'sing'
gal-du gal-tze gal 'lose'
har-tu har-tze har 'take'
ken-du ken-tze ken 'take away, remove'
sal-du sal-tze sal 'sell'
sar-tu sar-tze sar 'enter'
atera atera-tze atera 'take out, go out' ate-ra 'to (the) door'
bota bota-tze bota 'throw' Spanish bota- 'throw'
hil hil-tze hil 'die, kill'
has-i has-te has 'begin'

Defective or anomalous verb stems

Izan ('be')

The verb 'to be', the most common verb in the language, is irregular and shows some stem allomorphy in its finite forms. Its participle is izan.

Egon

Another verb, egon, is used in western dialects (and in writing) as a second verb 'to be' in a way similar to estar in Spanish.

Izan ('have')

The verb 'to have', also extremely common, also shows irregularities in its finite conjugation. In western and central dialects and in standard Basque, 'izan' is used as its participle, i.e. the same participle as for 'to be'; the two meanings are disambiguated by the context. Given that Basque verbs are conventionally cited in their participle form, this presents a problem for metalinguistic terminology, since "the verb izan" is ambiguous.

Ukan/*Edun

Eastern dialects avoid this ambiguity by using ukan as the participle of 'to have', reserving izan for 'to be', and some grammarians employ izan and ukan in this way for convenience, but this could create confusion since most Basque speakers do not actually employ ukan (or even know it as a metalinguistic term). Other grammarians refer to 'to have' as *edun, which is a hypothetical, unattested form derived from the finite stem -du-; again, the problem is that *edun does not exist in real Basque usage.

To avoid such problems, this article simply refers to "the verb 'to be'" and "the verb 'to have'".

*Edin, *Ezan

The two standard aorist auxiliaries (see below) lack any non-finite forms, and so also have no obvious citation forms. As with *edun, some grammars construct hypothetical participles based on the finite stems, referring to *edin (the intransitive aorist auxiliary) and *ezan (the transitive aorist auxiliary).

Eduki

There is another verb which also means 'have', at least in western dialects, namely eduki. As a lexical verb (rather than an auxiliary), many speakers and writers frequently use this verb. (This is somewhat reminiscent of, though not entirely parallel to, the Spanish distribution of haber and tener.)

Esan

The verb 'to say', esan possesses finite forms which have a different stem, -io- (e.g. diot 'I say'). Some grammarians treat these as different defective verbs, while others consider them a single word with stem allomorphy.

Synthetic conjugation

Tense structure and stem forms

Synthetic (single-word) conjugation involves the following finite "tenses":

The simple "tenses"
(Non-potential) Potential Imperative
Present Present Present potential Imperative
Past Past Past potential
Hypothetic Hypothetic Hypothetic potential

Finite verbs have a basic finite stem which is either an unanalysable lexical root (e.g. -bil- 'go about, move (intr.)') or such a root preceded by the causative/intensive prefix -ra- (e.g. -rabil- 'cause to move, use'). From regular basic stems two tense stems are derived as follows: the present stem with prefix -a- and the non-present stem with prefix -e-, e.g. -abil- and -ebil- are the regular present and non-present stems of -bil-, -arabil- and -erabil- are the corresponding tense stems of -rabil-, and so on. The present stem is used in the present tense, the present potential tense and the non-third-person imperative, e.g. present d-abil 'he/she/it goes about', present potential d-abil-ke 'he/she/it may go about', second person imperative h-abil! 'go about!'. The non-present stem is used in the past and hypothetic tenses (non-potential and potential), and in third-person imperative forms, e.g. z-ebil-en 'he/she/it went about', ba-l-ebil 'if he/she/it went about', z-ebil-ke-en 'he/she/it might or would have gone about', l-ebil-ke 'he/she/it might or would go about', b-ebil! 'let hime/her/it go about!' (not in common use).

Non-present stems are further characterised by prefixes containing an n whenever the primary index (defined below) is non-third-person, e.g. z-ebil-en 'he went about' but n-enbil-en 'I went about', h-enbil-en 'you went about'; l-erabil-ke 'he would use it' but n-inderabil-ke 'he would use me'.

The suffix -(e)n is a marker of the past tenses, and -ke of the potential tenses (the past potential has both: -ke-en). The hypothetic non-potential tense usually occurs with the subordinator prefix ba- 'if', which will therefore be shown in examples; use of ba- is not restricted to the hypothetic, however (e.g. ba-dabil 'if he goes about', etc.). Apart from the tense markers mentioned, third person prefixes distinguish between present, past, hypothetic and imperative tenses, as will be seen below.

Synopses of two verbs are given in the following table as illustrations. The verb 'to be' (izan) is irregular but in extremely frequent use, since it also serves as an important auxiliary. The verb ibili 'go about, move, etc.' (root -bil-) is regularly conjugated, although not all its synthetic forms are in widespread use. This synoptic table shows third person forms.

Synopsis of simple "tenses"
izan 'to be' ibili 'to go about'
Non-potential Potential Imperative Non-potential Potential Imperative
Present da 'is' dateke 'may be' biz (archaic) 'let (it) be!' dabil 'goes about' dabilke bebil
Past zen 'was' zatekeen 'would have been' zebilen zebilkeen
Hypothetic ba-litz 'if X were' litzateke 'would be' lebilke ba-lebil

Primary person indices

All conjugating verb stems (unless defective) can take the following set of person-indexing prefixes: n- (first person singular), h- (second person singular informal), g- (first person plural), z- (second person singular formal and second person plural). With intransitive verbs, these prefixes index the subject; with transitives, they index the direct object. For convenience, we shall refer to this as the set of 'primary person indices'.

FIRST AND SECOND PERSON PRIMARY INDICES
PERSON PRONOUN PREFIX
1 singular ni n-
2 singular informal hi h-
1 plural gu g-
2 singular polite/plural zu/zuek z-

The following table shows some examples of how these prefixes combine with verb stems to produce a wide range of finite verb forms.

First and second person primary indices (examples)
Intransitive Transitive
'to be' ibili 'to go about' 'to have' ekarri 'to bring'
Present ni n-aiz = 'I am' n-abil = 'I go about' n-au = 'has me' n-akar = 'brings me'
hi h-aiz h-abil h-au h-akar
gu g-ara g-abiltza g-aitu g-akartza
zu z-ara z-abiltza z-aitu z-akartza
Past ni n-intz-en = 'I was' n-enbil-en n-indu-en n-indekarr-en
hi h-intz-en h-enbil-en h-indu-en h-indekarr-en
gu g-in-en g-enbiltza-n g-intu-en g-indekartza-n
zu z-in-en z-enbiltza-n z-intu-en z-indekartza-n
Hypothetic ni ba-n-intz = 'if I were' ba-n-enbil ba-n-indu ba-n-indekar
hi ba-h-intz ba-h-enbil ba-h-indu ba-h-indekar
gu ba-g-ina ba-g-enbiltza ba-g-intu ba-g-indekartza
zu ba-z-ina ba-z-enbiltza ba-z-intu ba-z-indekartza

Third-person forms

Third person verbs (here the 'person' again refers to the subject in intransitive verbs but the object in transitives) also take a prefix, which is invariable for number (singular or plural) but varies for tense, as follows: d- is used in the present tense, z- in the past, l- in the hypothetic and b- in third-person imperative forms (generally archaic or literary).

THIRD PERSON PREFIXES
TENSE AFFIX
Present d-
Past z-
Hypothetic l-
Imperative b-

Some illustrative examples follow.

Third-person verb forms
Intransitive Transitive
'to be' ibili 'to go about' 'to have' ekarri 'to bring'
Present Singular d-a = 'is' d-abil = 'goes about' d-u = 'has him/her/it' d-akar = 'brings him/her/it'
Plural d-ira = 'are', etc. d-abiltza d-itu = 'has them' d-akartza
Past Singular z-en = 'was' z-ebil-en z-uen z-ekarr-en
Plural z-ir-en z-ebiltza-n z-itu-en z-ekartza-n
Hypothetic Singular ba-l-itz ba-l-ebil ba-l-u ba-l-ekar
Plural ba-l-ira ba-l-ebiltza ba-l-itu ba-l-ekartza

Third-person imperative
Imperative Singular b-iz (archaic) = 'let him/her/it be' b-ebil (rare) b-eu (obsolete) b-ekar (literary)
Plural b-ira (obsolete) = 'let them be' b-ebiltza (rare) b-ekartza (literary)

Plural marking

Plural number is marked in finite verbs in various ways, depending on the arguments whose plurality is being indexed. One set of plural forms are 'primary', that is, once again they refer to either the 'intransitive subject' or the 'transitive object'. The form of primary plural marking varies irregularly according to the verb stem, and may involve miscellaneous stem changes or the placement immediately after the singular stem of a plural marker (most commonly -tza or -z). Singular and plural forms of some finite verb stems are shown in the following table.

Some singular and plural finite stems (present tense forms)
Intransitive Transitive
Singular subject Plural subject Meaning Singular object Plural object Meaning
-aiz, -a -ara, -ira 'be' -au, -u -aitu, -itu 'have'
-ago -aude 'stay, be' -auka -auzka 'hold, have'
-abil -abiltza 'go about, move' -akar -akartza 'bring'
-oa -oaz 'go' -arama -aramatza 'take'
-ator -atoz 'come' -aki -akizki 'know'

Primary plural marking occurs whenever the indexed argument (subject or direct object) is plural. The second person singular polite (pronoun zu) is also treated as plural for this purpose, although syntactically and semantically singular. To index the second person plural (pronoun zuek), in addition to the markers corresponding to zu a further ('secondary') plural marker -te is suffixed.

Plural marking associated with primary arguments
(PRESENT) Intransitive Transitive
'to be' ibili 'to go about' 'to have' ekarri 'to bring'
Singular ni n-aiz n-abil n-au n-akar
hi h-aiz h-abil h-au h-akar
hura d-a d-abil d-u d-akar
Plural gu g-ara g-abil-tza g-aitu g-akar-tza
zu z-ara z-abil-tza z-aitu z-akar-tza
zuek z-are-TE z-abiltza-TE z-aituz-TE z-akartza-TE
haiek d-ira d-abil-tza d-itu d-akar-tza

Ergative person and number suffixes

The ergative case is the case of subjects of transitive verbs. Such arguments are indexed in a different way from 'primary' arguments. Person of the ergative marker may be indexed in one of two ways: using suffixes or prefixes. The ergative-index plural marker is always a suffix (-te). The ergative person suffixes are as follows; those for the first and second person singular end in -a whenever another suffix morpheme follows them. The absence of an ergative suffix in transitive verbs (except those discussed in the next section) implies a third-person subject.

ERGATIVE SUFFIXES
PERSON PRONOUN SUFFIX
(word-final) (non-word-final)
1 singular nik -t -da-
2 singular informal masculine hik -k -a-
2 singular informal feminine -n(a) -na-
3 singular hark
1 plural guk -gu(-)
2 singular polite zuk -zu(-)
2 plural zuek -zue(-)
3 plural haiek -te(-)

A few sample paradigms follow.

Ergative suffixes (examples)
'to have' ekarri 'to bring'
'(I...) have him/her/it' '(I...) have them' '(you...) have me' '(I...) bring him/her/it'
Present nik d-u-t d-itu-t d-akar-t
hik male d-u-k d-itu-k n-au-k d-akar-k
hik female d-u-n d-itu-n n-au-n d-akar-na
hark d-u d-itu n-au d-akar
guk d-u-gu d-itu-gu d-akar-gu
zuk d-u-zu d-itu-zu n-au-zu d-akar-zu
zuek d-u-zu-e d-itu-zu-e n-au-zu-e d-akar-zu-e
haiek d-u-te d-ituz-te n-au-te d-akar-te
Past nik (See following section) (See following section)
hik male n-indu-a-n
hik female n-indu-na-n
hark z-u-en z-itu-en n-indu-en z-ekarr-en
guk (See following section) (See following section)
zuk n-indu-zu-n
zuek n-indu-zu-e-n
haiek z-u-te-n z-ituz-te-n n-indu-te-n z-ekar-te-n

Ergative person prefixes

Instead of the ergative suffixes, ergative prefixes are used to index first or second person ergative arguments if the tense is non-present and the direct object is third person (see the gaps in the previous table). The ergative prefixes are identical to the primary prefixes in the singular, but in the plural -en- is added to the primary prefix forms:

ERGATIVE PREFIXES
PERSON PRONOUN PREFIX
1 singular nik n-
2 singular informal hik h-
1 plural guk gen-
2 singular polite/plural zuk/zuek zen-

The ergative plural suffix -te only occurs when required (a) to indicate the third person plural, or (b) to indicate the (real) second person plural.

Ergative prefixes (examples)
'to have' ekarri 'to bring'
'(I) had him/her/it' (past) '(I) had them' (past) 'if (I) had him/her/it' (hypothetic) '(I) would have him/her/it' (hypothetic potential) '(I) brought him/her/it' (past)
nik n-u-en n-itu-en ba-n-u n-u-ke n-ekarr-en
hik h-u-en h-itu-en ba-h-u h-u-ke h-ekarr-en
hark z-u-en z-itu-en ba-l-u l-u-ke z-ekarr-en
guk gen-u-en gen-itu-en ba-gen-u gen-u-ke gen-ekarr-en
zuk zen-u-en zen-itu-en ba-zen-u zen-u-ke zen-ekarr-en
zuek zen-u-te-n zen-ituz-te-n ba-zen-u-te zen-u-ke-te zen-ekar-te-n
haiek z-u-te-n z-ituz-te-n ba-l-u-te l-u-ke-te z-ekar-te-n

Dative argument indices

Finite verbs that have an argument in the dative case also index the dative argument using the following set of dative suffixes (which are identical in form to the ergative suffixes except in the third person):

DATIVE SUFFIXES
PERSON PRONOUN SUFFIX
(word-final) (non-word-final)
1 singular niri -t -da-
2 singular informal masculine hiri -k -a-
2 singular informal feminine -n (-na) -na-
3 singular hari -o(-)
1 plural guri -gu(-)
2 singular polite zuri -zu(-)
2 plural zuei -zue(-)
3 plural haiei -e(-)

Both intransitive and transitive verbs may take dative indices, and the mechanism for incorporating these is the same in either case. Dative suffixes immediately follow the verb stem, preceding other suffixes such as the ergative suffixes (thus in d-i-da-zu 'you have it to me', -da- is the dative suffix and -zu is the ergative suffix) or the potential suffix -ke (as well as the past suffix -(e) n, which is always word-final).

Only the primary plural marker, if present, and the dative-argument marker precede the dative suffix. The dative-argument marker, whose regular form is -ki-, is added to basic verb stems to indicate that these are taking a dative argument. With -ki-, the primary plural marker always takes the form of -z- immediately preceding -ki-. A few verb stems have an irregular dative-argument form.

Some dative-argument verb stem forms
Intransitive Transitive
Basic stem (present) Dative stem Meaning Basic stem Dative stem Meaning
Sing. subject Plur. subject Sing. dir. obj. Plur. dir. obj.
-aiz, -a zai- zaizki- 'be' -au, -u -i- -izki- 'have'
-ago -agoki- -agozki- 'stay, be' -akar -akarki- -akarzki- 'bring'
-abil -abilki- -abilzki- 'go about, move' -arama -aramaki- -aramazki- 'take'
-oa -oaki- -oazki- 'go'
-ator -atorki- -atozki- 'come'

The most commonly used dative verb forms are those of the irregular verbs 'to be' and 'to have' which are in constant use as tense auxiliaries, when these verbs have no lexical meaning of their own. This is the reason why many of the glosses given below sound odd (e.g. dit 'he has it to me'); an example of a more natural-sounding use of this form as an auxiliary would be eman dit 'he has given it to me'. Nevertheless, the following table serves to clarify the morphological structure of dative-argument verb forms.

Dative-argument forms (examples)
INTRANSITIVE VERBS 'to be' etorri 'to come'
'he/she/it is to (me...)' 'they are to (me...)' 'he/she/it was to (me...)' 'he/she/it comes to (me...)' 'I come to (him/her/it...)'
niri zai-t zaizki-t z-itzai-da-n d-atorki-t
hari zai-o zaizki-t z-itzai-o-n d-atorki-o n-atorki-o
guri zai-gu zaizki-gu z-itzai-gu-n d-atorki-gu
haiei zai-e zaizki-e z-itzai-e-n d-atorki-e n-atorki-e
TRANSITIVE VERBS 'to have' ekarri 'to bring'
'he/she/it has him/her/it to (me...)' 'you have him/her/it to (me...)' 'he/she/it has them to (me...)' 'he/she/it had him/her/it to (me...)' 'he/she/it brings him/her/it to (me...)'
niri d-i-t d-i-da-zu d-izki-t z-i-da-n d-akarki-t
hari d-i-o d-i-o-zu d-izki-o z-i-o-n d-akarki-o
guri d-i-gu d-i-gu-zu d-izki-gu z-i-gu-n d-akarki-gu
haiei d-i-e d-i-e-zu d-izki-e z-i-e-n d-akarki-e

Familiar forms and allocutive indices (hika)

In colloquial Baque, an informal relationship and social solidarity between the speaker and a single interlocutor are expressed by employing a special mode of speech often referred to in Basque as either hika or hitano (both derived from hi, the informal second-person pronoun; in other places the same phenomenon is named toka and noka for male and female interlocutors respectively). The obligatory grammatical characteristics of this mode are:

  • The personal pronoun hi is used (rather than the polite second person singular pronoun zu).
  • All finite verb forms that index a second-person argument take (as one would expect) the corresponding hi forms, e.g. haiz 'you are' (rather than zara), duk or dun 'you have it' (rather than duzu), etc.:

Familiar second-person forms (examples)
Meaning Polite Familiar
male female
'you are' zara haiz
'you were' zinen hintzen
'you come' zatoz hator
'you have it' duzu duk dun
'you have them' dituzu dituk ditun
'you had it' zenuen huen
'you know it' dakizu dakik dakin
'it is to you' zaizu zaik zain
'he has it to you' dizu dik din
'he has them to you' dizkizu dizkik dizkin
'I have it to you' dizut diat dinat
'he had it to you' zizun zian zinan
'I had it to you' nizun nian ninan

  • Obligatorily in independent declarative clauses with finite verb forms not indexing a true second-person argument, an additional second-person index is incorporated. This is known as the allocutive construction, and we may refer to these second-person indices which do not refer to a syntactic argument of the verb as 'allocutive indices'.

The allocutive index may be incorporated in three different manners depending on the verb and the verb form in question. The first of these is only found with forms of the verb 'to be' (izan) without a dative argument, and consists of replacing 'be' with 'have': the subject of 'be' is indexed in the normal manner of a direct object (thus it remains 'primary'), while the ergative indices (normally referring to the subject) take on allocutive value, as in the following examples:

Familiar allocutive forms: first type (examples)
Meaning Polite Familiar Also means...
male female
'he/she/it is' da duk dun 'you have him/her/it'
'he/she/it was' zen huan hunan cf. huen 'you had him/her/it'
'I am' naiz nauk naun 'you have me'
'we are' gara gaituk gaitun 'you have us'
'they are' dira dituk ditun 'you have them'

The second manner is limited to the verb 'have' itself, again without a dative argument. Such forms of 'to have' are replaced by the corresponding forms also employed when the verb has a dative argument, and the dative indices fulfill the allocutive function, as in the following examples:

Familiar allocutive forms: second type (examples)
Meaning Polite Familiar Also means...
male female
'he/she/it has it' du dik din 'he/she/it has it to you'
'I have it' dut diat dinat 'I have it to you'
'we have it' dugu diagu dinagu 'we have it to you'
'he/she/it has them' ditu dituk ditun 'he/she/it has them to you'
'I have them' ditut dizkiat dizkinat 'I have them to you'
'he/she/it had it' nuen nian ninan 'he/she/it had it to you'
'I had it' nuen nian ninan 'I had it to you'

In all other verb forms, the procedure is as follows: (1) an additional second-person suffix (-k / -a- for males, -n / -na- for females, the same as in the dative and ergative suffixes) is added (after a dative suffix but before an ergative one); (2) sometimes (there is considerable dialectal variation on this point), the third-person present-tense primary prefix d- changes to z- and/or the present-tense stem formant -a- changes to -ia- or -e- in the allocutive forms. e.g.

Familiar allocutive forms: third type (examples)
Meaning Polite Familiar
male female
'he/she/it comes' dator zetorrek zetorren
'I come' nator netorrek netorren
'he/she/it knows' daki zekik zekin
'I know it' dakit zekiat zekinat
'it is to it' zaio zaiok zaion
'it is to me' zait zaidak zaidan
'it has it to it' dio ziok zion
'it has it to me' dit zidak zidan

Eastern Basque dialects extend the allocutive system to the more polite form of address, zu (known as zuka or zutano), or the affectionate variant xu. The rules are similar. Such dialects have three levels of address: allocutive hi (with a male/female distinction) is the most intimate, allocutive zu or xu is polite but friendly, and the absence of allocutive constructions is the most neutral or formal. But most dialects lack the middle level.

Periphrastic conjugation

Compound tense stem forms

Compound tense forms consist of a non-finite verb form (the compound tense stem) and a finite auxiliary form. We shall begin by looking at the non-finite stems. Each verb has four: the perfect, future, imperfect and short stems. The perfect stem is identical to the participle (see above). The future stem is obtained from the participle by adding -ko (-go after n). The imperfect stem is the verbal noun (see above) plus the suffix -n. The form of the short stem was discussed above. Some examples follow.

Compound tense stems (examples)
Perfect stem Future stem Imperfect stem Short stem Meaning
hartu hartuko hartzen har 'take'
garbitu garbituko garbitzen garbi 'clean'
kendu kenduko kentzen ken 'take away, remove'
poztu poztuko pozten poz 'be/become happy'
ibili ibiliko ibiltzen ibil 'go about'
ikusi ikusiko ikusten ikus 'see'
iritsi iritsiko iristen irits 'arrive'
ireki irekiko irekitzen ireki 'open'
bete beteko betetzen bete 'fill'
jo joko jotzen jo 'strike'
hil hilko hiltzen hil 'die, kill'
egin egingo egiten egin 'make, do'
eman emango ematen eman 'give'
esan esango esaten esan 'say'

Compound tense auxiliaries

By combining the four compound tense stems with various auxiliaries, one obtains four groups of compound tense, sometimes referred to in Basque grammar as "aspects", which we shall call Imperfect, Perfect, Future and Aorist (= "aspect"-less) respectively.

The choice of auxiliary depends on the "aspect" and also on whether the verb is intransitive or transitive. Except in the Aorist tenses, the auxiliary for intransitives is the verb 'to be', while that for transitives is the verb 'to have'. In the Aorist a different pair of auxiliaries is used, one for intransitives and another for transitives. Since neither of the latter is used other than as an auxiliary, and neither has a participle (or other non-finite form) to provide a convenient citation form, we shall simply refer to them as the (intransitive and transitive) aorist auxiliaries.

The auxiliaries adopt all the argument indices (for subject, direct object and/or indirect object as the case may be, as well as the allocutive where applicable) that correspond to the verb within its clause.

Compound tense patterns
"ASPECT" TENSE STEM INTRANSITIVE TRANSITIVE
IMPERFECT IMPERFECT + 'to be' 'to have'
PERFECT PERFECT + 'to be' 'to have'
FUTURE FUTURE + 'to be' 'to have'
AORIST SHORT + Intransitive Aorist Auxiliary Transitive Aorist Auxiliary

The above diagram illustrates the patterns with auxiliaries in the present tense. However, the same auxiliaries may be used in a wide variety of tenses, not only in the present. The following two tables lay out synoptically the possible auxiliary/tense combinations for intransitive and transitive auxiliaries respectively.

Tenses of the intransitive auxiliaries (sample forms)
'Be' auxiliary Aorist Auxiliary
Non-potential Potential Non-potential Potential Imperative
Present naiz naizateke (literary) nadi-n naiteke hadi
Past nintzen nintzatekeen (literary) nendi-n nintekeen
Hypothetic banintz nintzateke banendi (literary) ninteke

Tenses of the transitive auxiliaries (sample forms)
'Have' auxiliary Aorist Auxiliary
Non-potential Potential Non-potential Potential Imperative
Present dut duket (literary) dezada-n dezaket ezak
Past nuen nukeen (literary) neza-n nezakeen
Hypothetic banu nuke baneza (literary) nezake

Simple and compound tenses

The following are the most usual Basque tenses. By considering both simple and compound tenses as part of a single list, one can better see how the whole system fits together and compare the tenses with each other.

Some simple and compound tenses
Tense Form Examples Observations
Present simple SYNTHETIC PRESENT
  • naiz 'I am'
  • nator 'I am coming'
  • daukat 'I have (it)'
  • dakit 'I know'

Only those few verbs that can be conjugated synthetically have this tense. With stative verbs (e.g. izan 'be' or 'have', egon, eduki, jakin...) it expresses present state, e.g. da 'is'. With dynamic verbs (e.g. etorri, joan, ibili, ekarri, eraman...) it most often expresses ongoing action at the time of speaking, e.g. dator 'is coming', but note also badator 'if (X) comes', datorrenean 'when (X) comes' etc.
Present habitual IMPERFECT STEM + present of 'be'/'have'
  • izaten naiz 'I am (habitually)'
  • etortzen naiz 'I come (habitually)'
  • ikusten dut 'I see'
  • kantatzen dut 'I sing'

With dynamic verbs or verbs possessing synthetic conjugation, this tense usually expresses habitual action within the present time frame, e.g. kantatzen dut, etortzen naiz.... With stative verbs lacking a simple present, this tense also expresses a present state, e.g. ikusten dut 'I (can) see', ezagutzen dut 'I am acquainted with'. The habitual sense can also be absent in kantatzen badu 'if he sings', etortzen denean 'when he comes' (= datorrenean), etc.
Future FUTURE STEM + present of 'be'/'have'
  • izango naiz 'I will be'
  • etorriko naiz 'I will come'
  • erosiko ditut 'I will buy them'

This is the basic future tense for all verbs. It can also convey conjecture, most obviously with stative verbs when it is clear that no future reference is expressed, e.g. izango da for 'probably is': Egia izango da 'It is probably true.' In illocutionary contexts this tense is equivalent to English modal 'shall' or 'will', e.g. Kantatuko dut? 'Shall/Should I sing?', Lagunduko didazu? 'Will/Would/Could you help me (please)?'
Simple past SYNTHETIC PAST
  • nintzen 'I was'
  • neukan 'I had (it)'
  • nekien 'I knew'

Limited to verbs that can be conjugated synthetically, with which it expresses a past state or ongoing action.
Past habitual IMPERFECT STEM + past of 'be'/'have'
  • izaten nintzen 'I used to be'
  • etortzen nintzen 'I used to come'
  • ikusten nuen 'I saw, I could see'

With dynamic verbs and stative ones with synthetic conjugation, expresses habitual action in the past (etortzen nintzen, izaten nintzen). With stative verbs, past state (ikusten nuen).
Near past PERFECT STEM + present of 'be'/'have'
  • etorri naiz 'I came, I have come'
  • ikusi dut 'I saw, I have seen'

Originally this tense expressed perfect aspect in a present time-frame, e.g. ikusi dut 'I have seen (at some time in the past)'. Also used as a perfective past tense within the "current" time unit, usually interpreted as the day of speaking: ikusi dut 'I saw (usually understood: at some time today)'.
Remote past PERFECT STEM + past of 'be'/'have'
  • etorri nintzen 'I came, I had come'
  • ikusi nuen 'I saw, I had seen'

Originally this expressed a pluperfect, i.e. perfect aspect in a past time-frame, e.g. ikusi nuen 'I had seen'. Also used as a perfective past tense within a past time unit, which must be earlier than the day of speaking: ikusi nuen 'I saw (yesterday, three years ago...)'.
Future-in-the-past FUTURE STEM + past of 'be'/'have'
  • etorriko nintzen 'I would come (in indirect speech), I would have come (in conditional sentences)'
  • ikusiko nuen 'I would see, I would have seen'

(a) Future action in past time frame: Etorriko zela esan zuen 'He said he would come'. (b) Consequence of an unfulfilled hypothesis, e.g. Jakin izan balu, etorriko zen 'If he had known, he would have come'. (c) Conjecture about past action, e.g. Gure aurretik etorriko zen 'He probably came/must have come before us.'
Hypothetic FUTURE STEM + hypothetic of 'be'/'have'
  • etorriko banintz 'if I came, if I were to come'
  • ikusiko banu 'if I saw, if I were to see'

Hypothetical if-clauses.
Conditional FUTURE STEM + hypothetic potential of 'be'/'have'
  • etorriko nintzateke 'I would come'
  • ikusiko nuke 'I would see'

Consequence to a hypothetical premise (explicit or implied).
Present subjunctive SHORT STEM + present of aorist auxiliary
  • etor nadin 'that I may come'
  • ikus dezadan 'that I may see'

Complement clauses and purpose clauses. More common in literary than colloquial style.
Present potential SHORT STEM + present potential of aorist auxiliary
  • etor naiteke 'I can come'
  • ikus dezaket 'I can see'

Possibility or ability.
Simple imperative SYNTHETIC IMPERATIVE
  • zatoz! 'come!'
  • emaidazu! 'give me!'

Imperative.
Compound imperative SHORT STEM + imperative of aorist auxiliary
  • etor zaitez! 'come!'
  • egin ezazu! 'do it!'

Non-finite imperative SHORT (or PERFECT) STEM
  • etor(ri)! 'come!'
  • eman! 'give!'

More periphrastic constructions

Some other constructions that commonly express a range of aspectual or modal notions show a greater degree of periphrasis than those considered so far. A brief selection of some of the most important of these are shown in the following table:

Some periphrastic constructions
Sense Form Examples
Progressive aspect ('be doing something') -tzen/-ten + ari DA
  • ikasten ari naiz 'I am learning'
  • garbitzen ari ziren 'they were cleaning'

Volition ('want to do something') -tu/-i/-n (etc.) + nahi DU
  • ikasi nahi dut 'I want to learn'
  • joan nahi zuen 'he wanted to go'
  • ikusi nahi zaitut 'I want to see you'

Necessity/obligation ('must/have to/need to do something') -tu/-i/-n (etc.) + behar DU
  • joan behar dut 'I have to go'
  • jan behar dituzu 'you must eat them'
  • ikasi beharko dugu 'we will have to learn'

Ability ('can/be able to do something') -tu/-i/-n (etc.) or -tzen/-ten + ahal DA/DU
  • ikasi/ikasten ahal dut 'I can learn'
  • etorri ahal izango zara 'you will be able to come'

Non-finite verb forms

Basque verbs have a fairly wide range of non-finite forms. Morphologically these can all be derived via suffixation from the three non-finite forms presented at the beginning of this article: the participle, the verbal noun and the short stem. Apart from the short stem (which has a rather limited set of functions), all other forms are built on either the participle or the verbal noun.

The participle and derived forms

The participle and some other non-finite forms derived therefrom are as follows. To avoid repetition, mention will not be made of the use of the participle as a perfect stem in the formation of periphrastic tenses (see above).

Some non-finite forms based on the participle
Form E.g. Use Examples
Participle

  • etorri
  • edan
  • garbitu
  • ireki, etc. (see above)

verbal adjective
  • ate ireki bat 'an open door'
  • ate irekiak 'open doors'
  • Atea irekia dago. 'The door is open.'

unmarked non-finite form (chain clauses, modal complement, citation form...)
  • Ura edan eta ardoa utziko dugu. 'We'll drink the water and leave the wine.'
    [wine drink.PARTICIPLE and wine leave.FUTURE AUXILIARY]
  • Mahaia garbitu behar dugu. 'We must clean the table.'
    [table clean.PARTICIPLE must AUXILIARY]
  • "Come" hitzak "etorri" esan nahi du. 'The word "come" means "etorri".'
    [come word.ERGATIVE "come.PARTICIPLE" say.PARTICIPLE want AUXILIARY]

commonly replaces the short stem in all uses (western colloquial)
Participle + -(r)ik / Participle + -ta (da)

  • egosirik / egosita
  • jakinik / jakinda
  • garbiturik / garbituta
  • beterik / beteta

stative adverbial participle
  • Hau jakinik/jakinda, ez nion sinetsi. 'Knowing this, I did not believe him.'
    [this know.PARTICIPLE-ik/ta...]

participial predicate
  • Haragia egosirik/egosita dago. 'The meat is boiled.'
    [meat boil.PARTICIPLE-ik/ta is]

Participle + -tako (dako)
  • ikusitako
  • egindako
  • hartutako
  • hildako

adjectival (= non-finite relative)
  • Zuk ikusitako gizona itsua da. 'The man you saw (= seen by you) is blind.'
    [you.ERGATIVE see.PARTICIPLE-tako man blind is]

Participle + -(e)z
  • ikusiz
  • edanez
  • hartuz
  • ateraz

dynamic adverbial participle
  • Dirua hartuz, joan zen. 'Taking the money, he went.'
    [money take.PARTICIPLE-z...]

The verbal noun and derived forms

The verbal noun and some other non-finite forms derived therefrom are as follows. Again, to avoid repetition, mention will not be made of the use of the -t(z)en form as an imperfect stem in the formation of periphrastic tenses (see above).

Some non-finite forms based on the verbal noun
Form E.g. Use Examples
Verbal noun + determiner

  • ikaste(a)
  • edate(a)
  • oheratze(a)
  • irekitze(a)

verbal noun
  • Berandu oheratzea txarra da. 'Going to bed late is bad.'
    [late go.to.bed.VN.ARTICLE bad.ARTICLE is]
  • Euskara ikasteak asko lagunduko dizu. 'Learning Basque will help you a lot.'
    [Basque learn.VN.ARTICLE.ERGATIVE much help.FUTURE AUXILIARY]

complement clause
  • Nire lagunak nik euskara ikastea nahi du. 'My friend wants me to learn Basque.'
    [my friend.ARTICLE.ERGATIVE I/me.ERGATIVE Basque learn.VN.ARTICLE want AUXILIARY]
  • Ardoa edatea erabaki dugu. 'We have decided to drink wine.'
    [wine drink.VN.ARTICLE decide.PARTICIPLE AUXILIARY]

Verbal noun + -ko

  • ikasteko
  • joateko
  • garbitzeko
  • irekitzeko

purpose adverbial
  • Liburu bat erosiko dut euskara ikasteko. 'I will buy a book in order to learn Basque.' [...Basque learn.VN-ko]

complement clause
  • Irakasleak etxera joateko esan dit. 'The teacher told me to go home.'
    [...go.VN-ko say.PARTICIPLE AUXILIARY]

adjectival
  • botilak irekitzeko tresna bat 'a tool for opening bottles (with)', 'a bottle-opener'
    [bottle.PLURAL.ARTICLE open.VN-ko tool one]

Verbal noun + -ra
  • ikastera
  • joatera
  • garbitzera
  • irekitzera

complement of verbs of movement
  • Hau esatera etorri naiz. 'I have come to say this.'
    [this say.VN-ra come.PARTICIPLE AUXILIARY]

Verbal noun + -n
  • ikusten
  • joaten
  • garbitzen
  • irekitzen

complement clause
  • Leihoak irekitzen hasi zen. 'He started opening the windows.'
    [window.PLURAL.ARTICLE open.VN-n begin.PARTICIPLE AUXILIARY]
  • Joaten utziko diogu. 'We'll let him go.'
    [go.VN-n let.FUTURE AUXILIARY]

Verbal noun + -an
  • ikustean
  • joatean
  • garbitzean
  • irekitzean

time clause
  • Zu ikustean, gogoratu naiz. 'When I saw you (On seeing you), I remembered.'
    [you see.VN-an, remember.PARTICIPLE AUXILIARY]

Compound verbs

Basque has a fairly large number of compound verbs of a type also known as light verb constructions, consisting of two parts. The first component is a lexical element which is often (but not always) an undeclined noun. The second is a common verb which contributes less semantic content to the construction but is the part that is conjugated, thus lending to the whole its verbal character. Details of conjugation depend on the light verb used, which may be one that has synthetic finite forms (e.g. izan), or a verb without synthetic finite forms (e.g. egin or hartu).

Some compound verbs (light verb constructions)
Light verb Examples Meaning Meaning of first component
izan 'be' bizi izan 'live' 'alive'
ari izan 'be doing something'
izan 'have' maite izan 'love' 'dear'
uste izan 'believe, think' 'opinion'
nahi izan 'want' 'desire'
behar izan 'need' 'necessity'
egin 'make, do' lan egin 'work' 'work (n.)'
hitz egin 'speak' 'word'
lo egin 'sleep' 'sleep (n.)'
amets egin 'dream' 'dream (n.)'
barre egin 'laugh' 'laughter'
negar egin 'weep' 'weeping'
dantza egin 'dance' 'dancing' < French dance, Spanish danza...
kosk egin 'bite' (onomatopea)

In synthetically conjugated light-verb constructions such as bizi naiz 'I live' or maite dut 'I love', care must be taken not to confuse the light verb (naiz, dut...) with tense auxiliaries; bizi naiz and maite dut are simple present forms, for example. The modal verbs nahi izan and behar izan are also of this kind. In the periphrastic tenses of compound verbs with izan, some contractions occur, e.g. in the future of bizi izan 'live', where we would expect bizi izango naiz for 'I will live', biziko naiz is more common, with -ko attached directly onto the lexical component bizi as if this were a verb.

Compound verbs, especially those with the light verb egin, offer an alternative way (besides direct derivation with -tu, as seen above) for incorporating new verbs into the language, either through the incorporation of onomatopeic words (kosk 'bite', oka 'vomit', hurrup 'sip', klik 'click'...) or of loanwords (dantza 'dance', salto 'jump' etc.) as lexical components.

Verbal particles

A small set of modal particles, including al, ote and omen only occur immediately preceding finite forms (i.e. in front of a synthetic finite form or the synthetic part of an auxiliary verb).

Modal particles
Particle Function Examples
al yes/no questions Etorriko al da? 'Will he come?'
ote tentative questions, 'I wonder...' Etorriko ote da? 'I wonder if he will come.'
omen hearsay Etorriko omen da. 'I have heard/They say that he will come.'

The only exception is that ote and omen are sometimes used in isolation where the ellipsis of a verb is understood. E.g. Egia ote? 'I wonder if it's true' is easily recognised by speakers to be an ellipsis of Egia ote da? Or if someone says Badator 'She's coming.' and someone else responds Omen! 'Supposedly!', this is as much as to say that the first utterance should incorporate omen, i.e. Ba omen dator 'Supposedly she is coming.'

Another set of preverbal particles consists of the affirmative particle ba- (by modern convention joined to a following finite verb form) and the negator ez. These are compatible with the modal particles, which they precede (e.g. ba omen dator in the preceding paragraph; ez al dakizu? 'don't you know?', etc.); apart from this, they too immediately precede the finite verb form.

Emphasis/negation particles
Particle Function Examples
ba affirmative emphasis Badator. 'He is coming.'
ez negation Ez da etorriko. 'He won't come.'

Subordinator affixes

The forms of verbs cited throughout the general presentation of the finite verb system are normally those that occur in main clauses. (However, certain forms, such as the non-potential hypothetic, e.g. -litz, or the subjunctive, e.g. etor dadi-, never occur in such main-clause forms and these are therefore cited in subordinate forms such as balitz, etor dadin etc.)

In subordinate clauses, the finite verb takes a subordinator affix, i.e. a suffix or prefix which establishes (to some extent) the kind of subordination. Basically there are four such affixes, two suffixes and two prefixes, and one (and only one) of these is found in every subordinate form.

Basic subordinator morphemes
Subordinator Form Uses
-(e)n suffix relative clauses, indirect questions, other uses
-(e)la suffix indirect statements, circumstantial clauses
ba- prefix conditions
bai(t)- prefix explanations

Both of the suffixes, however, may take further suffixes (mostly nominal declension suffixes) which serve to further specify the type of subordination. The following table provides a brief overview of some of the main uses and forms.

Subordinator affixes
Affix Function Examples
Suffixed to finite forms: -(e)n indirect question Ez dakit nor den. 'I don't know who he/she is.' (Cf. Nor da? 'Who is he/she?')
relative clause Hor dabilen gizona nire aita da. 'The man who is walking there is my father.' (Cf. Hor dabil gizona. 'The man is walking there.')
complement or purpose clause (with subjunctive)
  • Nahiago dut etor dadin. 'I prefer him to come.' (= 'that he may come')
  • Gutun hau idatzi dut irakur dezazun. 'I have written this letter in order for you to read it.'

first-person optative Edan dezagun! 'Let us drink!'
-(e)nik negation-polarity complement clause Ez dut esan etorriko denik. 'I didn't say (that) he is going to come.'
-(e)nean time clause, 'when' Etortzen denean esango diot. 'When she comes I will tell her.'
-(e)nez manner, 'as'
  • Lehen esan dudanez, bihar etorriko da. 'As I said before, he will come tomorrow.'
  • Nik dakidanez, hori ez da egia. 'As far as I know, that is not true.'

-(e)la indirect statement Uste dut etorriko dela. 'I think she will come.'
circumstance clause Kaletik zetorrela hauxe kantatu zuen. 'As she came (walking) along the street, this is what she sang.'
complement clause (with subjunctive) Hona etor dadila esango diot. 'I will tell him to come here.'
third-person optative Berak jan dezala! 'Let him eat it!'
-(e)larik time/circumstance clause ('while, when') Ondo pasako duzu euskara ikasten ari zarelarik. 'You will have a good time while/when (you are) learning Basque.'
-(e)lako reason clause, 'because' Zuk deitu didazulako etorri naiz. 'I have come because you called me.'
Prefixed to finite forms: ba- condition clause Euskara ikasten baduzu, euskaldunak ulertuko dituzu. 'If you learn the Basque language, you will understand the Basques.'
bai(t)- explanatory or reason clause Ez baituzu euskara ikasi, ez dituzu euskaldunak ulertzen. 'Since you haven't learnt Basque, you don't understand the Basques.'

Bibliography

(see also the bibliography in Basque grammar)

  • Allières, Jacques (1983). De la formalisation du système verbal basque. Article in Pierres Lafitte-ri omenaldia, pp. 37-39, Bilbo: Euskaltzaindia. (in French)
  • Bonaparte, L-L. (1869). Le verbe basque en tableaux. London. (in French)
  • Euskaltzaindia (1973). Aditz laguntzaile batua. (in Basque)
  • Euskaltzaindia (1987). Euskal gramatika: lehen urratsak (volume 2). Bilbao: Euskaltzaindia. (in Basque)

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