Afrikaans and English/Contrastive grammar

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Verlede tyd (Past tense)

In English, past tense usually just involves changing the verb to its past tense form (usually by adding an '-ed' suffix to the end of the verb), but in Afrikaans, past tense usually involves adding a 'het' in the place of the verb, and then moving the verb to the end of the sentence and adding a 'ge-' prefix to the verb. If there's a preposition at the end of the sentence though, you join the preposition and the verb together.

  • (EN) I run today -> I ran yesterday; (AFR) Ek hardloop vandag -> Ek het gister gehardloop
  • (EN) I kick the ball -> I kicked the ball; (AFR) Ek skop die bal -> Ek het die bal geskop
  • (EN) I knock the vase off -> I knocked the vase off; (AFR) Ek klop die vaas af -> Ek het die vaas afgeklop

However, in Afrikaans, the exceptions to this rule include:

  • The auxiliary verbs 'kan', 'wil', 'moet', 'mag', and 'sal', and the verb 'is', in which case only they change to 'kon', 'wou', 'moes', 'mog', 'sou', and 'was', while the rest of the sentence stays the same.
    • (EN) I can do it -> I could do it; (AFR) Ek kan dit doen -> Ek kon dit doen
    • (EN) I am a doughnut -> I was a doughnut; (AFR) Ek is 'n donut -> Ek was 'n donut
  • Words with 'be-', 'ge-', 'her-', 'er-', 'ont-', or 'ver-' prefix don't get a new 'ge-' suffix, staying the same.
    • (EN) I recognize the man -> I recognized the man; (AFR) Ek herken die man -> Ek het die man herken
  • Sentences with 'begin', 'probeer', 'gaan', or 'laat' in them. No 'ge-' prefix is added, and the words get moved to the end of the sentence.
    • (EN) I begin cooking it -> I began cooking it; (AFR) Ek begin dit kook -> Ek het dit begin kook
    • (EN) I let him begin talking -> I let him begin talking; (AFR) Ek laat hom begin praat -> Ek het hom laat begin praat
  • For sentences with an infinitive at the end, the verb moves directly before the infinitive.
    • (EN) I like to run. -> I liked to run; (AFR) Ek hou daarvan om te hardloop. -> Ek het daarvan gehou om te hardloop.
  • If there are occurrences of the words 'dan', 'as', 'wanneer', or 'nou' in the sentence, they change to 'toe'.
    • (EN) I like it when it is hot. -> I liked it when it was hot; (AFR) Ek geniet dit wanneer dit warm is. -> Ek het die geniet toe dit warm was.
    • (EN) I am happy now. -> I was happy then; (AFR) Ek is nou gelukkig. -> Ek was toe gelukkig.

Intensiewe vorm (Intensive form)

In Afrikaans, there are special words that describe intensive form, whereas in English there are no such words, and the ideas are expressed as similes or 2 words instead. Here is a list of a few intensive form examples:

Intensiewe vorm (Intensive form)
Oorspronklike woord (Original word) Intensiewe vorm (Intensive form) English translation original word English translation intensive form
Blind Stokblind Blind As blind as a stick
Nodig Broodnodig Necessary As necessary as bread
Helder Kristalhelder Clear Crystal clear
Flou Stokflou Weak As weak as a stick
Doof Stokdoof Deaf As deaf as a stick
Rond Koeëlrond Round As round as a bullet
Seker Doodseker Sure Dead sure
Bleek Doodsbleek Pale Deathly pale
Skraal Rietskraal Slim As slim as a reed
Koud Yskoud Cold As cold as ice
Rooi Bloedrooi Red Blood red
Soet Stroopsoet Sweet As sweet as syrup
Arm Brandarm Poor As poor as fire

Note that all negative physical traits have a 'stok-' prefix in their intensive form, and that many intensive forms have a 'dood-' prefix.

Voegwoorde (Conjunctions)

Joining 2 sentences

In English, there are only 2 types of conjunctions - coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. However, in Afrikaans, there are 3 types - group 1 (Similar to coordinating conjunctions), group 2, and group 3.

  • Group 1 is the simplest. The conjunctions are maar (but), en (and), of (or), want (because), and dog (but). The rule for this is that you simply join the 2 sentences together and the word order stays the same. There are no exceptions to this rule.
    • (EN) I ate cake. I drank water. -> I ate cake and I drank water; (AFR) Ek het die koek geëet. Ek het die water gedrink. -> Ek het die koek geëet en ek het die water gedrink.
  • Group 2 is the next simplest. The conjunctions are dus (thus), daarom (therefore), anders (else), daarna (then), dan (then), intussen (meanwhile), nietemin (nonetheless), gevolglik (following that), al (although), nogtans (still), tog (now), nou (now), and toe (then). The rule for this is that you join the 2 sentences together, and then move the first verb of the second sentence right next to the conjunction. There are no exceptions to this rule.
    • (EN) I ran. I slept. -> I ran, then I slept; (AFR) Ek het gehardloop. Ek het geslaap. -> Ek het gehardloop, toe het ek geslaap.
    • (EN) I am hungry. I eat. -> I am hungry, therefore I eat; (AFR) Ek is honger. Ek eet. -> Ek is honger, daarom eet ek
  • Group 3 has by far the most exceptions and rules. The conjunctions are all conjunctions ending with '-dat' e.g. omdat (because), all question words e.g. waar (where), terwyl (while), alhoewel (although), aangesien (seeing that), sodra (as soon as), sedert (since), mits (provided that), tensy (unless), and indien (if). The general rule for this is that you move the first verb to the end of the sentence when you join the sentences.
    • (EN) I am wet. I swim in the pool. -> I am wet because I swim in the pool; (AFR) Ek is nat. Ek swem in die swembad. -> Ek is nat omdat ek in die swembad swem.
    • (EN) I go to the rugby match. I am sick -> I go to the rugby match although I am sick; (AFR) Ek gaan na die rugby wedstryd. Ek is siek -> Ek gaan na die rugby wedstryd alhoewel ek siek is.
  • The exceptions of group 3 are as follows:
    • When there are 2 verbs, if the first verb is an auxiliary verb or begin, probeer, gaan, or laat, it moves right before the second verb. Otherwise, the first verb simply moves to the end of the sentence.
      • (EN) I am literate. I can read. -> I am literate because I can read; (AFR) Ek is geletterd. Ek kan lees. -> Ek is geletterd omdat ek kan lees.
      • (EN) I am tired. I start to do my homework. -> I am tired because I start to do my homework; (AFR) Ek is moeg. Ek begin my huiswerk doen. -> Ek is moeg omdat ek my huiswerk begin doen.
    • If there is an infinitive at the end of the second sentence, the verb moves directly before the infinitive.
      • (EN) I am fat. I like to eat -> I am fat because I like to eat; (AFR) Ek is vet. Ek hou daarvan om te eet. -> Ek is vet omdat ek daarvan hou om te eet.

Starting a sentence with a conjunction

In Afrikaans, you can only start a sentence with a group 3 conjunction, or 'al' from the group 2 conjunctions. The word order changes in Afrikaans depending on the conjunction, but stays the same in English in all cases.

For 'al', you simply move the first verbs in both sentences to the front of the sentence, similar to a normal group 2 conjunction sentence.

  • (EN) I am sick. I go to school. -> Although I am sick, I go to school; (AFR) Ek is siek. Ek gaan skool toe. -> Al is ek siek, gaan ek skool toe.
  • (EN) I got transformed into a milkshake. I am still very happy. -> Although I got transformed into a milkshake, I am still very happy; (AFR) Ek het in 'n melkskommel verander. Ek is nog baie gelukkig. -> Al het ek in 'n melkskommel verander, is ek nog baie gelukkig.

For the group 3 conjunctions, you simply move the first verb of the first sentence to the end of the sentence, and bring the first verb of the second sentence to the front of the sentence.

  • (EN) I threw the ball at his face. He started crying. -> Because I threw the ball at his face, he started crying; (AFR) Ek het die bal teen sy gesig gegooi. Hy het begin huil. -> Omdat ek die bal teen sy gesig gegooi het, het hy begin huil.
  • (EN) I ate a cake. I was hungry. -> Before I ate a cake, I was hungry; (AFR) Ek het 'n koek geëet. Ek was honger. -> Voordat ek 'n koek geëet het, was ek honger.

Ontkennende vorm (Negative form)

In Afrikaans, the general rule for negatives is to put a 'nie' after the first verb, and then another 'nie' at the very end of the sentence.

  • (EN) I am a hotdog -> I am not a hotdog; (AFR) Ek is 'n worsbroodjie -> Ek is nie 'n worsbroodjie nie
  • (EN) I endorse underage drinking -> I don't endorse underage drinking; (AFR) Ek onderskryf minderjarige drink -> Ek onderskryf nie minderjarige drink nie
  • (EN) I like to eat vetkoek -> I don't like to eat vetkoek; (AFR) Ek hou daarvan om vetkoek te eet -> Ek hou nie daarvan om vetkoek te eet nie.

However, there are exceptions to this general rule:

  • When there are the words 'iets' (something), 'al' (yet), 'ooit' (ever), 'iemand' (somebody), 'moet' (must), 'nog' (still), or 'êrens' (somewhere), you combine the 'nie' with those words to form the new words 'niks' (nothing), 'nog nie' (still not), 'nooit' (never), 'niemand' (nobody), 'moenie' (must not), 'nie meer' (not anymore), and 'nêrens' (nowhere) respectively.
    • (EN) I know somebody that can do that -> I don't know somebody that can do that; (AFR) Ek weet iemand wat dit kan doen -> Ek week niemand wat dit kan doen nie
    • (EN) I have something -> I don't have something; (AFR) Ek het iets -> Ek het niks
    • (EN) I am still sick -> I am no longer sick; (AFR) Ek is nog siek -> Ek is nie meer siek
  • When there is a personal pronoun after the first verb, then the first 'nie' goes after the personal pronoun instead of directly after the first verb.
    • (EN) Today he ate an apple -> Today he didn't eat an apple; (AFR) Vandag het hy 'n appel geëet -> Vandag het hy nie 'n appel geëet nie
  • When dealing with quantity, instead of 'nie... nie', 'geen' is used instead.
    • (EN) I have dogs -> I have no dogs; (AFR) Ek het honde -> Ek het geen honde
    • (EN) Do you have any children? -> No, I have no children; (AFR) Het jy enige kinders? -> Nee, ek het geen kinders

Woord order (Word order)

Afrikaans follows the word order Subject - Verb 1 - Time - Object - Manner - Place - Verb 2 - Infinitive (Sv1TOMPv2I). You can also start with Time, Object, Manner etc., and that results in Tv1SOMPv2I, Ov1STMPv2I etc. However, in English, the verb always comes after the subject, and auxiliary verbs are not separated from the normal verbs.

  • (AFR) Vandag het ek 'n bal geskop; (Literal EN) Today kicked I a ball; (EN) Today I kicked a ball
  • (AFR) In die kombuis het ek gister 'n koppie melk gedrink; (Literal EN) In the kitchen drank I yesterday a cup of milk; (EN) Yesterday in the kitchen I drank a cup of milk
  • (AFR) Ek moet die kos eet om vet te wees; (Literal EN) I must the food eat to become fat; (EN) I must eat the food to become fat

Note that verb 1 always comes second, no matter what you start with.

If there are 2 time words or 2 prepositions

If there are 2 time words or 2 prepositions, you can still construct the sentence, following this rule: For time words, the order that you must put them in is General - Specific, similarly to English.

  • (EN) Yesterday in the morning, I drank tea; (AFR) Gister het ek in die môre tee gedrink
  • (EN) Tomorrow at 8 I will climb a tree; (AFR) Môre sal ek om 8 uur 'n boom klim

For prepositions, the order that you must put them in is Specific - General, similarly to English.

  • (EN) There is a dog at my home in South Africa; (AFR) Daar is 'n hond by my huis in Suidafrika
  • (EN) In the English classroom at school, we learn; (AFR) In die Engelse klaskamer in skool leer ons


There is no distinction for example between the infinitive and present forms of verbs, with the exception of 'wees' (to be) and 'hê' (to have), which become 'is' and 'het' in present form.

Also, verbs do not conjugate differently depending on the subject. For example:

Afrikaans Literal Translation English
ek is I is I am
jy/u is you is you are (singular)
hy/sy/dit is he/she/it is he/she/it is
ons is we is we are
julle is you is you are (plural)
hulle is they is they are

For most verbs, the preterite (e.g. I watched) has been completely replaced by the perfect (e.g. I have watched), or in storytelling by the present tense (i.e. the use of a historical present, which is sometimes also employed in Dutch). The only common exceptions to this are the modal verbs, and the verb 'wees' (to be) (preterite form 'was').

Modal verbs
present form preterite form
Afrikaans English Afrikaans English
kan can kon could
sal will/shall sou would/should
moet must moes had to
mag may mog (archaic) was allowed to
wil want wou wanted

Modern Afrikaans also lacks a pluperfect (e.g. 'I had watched'). Instead, the pluperfect, like the preterite, is expressed using the perfect.

The perfect is constructed with the auxiliary verb 'het' + past participle, which—except for the verb 'hê' (past participle 'gehad'), separable verbs such as 'reghelp' (past participle 'reggehelp') and verbs with the beginnings 'be-', 'ge-', 'her-', 'er-', 'ver-', and 'ont-' ('verkoop', 'ontmoet' are both infinitive and past participle)—is formed regularly by adding the prefix 'ge-' to the verb's infinitive/present form. For example,

  • (AFR) Ek breek -> Ek het dit gebreek; I break -> I broke it, I have broken it, I had broken it

An object is necessary in this case, otherwise it implies that the subject (ek) is broken.

The future tense is in turn indicated using the auxiliary 'sal' + infinitive. For example,

  • (AFR) Ek sal kom; (EN) I will come

The conditional is indicated by the preterite form 'sou' + infinitive. For example,

  • (AFR) Ek sou kom; (Literal EN) I should come; (EN) I would come

Like other Germanic languages, Afrikaans also has an analytic passive voice that is formed in the present tense by using the auxiliary verb 'word' (to become) + past participle, and, in the past tense, by using the auxiliary 'is' + past participle. For example,

  • (AFR) Dit word gemaak; (EN) It is being made
  • (AFR) Dit is (Dis) gemaak; (EN) It is made, It was made, It has been made (so it already exists)

Formal written Afrikaans also admits the construction of 'was gemaak' to indicate passive voice in the pluperfect, which in this case corresponds to 'had been made'. The meaning of the sentence can change based on which auxiliary verb is used (is/was).

  • 'is gemaak' implies that something has been made and is still in existence today, whereas 'was gemaak' implies that something had been made, but was destroyed or lost.