Thursday, August 23, 2012

Umesafiri Kenya? La, sijasafiri Kenya

The question in the title means in Swahili „Have you (already) traveled to Kenya?” The answer: “No, I haven’t (yet) traveled to Kenya. The perfect tense is the second one I deal with in this blog. Similarly to the present tense, the affirmative form is built with a different infix that the negative one.

Affirmative form is constructed with the help of the infix -me-, giving the following:
  • ni-me-soma (I have read)
  • u-me-soma
  • a-me-soma
  • tu-me-soma
  • m-me-soma
  • wa-me-soma

This tense is used generally to express the actions or events that have happened in the past but their results are still enduring (in English we use the Present Perfect).
The tense marker -mesha- (sometimes -mekwisha- can be heard) adds ‘already’ to the meaning. Thus, ni-mesha-soma means “I have already read”.

Negative form is constructed using a negative prefix ha-, except for the first person singular which requires si-, plus an infix -ja-. With the verb ‘-soma’ it looks like this:
  • si-ja-soma (I haven’t read)
  • hu-ja-soma
  • ha-ja-soma
  • hatu-ja-soma
  • ham-ja-soma
  • hawa-ja-soma

The infix -ja- gives to the action not only perfective form, but also adds to it „not yet” meaning. Thus ‘sijasoma’ means “I haven’t yet read” rather then “I haven’t read”.
The word “bado” is often used with the negative perfective tense. It means “not yet” or “still” when used with the present tense.

All in all, the perfective tense is used when we want to say that the action didn’t take place but we think it still might happen. If we’re sure or want to stress that it won’t happen we use another infix: -ku-. More about it in one of the future posts.

Monosyllabic verbs use verbal nouns or ku- form of the verb, but only in the affirmative. Examples:
  • amekuja – he has gone / she has gone
  • nimekula – I have eaten
  • umekunywa – you have drunk
  • sijaja – I haven’t arrived (yet)

Good example of using the perfect tense in Swahili is when talking about a marital status. In such a case we can translate it as perfect but also as present. Examples:
Umeolewa? – Have you already gotten married? / Are you married? (to a woman)
Ndiyo, nimeolewa. – Yes, I have already gotten married / I am married.
La, sijaolewa. – No, I haven’t yet married. / I am not married.
Umeoa? – Are you married? (to a man)
La, bado sijaoa.
Note: ‘sijaoa’ means “I have not yet married”, but it can be also translated as “I’m single”.

Other examples:
Nimezaliwa Nairobi. – I was born in Nairobi.
Nimesahau habari zako. – I’ve forgoten about your staff.
Umeshindwa kufanya kazi yako. – You’ve failed to do your work.
Amekosea. – He’s made a mistake.

Note: some verbs although grammatically in the perfect tense have a present tense meaning. Here they are:
Nimechelewa. – I am late (from -chelewa: to be late)
Amekaa. - He is sitting (from -kaa: to sit)
Tumepotea. – We are lost (from -potea: to be lost)
Wamechoka. – They are tired (from -choka: to be tired)
Imevunjika. – It is broken (from -vunjika: to be broken)
Look also above for verbs -oa, -olewa.


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