Let’s make a language – Part 5c: Verbs (Ardari)

The nouns of our conlang Ardari, you might recall, were quite complex. So you’ll be happy to know that the verbal morphology, by contrast, is actually fairly simple. That doesn’t mean it’s less capable of expressing the full range of description, nor does it mean that everything is entirely straightforward. It’s just a little easier to figure out than the nouns, that’s all.

The shape of a verb

Where Ardari nouns had three main classes, verbs effectively have two. A verbal stem can end in either a consonant or a vowel, and the vowel stems are typically verbs with an intransitive meaning. This isn’t always true, of course, but it will be a fairly effective rule of thumb. There aren’t any genders or cases to worry about, no definite markers or plurals or anything like that. Just two main classes, and they share the same basic conjugation pattern.

We’ll use the same two example words from last time, but they’ll be the Ardari stem forms brin- “walk” and tum- “eat”. See the hyphens? That means that these aren’t words in their own right. They can’t stand alone, but we’ll see how to turn them into proper words.


Like Isian and many natural languages, Ardari requires agreement markers on its verbs. They’re a bit odd, though, mainly because there are two sets of them, and they don’t exactly mean what you think. First, let’s take a look at them.

Concord Agent Sing. Agent Pl. Pat. Sing. Pat. Pl.
1st Person -o -on -ma -mi
2nd Person -tya -tyi
3rd Person -a -e -da -dyi

As you can see, the forms change for person and number, but also for “agent” and “patient”. These are more technical terms than the usual “subject” and “object”, and for good reason. They don’t quite match up. For transitive verbs, it’s simple: the subject is the agent and the object is the patient. So we can say konatö fèse tumada “the man eats food”. (Verbs usually come at the end of a sentence in Ardari, by the way.)

Intransitive verbs are a little different. For many of them, the same rule applies: the subject is the agent. This is true for our example: brino “I walk”. But some are different. This class of irregular verbs consists mainly of those with less “active” meanings, like minla- “stand”. For these, the subject takes the patient concord markers: minlama “I stand”. Most of these are verbs just like “stand”, in the sense that they’re kind of “static”. I’ll point out those few that act like this as we meet them, but it’s one more thing to watch out for. Fortunately, they’re pretty easy to spot, as they’re mostly the stems that end in vowels.

Also, there’s a special concord marker -y. This is used in two main places. First, Ardari uses this for “weather” verbs, where English would have a dummy “it” as subject, as in luvy “it’s raining”. Second, any transitive verb can take it to make a passive-like construction: fèsetö tumyd “the food was eaten”, using the preterite tense marker we’ll see in a second.

Tense and aspect

Ardari has a total of seven classes that are effectively combinations of tense and aspect. Each of them (except the present, which is considered the default) has its own suffix, and that suffix goes after the concord markers above. The choices are:

  • -s: A present “progressive” that indicates an ongoing action: fèse tumodas “I am eating food”.

  • -d: The preterite, which is effectively a past tense, but always implies a completed action: fèse tumodad “I ate food”.

  • -dyt: Usually a past tense to reference actions that were ongoing at the moment in question: fèse tumodadyt “I was eating food”.

  • -jan: Implies that an event began in the past: fèsetö tumodajan “I began to eat the food”. (The technical term is inceptive.)

  • -ll: A basic future tense: fèse tumodall “I will eat food”.

  • -lyët: Used for speaking of events that will end in the future: fèsetö tumodalyët “I’m about to finish eating the food”. (Technically known as a cessative.)

Mood markers

In Ardari, a change in mood is handled by a separate set of suffixes that follow the tense markers. These include:

  • -u (-ru when following a vowel): A simple negation marker: brinaru “he doesn’t walk” or brinasu “he isn’t walking”. This can replace the final vowel of most of the other mood markers.

  • -ka (-ga when following voiced consonants): A subjunctive, mostly used for various types of phrases we’ll see later.

  • -afi (-rafi after a vowel): A conditional mood that states that another action depends on this one: brinarafi “if I walk”.

  • -je: An imperative, for giving commands or orders, but also used to express a desire, hope, or even a call to action: tumje “let’s eat”. (When combined with the negative marker, it becomes -ju, and it’s technically called the prohibitive.)

  • -rha: This one’s a little hard to explain, but it implies that the speaker assumes or otherwise doesn’t know for sure that the action has taken place: fèsetö tumadadrha “he ate the food, as far as I know”. (This is very much a rough translation.)

Most of these can be combined. The negative marker works with pretty much all the others, and the “indirect” -rha goes with anything but the imperative. The conditional and subjunctive are mutually exclusive, though, and the imperative doesn’t make sense with anything else. In total, there are 14 sensible combinations:

  • (no suffix): indicative
  • -ka: subjunctive
  • -afi: conditional
  • -je: imperative
  • -u: indicative negative
  • -ku: subjunctive negative
  • -afu: conditional negative
  • -ju: imperative negative (prohibitive)
  • -rha: indicative indirect
  • -karha: subjunctive indirect
  • -afirha: conditional indirect
  • -rhu: indicative indirect negative
  • -karhu: subjunctive indirect negative
  • -afirhu: conditional indirect negative

These 14 moods, combined with the seven tense suffixes and the 31 possibilities for concord give Ardari just over three thousand forms for each verb, but they’re all so regular and predictable that we don’t have to worry about ever memorizing anything like that. Instead, we can just build up a verb piece by piece. That’s the power of the agglutinative style of language.


That’s pretty much it for the basics of Ardari verbs. There’s a lot more to them, but we’ll cover everything else in a later post. For now, here are some new words, including all the new verbs I’ve used so far. With the exceptions of minla- and luz-, these are all perfectly regular, even the one for “to be”.

  • to be: èll-
  • to become: onyir-
  • to seem: ègr-
  • to stand: minla-
  • to have: per-
  • to come: ton-
  • to go: shin-
  • to drink: kabus-
  • to laugh: jejs-
  • to hold: yfily-
  • to hear: ablon-
  • to wash: oznèr-
  • to cook: lòsty-
  • to speak: sim-
  • to call: qon-
  • to read: proz-
  • to write: farn-
  • to want: majtas-
  • to rain: luz-

Next time

The next post will be about word order, so that we can finally start constructing sentences in our constructed languages. After that will be the third part of the trinity of word categories, the adjective. We’re really starting to flesh out both our conlangs. Pretty soon, we’ll be able to write a whole story in them.

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