Shemspreg verbs

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Verbs are words which express actions, perceptions, movements, mental conditions, and other relations. Verbs are at the core of all sentences, and are the most complex words in the language. Verbs are used to distinguish tense, aspect, valency, and mood-categories whose force or meaning apply to the whole sentence. In this chapter I discuss the formation and use of verbal stems and inflection, as well as processes used to derive new verbs.


There are two stems or grades which can be derived from each verbal root: full and reduced. The distinction between full and reduced grades is fundamental to tense distinctions in Shemspreg; full grade marks non-past tense, and reduced grade marks past tense. The examples below show how verbal grades can cue tense with the verb root nem- 'take'.

a. nemes 'takes, is taking'
b. enmi 'was taking'
nenmi 'took'

In (a), the full grade of the verb is used with present tense meaning. In (b) the reduced grade in used in both forms with past tense meaning. In this section I discuss how the grades are formed.

Full grade

The full grade is phonologically identical to the verbal root, which is the dictionary entry form; it is normally a single syllable in length. The full grade may or may not begin or end with a consonant.

nem- 'take'

sed- 'sit'

legh- 'lay'

mer- 'die'

ed- 'eat'

aj- 'drive (livestock)'

es- 'be'

doo- 'give'

poo- 'drink'

paa- 'feed'

ei- 'go'

The full grade may also contain a long vowel or diphthong.

saag- 'seek'

leekw- 'leave (tr)'

leezh- 'lick'

woid- 'know'

leuv- 'love'

aig- 'swing'

Many roots have three consonants either in the arrangement CRVC- or CVRC-, where R is a sonorant: r, l or n.

spreg- 'speak'

melj- 'milk'

terk- 'twist'

fend- 'tie'

Reduced grade

The reduced grade is derived from the root. To form the reduced grade from a root with a long vowel, the long vowel is shortened.

root reduced grade gloss
saag- sag- 'seek'
leekw- lekw- 'leave (tr)'
leezh- lezh- 'lick'
doo- do- 'give'

To form the reduced grade from a root with a diphthong, the diphthong is reduced to its second member.

root reduced grade gloss
woid- wid- 'know'
pneu- pnu- 'blow'
aig- ig- 'swing'
snau- snu- 'float'
pneu- pnu- 'breathe'
ei- i- 'go'

To form the reduced grade from a root with a short vowel, the short vowel is simply deleted.

root reduced grade gloss
nem- nm- 'take'
sed- sd- 'sit'
legh- lgh- 'lay'
mer- mr- 'die'
ed- d- 'eat'
aj- j- 'drive (livestock)'
es- s- 'be'

If the first consonant of a verb root is a rounded velar (kw, gw, or khw), the rounding of the rounded velar is vocalized as a u creating a CuC form for reduced grade.

Roots with three consonants yield a CRC sequence when the vowel is deleted to create the reduced grade. In these cases, the vowel i replaces the root vowel. If the root is of the form CRVC- the reduced grade is CRiC- (a). If the root is of the form CVRC- the reduced grade is CiRC- (b).

root reduced grade gloss
a. spreg- sprig- 'speak'
plech- plich- 'plait'
smer- smir- 'remember'
b. melj- milj- 'milk'
terk- tirk- 'twist'
fend- find- 'tie'


Verbs in Shemspreg distinguish between past and non-past tenses. As mentioned above, this contrast is cued by the use of the full and reduced grades of the verb. In addition, suffixes are used to mark tense.

Past tense

Verbs in the past tense use the reduced grade, to which the suffix -i is added.

esagi 'was seeking'

elezhi 'was licking'

enmi 'was taking'

esdi 'was sitting'

edi 'was eating'

esprigi 'was speaking'

etirki 'was twisting'

If the stem ends in e or i, an epenthetic y is inserted upon suffixation of -i.

eweyi 'was blowing' (< wee- 'blow')

emeyi 'was measuring' (< mee- 'measure')

Non-past tense

Non-past tense verbs use the full grade and bear the suffix -es. If the verbal stem ends with a vowel, the e is deleted upon suffixation of -es.

paas 'guards, is guarding'

doos 'gives, is giving'

If the verbal stem ends in a glide, there will be variation in the realization of the present tense suffix; if the glide is interpreted as a sonorant consonant in the coda, the present tense suffix will be vowel-initial es (a). The glide can also be analyzed as belonging to the nucleus with the stem vowel, in which case the present tense suffix is realized as s (b).

snau- 'float, swim'
a. snawes 'floats, swims; is floating, swimming'
b. snaus 'floats, swims; is floating, swimming'

The past tenses are used for events occuring before the moment of utterance, while the non-past tense is used for events occuring at or following the moment of utterance.


Shemspreg distinguishes between two verbal aspects in the past tense: perfective and imperfective. Perfective aspect indicates completed action, or action which is inherently complete, while imperfective aspect indicates incomplete or "open-ended" action. Both imperfective and perfective aspects are formed from the stem created by suffixation of -i to the reduced grade.


The imperfective is marked by the prefix e- which is attached to the past tense stem consisting of the reduced grade verb followed by the suffix -i.

root imperfective
snau- esnui 'was floating, swimming'
sed- esdi 'was sitting'
saag- esagi 'was seeking'
spreg- esprigi 'was speaking'


The perfective in Shemspreg is marked by prefixal reduplication. Reduplication is the repetition of part or all of the stem; in Shemspreg perfective reduplication is partial since only part of the stem is repeated. There are three basic reduplication patterns: 1) stems without an initial consonant cluster, 2) stems beginning with a cluster introduced by a consonant other than s, and 3) stems beginning with a cluster introduced by s. In all cases, the reduplicant, or copied portion of the stem, takes the shape of a simple open syllable.

For stems beginning with a simple consonant or with a vowel, the reduplicant consists of the initial consonant and the stem vowel, or of the stem vowel itself when there is no initial consonant.

root perfective
saag- sasagi 'sought'
woid- wowidi 'knew'
doo- dodoi 'gave'
sed- sesdi 'sat'
nem- nenmi 'took'
ed- edi 'ate'

The perfective reduplicant for stems beginning with a consonant cluster introduced by a consonant other than s consists of the initial consonant only followed by the stem vowel.

root perfective
pneu- pepnui 'breathed'
klee- kekleyi 'leaned, inclined'
gnoo- gognoi 'knew'

Stems beginning with a consonant cluster introduced by s form the reduplicant by first separating the s from the stem. If a single consonant is left, the reduplicant consists of this consonant followed by the stem vowel, preceded by the initial s.

root perfective
staa- statai 'stood'
snau- snanui 'floated, swam'
sker- skekri 'laughed'

If after separating the s there is a consonant cluster, the reduplicant consists of the initial consonant followed by the stem vowel, preceded by the separated s.

root perfective
spreg- speprigi 'speak'
splei- spepliyi 'split'
spyeu- spepyui 'spit'


In any Shemspreg sentence there are obligatory arguments which must be present to fill the roles implicit in the verbal stem. Thus a transitive verb like khwen- 'hit' requires two arguments: an agent (one who hits) and a patient (one who is hit). The number of obligatory arguments which a verbal stem requires is its valency. There are two morphological operations in Shemspreg which can alter the inherent valency of a verb: these are 1) passive, and 2) causative.


It is often useful to omit mention of the agent; this reduces the valency of the verb by one. In many modern Indo-European languages, this is accomplished by the passive verbal form. In Shemspreg, the passive is marked by the suffix -a which immediately follows the verbal stem; tense suffixes are attached to this derived stem. In the Shemspreg passive, the agent may be optionally expressed as an object of the preposition ge 'by reason of, because'. Examples are given below.

kwon edi meemsom.

kwon e- d -i meems -om
dog PERF- eat:0 -PAST meat -OBL

'The dog ate meat.'

meems edai (ge kwonom).

meems e- d -a -i (ge kwon -om)
meat IMPF- eat:0 -PASS -PAST (by dog -OBL)

'The meat was eaten (by the dog).'

rotowo khweghuni derum.

rotowo khwe- ghun -i deru -m
car PERF- hit:0 -PAST tree -OBL

'The car hit the tree.'

deru khweghunai (ge rotowom).

deru khwe- ghun -a -i (ge rotowo -m)
tree PERF- hit:0 -PASS -PAST (by car -OBL)

'The tree was hit by the car.'


In addition to the passive, Shemspreg also has an operation which increases the valency of a verbal stem by one. This is useful for expressing the discourse participant which is the cause of an action (causative) in addition to the obligatory arguments required by a verbal stem. This meaning is encoded in the suffix -eyo which is attached to the verbal stem, and to which tense suffixes are added. Examples are provided below for the verb ed- 'eat' (the verb edeyo- 'cause to eat' is probably better translated as 'feed').

kwon edi meemsom.

kwon e- d -i meems -om
dog IMPF- eat:0 -PAST meat -OBL

'The dog was eating some meat.'

wiro edeyoi meemsom ad kwonom.

wiro e- d -eyo -i meems -om ad kwon -om
man IMPF- eat:0 -CAUS -PAST meat -OBL to dog -OBL

'The man was feeding the dog some meat.'

An interesting feature of both the passive and the causative is that in each case the agent of the underived predicate is demoted from subject upon derivation.


The stem formed from the full grade of the verb is used as the imperative; no tense suffixes are added.

staa swe

staa swe
stand:IMP REFL

'Stand up!'

deuk wezhom

deuk wezho -m
pull:IMP wagon -OBL

'Pull the wagon!'


au ei
away go:IMP

'Go away!'

khou echwosom!

khou echwo -s -om horse -PL -OBL

'Pay attention to the horses!'


Participles are verbal forms which have nominal and adjectival functions. There are two participles in Shemspreg: the present and the past participle. The marker for both participles is the suffix -ent. The present participle is formed from the non-past verbal stem by removing the non-past tense suffix -es and adding the participial suffix -ent (a). The past participle is formed from the pefective (reduplicating) verbal stem by removing the past tense suffix -i and adding -ent (b).

nem- 'take'
a. nement present participle ('taking')
b. nenment past participle ('taken')

If the verbal stem ends with a vowel, the e of the participial suffix is deleted.

a. doo- 'give'
doont 'giving'
dodont 'given'
b. pneu- 'blow'
pnewent 'blowing'
pepnunt 'blown'

Participles are used both as nouns and as adjectives. When used as nouns they are inflected for case. Participle phrases can also be used in the place of subordinate clauses with regularly inflected (finite) verbs. Used in this way, the subordinate clause becomes an extended noun phrase and is inflected for case when appropriate.

a. pekwent akwa

pekw -ent akwa
cook -PTC water

'boiling water'

b. pepkwent oowi

pe- pkw -ent oowi
PERF- cook:0 -PTC egg

'boiled egg'

c. to edi pepkwentom

to e- d -i pe- pkw -ent -om
3p:NOM IMPF- eat:0 -PAST PERF- cook:0 -PTC -OBL

'They ate the boiled (ones).'

d. [ne wilna-wesent] owi

ne wilna- wes -ent owi
not wool- wear -PTC sheep

'a sheep without wool' (lit: "a sheep [which is] not wool-wearing")

e. wiro eskwi [kwonos meems-edentom].

wiro e- skw -i kwon -os meems- ed -ent -om
man IMPF- see:0 -PAST dog -GEN meat- eat -PTC -OBL

'The man watched the dog eat meat.' (lit: "the dog's meat-eating")

In (a) and (b), the participles built on pekw- 'to cook, boil' are used as adjectives; the present participle pekwent modifies akwa 'water' and the past participle pepkwent modifies oowi 'egg'. In (c) the participle pepkwent is used as a noun, which is made apparent by case inflection. In (d) the participle phrase ne wilna-wesent 'wearing no wool' is used adjectivally as a non-finite relative clause modifying owi 'sheep'; it is thus similar to the examples in (a) and (b). Finally, in (e) the participle phrase kwonos meems-edentom '(the) dog's eating meat' functions as a non-finite object complement clause; like the example in (c) this is made apparent by the oblique case marking on the participle itself. Also note that in (d) and (e) the direct objects of the participle phrases are incorporated into the participles to form compounds.

Deriving verbs

Derivational processes yielding verbs are not as common as for nouns; it is much more common to have derived nouns than verbs. Nevertheless, there are two kinds of derivational processes which yield verbs.

Distributive denominalization

A limited number of verbal stems can be created from noun stems by attaching the suffix -io (-yo for vowel-final stems); the derived verb forms have the meaning of spreading or distributing the nominal referent over an area.

sal 'salt' > salio 'to salt, season'

sker/n- 'dung' > skenio 'to spread dung, manure; to fertilize'

The resulting verbal stem participates in regular verbal inflection; the reduced grade of these derived stems is formed from the original noun stem, to which the suffix -io is attached.

sasliont 'seasoned'

skekniont 'fertilized'


Verbal negation can be syntactic or morphological. Syntactic negation is dealt with in Shemspreg sentences. Morphological negation is accomplished by adding the prefix in- to a verbal stem; this always has the meaning of undoing an action previously done, where the effects of the action can be reversed. Phonologically, the prefix assimilates in place of articulation to a following stop.

paaj- 'lock, fasten'

impaaj- 'unlock, unfasten'

deu- 'fit, put together'

indeu- 'take apart'

wes- 'dress'

inwes- 'undress'

When a negated verb is inflected for past tense (and thus takes a prefix), the negative prefix occurs on the outside of the the stem.

impaaj- 'unlock, unfasten'

inepaji 'is unlocking'

impapaji 'unlocked'


Shemspreg contains a number of particles which serve both as prepositions and as verbal prefixes, much like modern Germanic or Slavic languages. These particles are called preverbs. A list of common Shemspreg preverbs is given below.

inder- 'under' kom- 'with (instr)'
ambi- 'around' meta- 'between, with'
an- 'on, upwards' ni- 'downwards'
anti- 'over, against' ovi- 'towards'
apo- 'from, as of' pos(t)- 'after, behind'
au- 'away from' pro- 'ahead, before'
deksi- 'at the right side' som- 'together'
ekhs- 'out' traos- 'through'
en- 'in' ud- 'on high'
enter- 'between' uper- 'over'
eti- 'over, beyond' upo- 'under'

In prefixed verb constructions, the imperfective past tense form is marked only by the zero grade and the suffix -i; the imperfective prefix e- is omitted. The perfective past tense is formed by reduplication of the verb stem as expected, preceded by the prefix. Examples for the verb somspreg- 'converse' are given below.

somspreg- 'converse (lit. "talk together")'

somsprigi 'was conversing'

somspeprigi 'conversed'

Many verbs derived by prefixing are semantically transparent, but in some cases the meaning of the complex form cannot be predicted from the meanings of the parts. The examples below show some typical prefixed verbs.

a. ei- 'go'

an- 'on, upwards' > anei- 'ascend'

ni- 'downwards' > niyei- 'descend'

au- 'away from' > awei- 'go away'

kom- 'with' > komei- 'accompany'

enter- 'between' > enterei- 'intervene, mediate'

b. staa- 'stand'

som- 'together' > somstaa- 'support'

anti- 'against' > antistaa- 'resist'

apo- 'from' > apostaa- 'reject'

ni- 'down' > nistaa- 'stop'

c. spreg- 'talk'

som- 'together' > somspreg- 'converse'

eti- 'over' > etispreg- 'boast, brag'

anti- 'against' > antispreg- 'argue'

ambi- 'around' > ambispreg- 'prevaricate'

Modal verbs

Modal verbs are verbs which indicate the attitude of the speaker towards the action expressed in the sentence: should it happen? can it happen? There are three modals available in Shemspreg; they are given below.

may (possibility) pot-
must (necessity) som-
can (ability) gnoo-

Modals have syntactic properties which set them apart from regular verbs. Most notably, they take the "dummy" subject so and a complement clause as an object. The syntax of modals is discussed further in Shemspreg sentences.

Verb phrases

Just as noun phrases serve to refer to the participants in discourse, verb phrases serve as predicates of these participants. That is, verb phrases assert some quality, property, action or event of some discourse participant. Verb phrases may contain other elements besides a verb. Normally, the verb is initial in a verb phrase.

normal order: [V XP]

Jan edes abelesom.

Jan ed -es abel -es -om
John eat -PRES apple -PL -OBL

'John is eating apples.'

Occasionally, when the object of a verb does not have a specific referent, it may precede the verb in a verb phrase. Such an object will not bear the oblique case marker -(o)m, and is joined to the verb in writing with a hyphen, just as elements of a compound are joined together. Such an object is said to be incorporated.

Jan abel-edes.

Jan abel- ed -es
John apple- eat -PRES

'John eats apples.' (lit: "John apple-eats.")

Participle phrases resemble verb phrases with incorporated objects in that the object i) is joined to the participle like a compound, and ii) doesn't bear the oblique case marker.

a. [ne wilna-wesent] owi

ne wilna- wes -ent owi
not wool- wear -PTC sheep

'a sheep without wool' (lit: "a sheep [who is] not wool-wearing")

b. wiro eskwi [kwonos meems-edentom].

wiro e- skw -i kwon -os meems- ed -ent -om
man IMPF- see:0 -PAST dog -GEN meat- eat -PTC -OBL

'The man watched the dog eat meat.' (lit: "the dog's meat eating")


  1. Introduction to Shemspreg
  2. Shemspreg sounds
  3. Shemspreg nouns
  4. Shemspreg pronouns and other particles
  5. Shemspreg verbs
  6. Shemspreg adjectives
  7. Shemspreg sentences