Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!
Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!
AfrikaansPod101.com Blog
Learn Afrikaans with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

Your Easy Guide to Understanding Afrikaans Grammar

Thumbnail

Before we delve into this Afrikaans grammar guide, let’s get this out of our systems: Grammar in any language is a strange bird. Look at this joke in English, for instance:

Question: What is the longest sentence in the English language? 
Answer: “I do.”

Did you get it? If you didn’t and you’re an AfrikaansPod101 Premium PLUS student already, why not ask your tutor?

Male Hands in Handcuffs

If you’re not a member (or a punster), let me explain. “Sentence” means two things in English. This is how the online dictionary defines it:

A “sentence” is:

1. a set of words in most languages that is complete in itself, usually containing a subject and a clause that states something about the subject (A clause is a phrase or a part of a sentence.)

2. the punishment assigned to a defendant found guilty by a court, or fixed by law for a specific offence

Punning is the art of using an alternate meaning of a word in a comical way. This joke would not be funny if you didn’t know the second meaning of “sentence.”

But that’s not all—context is important too. So how does “I do” relate to a long prison sentence? Well, it’s simple, because there’s only one place where you would commonly use those words in relation to a lengthy commitment. Fortunately not for all, but for some, that’s marriage!

Male and Female Hands Together, Showing Wedding Bands

Yes, it’s not simple. Some students compare grammar to math and music studies—quite complex! So, for your convenience, we’ve compiled this free online Afrikaans language grammar guide. Study these principles thoroughly and you will get well ahead on your journey to learn Afrikaans.

Context can only be understood if you know a country’s culture and language well. For this, you’ll need to have the basics of the language’s grammar under your belt! 

The grammar of most languages can be subdivided and explained under two headings: lexicology and syntax.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Afrikaans Table of Contents
  1. Afrikaans Grammar: “Lexicology” / Woordleer
  2. Afrikaans Grammar: “Syntax” / Sintaksis
  3. AfrikaansPod101 – Your Excellent Afrikaans Grammar Companion!

1. Afrikaans Grammar: “Lexicology” / Woordleer 

Afrikaans is a West-Germanic language, very closely related to Dutch. These are the basics of its lexicological complexities.

1.1 “NOUN” / NAAMWOORD

DefinitionJust like in English, a naamwoord most often indicates something you can perceive with any one of your senses. These also include abstract things.
How to IdentifyTo spot a noun, ask the following questions:

a) Can I use it with an article, or lidwoord, such as ‘n (“a”) or die (“the”)? 

b) Does it have a plural form?

c) Can I turn it into a diminutive?

If you answer yes to these questions, then it’s a noun!
ExamplesJust like English nouns, Afrikaans nouns decline for number. Different from English, they also inflect for diminutives.

‘n rok / “a dress”
‘n rokkie / “a little dress”
die rokke / “the dresses”
Main Sub-categories
  • Soortnaam / “Appellative” or “Common/concrete noun”

    These are things you can count, such as: stoel (“chair”), Arabier (“Arab”),  waterdruppels (“water drops”), motorkar (“motor car”).

  • Abstrakte naamwoord / “Abstract noun”

    These include abstract things you cannot touch, such as: liefde (“love”), gedagte (“thought”), ideologie (“ideology”).

  • Massanaam / “Uncountable/mass noun”

    These are things you cannot count, such as: goud (“gold”), water (“water”), musiek (“music”), or hout (“wood”).

  • Maatnaam / “Noun of measurement”

    These are words that indicate the measured amount of a mass noun, such as: kilogram goud (“kilogram gold”), druppel water (“drop of water”), sakvol hout (“bagful of wood”).

  • Eienaam / “Proper noun”

    An eienaam can be the name of a specific person, place, publication, organization, brand, and so forth. These sometimes don’t take plural forms, and they can be categorized as: persoonsnaam (“personal names”), pleknaam (“name of a place”), organisasienaam (“name of an organization”), and so on.

  • Kollektiewe selfstandige naamwoord / “Collective noun”

    These nouns represent groups, such as: gehoor (“audience”), koor (“choir”), span (“team”).

  • Saamgestelde selfstandige naamwoord / “Compound noun”

    These are made up of two or more nouns, such as: waterbottel (“water bottle”), seekos (“seafood”), roomys (“ice cream”).

  • Werkwoordelike selfstandige naamwoord / “Verbal noun” 

    These nouns are derived from verbs, such as: die besluit (“the decision”), ‘n aanval (“an attack”), ‘n gebou (“a building”).

Water Droplets on Wood

WATERDRUPPELS OP HOUT (“WATER DROPS ON WOOD”)

1.2 “VERB” / WERKWOORD

DefinitionVerbs usually depict some sort of action, including abstract actions.
How to IdentifyTo identify a verb, ask the following questions:

a) Can I use a pronoun, such as “he,” “she,” or “we” (hy, sy, or ons), in front of it? Or, in other words, can someone or something perform this action?

b) Can it take a past tense form?
ExamplesAfrikaans verbs conjugate for tense, mood, and voice, but not for noun, pronoun, or number. So, we don’t worry about subject-verb agreement in Afrikaans. 

Here, we’ll discuss only the basics of tense conjugation. For more details, take a look at this article: All About Verb Conjugation in Afrikaans.
    Present Tense: Unlike English verbs, Afrikaans verbs conjugate exactly the same way for every pronoun and number in the present tense.

    Examples:
    Hy / Sy vlieg. (“He / She flies.”)
    Ons lag. (“We laugh.”)
    Julle bly. (“You stay/remain.”)
    Die honde blaf. (“The dogs bark.”)
    Past Tense: Afrikaans verbs typically conjugate with an auxiliary verb of time: het (“have” / “has”), which is used in front of a deelwoord (“past participle”). The latter is formed by adding the prefix ge- to the infinitive verb. Again, this conjugation remains the same for all of the pronouns.

    Examples:
    Hy / Sy het gevlieg. (“He / She flew.”) OR (“He / She has flown.”)
    Ons het gelag. (“We laughed.”) OR (“We have laughed.”)
    Julle het gebly. (“You stayed/remained.”) OR (“You have stayed/remained.”)
    Die honde het geblaf. (“The dogs barked.”) OR (“The dogs have barked.”)

    Future Tense: For the future tense, the auxiliary verb of modality (also called a modal verb) sal is used the same way as “will” (i.e., with the infinitive verb).

    Examples:
    Hy / Sy sal vlieg. (“He / She will fly.”)
    Ons sal lag. (“We will laugh.”)
    Julle sal bly. (“You will stay/remain.”)
    Die honde sal blaf. (“The dogs will/would bark.”)
    Historic Present Tense: This tense is sometimes used to describe something that happened in the past, but the verb remains in the present tense. Then we use the word toe (approximate: “when”).

    Example:
    Toe ek opstaan, glimlag hy vir my. (Lit. “When I stand up, he smiles at me.”) 

    It would not be incorrect to change it to the past tense, though.
Main Sub-categories
  • Oorganklike hoofwerkwoord / “Transitive main verb” 

    These verbs are identified when there is an object in the sentence. 

    Example:
    Hy drink koffie. (“He drinks coffee”). 
    “Coffee” is the object.

  • Onoorganklike hoofwerkwoord / “Intransitive main verb”

    These verbs are identified when there’s no object in the sentence. 

    Example:
    Ons slaap. (“We sleep.”)
    Sy lag spontaan. (“She laughs spontaneously.”) 

    Note: spontaan (“spontaneously”) is an adverb.

  • Hulpwerkwoorde / Lit: “Helping Verbs”

    These include two types of auxiliary verbs: the auxiliary verb of time het (“has”) and auxiliary words of modality, or modale hulpwerkwoorde. The latter category includes: sal, wil, moet, and probeer (“shall,” “will,” “must,” and “try”). 

    Example:
      Present: Die honde probeer blaf. (“The dogs try to bark.”)
      Past: Sy het gevlieg. (“She flew.”) / Ons het gelag. (“We laughed.”).
        ♦ Note: het is an auxiliary verb of time.
      Future: Julle sal bly. (Lit.: “You shall stay.”)
        ♦ Note: sal is not considered an auxiliary verb of time, but rather one of modality.

  • Koppelwerkwoorde / “Linking Verbs 1”

    In Afrikaans, we differentiate between two types of linking verbs. 

    Koppelwerkwoorde link the subject to a quality. Again, these remain unchanged for every pronoun and number. 

    Example:
      Present: Sy is mooi. (“She is pretty.”) / Ons is moeg. / (“We are tired.”)
      Past: Sy was mooi. (“She was pretty.”) / Ons was moeg gewees. (“We were tired.”)
        ♦ Note: gewees can be omitted for the past tense.
      Future: Sy sal mooi wees. (“She will be pretty.”) / Ons sal moeg wees. (“We will be tired.”)
        ♦ Note: the auxiliary verb wees is never omitted for the future tense.

  • Skakelwerkwoorde / “Linking Verbs 2”

    The second type of linking verb usually links auxiliary verbs with main verbs.

    Example:
      Past: Sy het net gelag. (“She just laughed.”)
      Future: Julle sal kom bly. (Lit.: “You will come stay.”)

A Woman Laughing

SY HET NET GELAG (“SHE JUST LAUGHED”)

1.3 “ADJECTIVE” / BYVOEGLIKE NAAMWOORD or ADJEKTIEF

DefinitionThese types of words modify or describe nouns.
How to IdentifyTo identify an adjective, ask the following questions:

a) Can I use the word in front of a noun?

b) Will it still say something about the noun if I use it after a linking verb (koppelwerkwoord)?

c) Does the word have degrees of comparison?
Examples1. In front of a noun: ‘n Gelukkige man (“a happy man”) / ‘n Opgewonde kind (“an excited child”)

2. After a linking verb / koppelwerkwoord: Hy is gelukkig. (“He is happy.”) / Die kind is opgewonde. (“The child is excited.”)

3. Degrees of comparison: Gelukkig, gelukkiger, gelukkigste (“Happy, happier, happiest”) / Opgewonde, meer opgewonde, die mees opgewonde (“Excited, more excited, the most excited”)
Main Sub-categoriesLike in English, there are two types of adjectives. The classification is based on their position in a sentence relative to the noun.
  • Attributief / “Attributive” – The attributiewe byvoeglike naamwoord (“attributive adjective”) stands in front of the noun.

    Example:
      Die mooi vrou (“The pretty woman”)

  • Predikatief / “Predicative” – Usually, the predikatiewe byvoeglike naamwoord (“predicative adjective”) stands after the koppelwerkwoord (“linking verb”).

    Example:
      Die vrou is gelukkig. (“The woman is happy.”)
Of course, you can use both types in the same sentence: Die mooi vrou is gelukkig. (“The pretty woman is happy.”)

Pretty Woman Laughing

DIE MOOI VROU IS GELUKKIG. (“THE PRETTY WOMAN IS HAPPY”)

1.4 “ADVERB” / BYWOORD

DefinitionThe adverb describes the verb or verbal clause in a sentence.
How to IdentifyWhich word says something about what happens or what is being done? The adverb should answer questions such as, “How?” “When?” “Where?” or “How much?”

Some adverbs have degrees of comparison.
Examples
  • Ons baklei nooit. (“We never fight.”)
  • Die kinders speel buite. (“The children play outside.”)
  • Sy ma is baie oud. (“His mom is very old.”)
Main Sub-categoriesAs you probably noticed in the examples, there are several types of adverbs. Following are the four main categories:
  • Bywoorde van tyd / “Adverbs of time”
    • gister, vandag, more (“yesterday,” “today,” “tomorrow”)
    • Example: Jou pakkie kom vandag. (Lit.: “Your parcel arrives today.”)

  • Bywoorde van plek / “Adverbs of place”
    • daar, hier (“there,” “here”)
    • Example: Die potplant staan hier. (“The potted plant stands here.”)

  • Bywoorde van graad / “Adverbs of degree”
    • ver, lank, werklik, baie (“far,” “long,” “really,” “very”)
    • Example: Die pad was lank. (“The road was long.”)

  • Bywoorde van wyse / “Adverbs of manner”
    • vinnig, stadig, hoog, hard (“fast,” “slow,” “high,” “hard”)
    • Example: Sy werk hard. (“She is working hard.”)

Tarred Road with Mountain on Background

DIE PAD WAS LANK. (“THE ROAD WAS LONG”)

1.5 “PRONOUN” / VOORNAAMWOORD

DefinitionA pronoun is a word that acts as a replacement for a noun in a sentence.
How to IdentifyAsk this question:

Can the word stand in place of the noun? In other words, does it refer to a person or a thing?
Examplesek, jy, hy, ons, dit, niemand, wie, hierdie, daardie (“I,” “you,” “he,” “we/us,” “it,” “nobody,” “who,” “this,” “that”)
Main Sub-categories
  • Persoonlike voornaamwoorde / “Personal pronouns”
    • Hy, sy, julle, ons (“he,” “she,” “you [plural],” “we”)
    • Example: Hy eet. (“He eats.”)

  • Onpersoonlike voornaamwoord / “Impersonal pronoun”
    • dit (“it”)
    • Example: Dit staan in die straat. (“It is standing in the street.”)

  • Besitlike voornaamwoorde / “Possessive pronouns”
    • Syne, hare, joune (“his,” “hers,” “yours”)
    • Example: Die tas is syne. (“The suitcase is his.”)

  • Vraende voornaamwoorde / “Interrogative pronouns”
    • Wie, wat, waar, wanneer (“who,” “what,” “where,” “when”)
    • Example: Wie is hierdie? (“Who is this?”)

  • Aanwysende voornaamwoorde / “Demonstrative pronouns”
    • Hierdie/dié, daardie (“this,” “that”). These function as determiners of the nouns.
    • Example: Hierdie is lekker. (“This is tasty.”)

  • Onbepaalde voornaamwoorde / “Indefinite pronouns”
    • Niemand, menige (“nobody,” “many”)
    • Example: Menige het opgedaag. (“Many came.”)

  • Betreklike voornaamwoord / “Relative pronouns”
    • Wie se, wie, wat (“whose,” “who,” “that”)
    • Example: Die vliegtuig wat nou opstyg is groot. (“The plane that is taking off now is large.”)

  • Wederkerige voornaamwoorde / “Intensive pronouns”
    • Myself, jouself, onsself (“myself,” “yourself,” “ourselves”)
    • Example: Jy vergeet van jouself op die verhoog. (“You forget yourself on stage.”)
    • Note: In sentences with these pronouns, the subject and the object are referring to the same person.

  • Wederkerende voornaamwoord / “Reciprocal pronoun”
    • Mekaar (“each other” / “one another”)
    • Example: Hulle het mekaar lief. (“They love each other.”)
    • Note: In sentences with this pronoun, the subject and the object are not referring to the same person.

A Couple Laughing at a Table

HULLE HET MEKAAR LIEF. (“THEY LOVE EACH OTHER.”)

1.6  “PREPOSITION” / VOORSETSEL

DefinitionPrepositions show a relationship between an object and another element in the sentence. It usually precedes the object of the sentence (which is a noun, a pronoun, or a clause/phrase with either). Prepositions indicate time or location, or introduce an object.
How to IdentifyAsk yourself if you can add an article and/or a noun after a voorsetsel (“preposition”).
Examplesonderaan, langs, agter, by, vir (“underneath,” “next to,” “behind,” “by,” “for”)
Main Sub-categoriesThere are three main types of prepositions.
  • Preposition of Time:
    • teen, voor, na, vandat, vanaf (“by,” “before,” “after,” “since,” “from”)
    • Example: Teen middagete was almal honger. (“By lunchtime everyone was hungry.”).

  • Preposition of Location:
    • op, teen, agter, bo-op, onder, binne in, van (“on,” “against,” “behind,” “on top of,” “under,” “right inside,” “from”). It is usually followed by an article and a noun, except in the case of proper nouns.
    • Example: Hulle is op die strand. (“They are on the beach.”) / Man van Atlantis (“Man from Atlantis”)

  • Preposition Introducing an Object:
    • vir, teenoor (“for/at,” “towards”)
    • Example: Ons lag vir die komediant. (“We laugh at the comedian.”)
Note: A common mistake is to label en (“and”) a preposition. “And” is a conjunction, because it joins words, phrases, and clauses. 

A Rear View of Couple Sitting on Deck Chairs on the Beach

HULLE IS OP DIE STRAND. (“THEY ARE ON THE BEACH.”)

1.7 “ARTICLE” / LIDWOORD

DefinitionArticles are short words that define nouns as nonspecific or specific. They are determiners that modify nouns.
How to IdentifyThere are only two articles in both English and Afrikaans: ‘n (“a”) and die (“the”). 
Examples‘n rekenaar (“a computer”)
die neef (“the cousin”)
Main Sub-categoriesTwo types of articles can be discerned:
  • Bepaalde lidwoord / “Definite article”
    • die (“the”) – This article modifies the noun to indicate only one, specific thing.
    • Example: Koop die rok maar nie die skoene nie. (“Buy the dress but not the shoes.”)

  • Onbepaalde lidwoord / “Indefinite article”
    • ‘n (“a”) – This article modifies the noun to indicate something general and non-specific.
    • Example: Dra ‘n rok, enige rok. (“Wear a dress, any dress.”)

Woman in Long Red Dress

DRA ‘N ROK, ENIGE ROK. (“WEAR A DRESS, ANY DRESS.”)

1.8 “CONJUNCTION” / VOEGWOORD

DefinitionA conjunction links words, phrases, and clauses, or ideas and thoughts—both literally, and in meaning.
How to IdentifyDepending on the conjunction, you could ask yourself this question: 

Can I discern two independent sentences by removing the conjunction?
ExamplesJan slaap terwyl ons werk. (“John sleeps while we work.”)
Patricia en Lukas was by die begrafnis. (“Patricia and Lukas were at the funeral.”)
Main Sub-categoriesUnlike in English, which categorizes conjunctions into three groups, Afrikaans categorizes them into only two groups. Some voegwoorde fall into both categories.

1. Neweskikkende voegwoord / “Coordinating conjunction”

These conjunctions join independent clauses, which are phrases that can function as sentences and still make sense when you remove the conjunctions. These conjunctions include: en, maar, want, of, dog, terwyl (“and,” “but,” “because,” “or,” “yet,” “while”).

Example: Hy slaap en ons werk. (“He sleeps and we work.”)

2. Onderskikkende voegwoord / “Subordinating conjunction”

This type of conjunction only joins dependent clauses. These are clauses that cannot function as a sentence, nor do they make sense when you remove the conjunction. These conjunctions include: hoewel, omdat, terwyl (“however/though,” “because,” “while”).

Example: Terwyl hy slaap, werk. (Lit.: “Though he sleeping was, were we working.”)

Sleeping Man

HY SLAAP EN ONS WERK. (“HE SLEEPS AND WE WORK.”)

1.9 “PARTICLE” / PARTIKEL

DefinitionParticles are short auxiliary words or parts of words that have no semantic meaning on their own. They modify nouns and verbs for negation, possession, comparison, etc.
How to IdentifyAsk yourself questions pertaining to the categories. For example: 

Is the word used to indicate negation? Is it used to indicate possession?
Examplesso…soos (“as”)
nie…nie (“not”)
se / (” ‘s “) – genitive
van (“of”)
Main Sub-categoriesMany of the following Afrikaans partikels are found in English, even though English doesn’t necessarily categorize them as such.
  • Ontkenningspartikel l “Negative particle”

    Afrikaans is known for its system of so-called double negation. It involves using the particle nie (“not”) twice to indicate negation. The two particles usually flank nouns, clauses, or phrases.

    Example: Ek is nie moeg nie. (“I am not tired.”) 

    The first nie is also an adverbial preposition.

  • Besitspartikel / “Genitive particle”

    These particles indicate possession, and include se and van (“genitive ‘s” and “of”).

    Example: Kieran se meisie is mooi. (“Kieran’s girlfriend is pretty.”) / Die meisie van Kieran is mooi. (“The girlfriend of Kieran is pretty.”)

  • Vergelykingspartikel / “Comparison”

    So…soos (“as…as”) are labeled specifically as particles in Afrikaans, and indicate a comparison between two things or ideas.

    Example: so vars soos ‘n oggendbries (“as fresh as a morning breeze”)

  • Deelpartikel / “Preposition”

    The preposition van (“of”) links words and phrases that indicate possession. 

    Example: Sewe van die nege vrouens is blond. (“Seven of the nine women are blond.”)

  • Infinitiefpartikel / “Infinitive particle”

    Om…te (“to + infinitive”) is always used with the base form of a verb to indicate the infinitive.

    Example: Hy sukkel om te loop. (“He struggles to walk.”) / Die kat is gelukkig om hierdie kos te eet. (“The cat is happy to eat this food.”)

  • Werkwoordpartikel / “Verb particle”

    These include op, af, uit, weg (“up,” “down,” “out,” “away”). Like in English, this particle modifies the verb.

    Example: Eet jou kos op. (“Eat up your food.”) / Hulle breek weg van die groep. (“They break away from the group.”) / Sy het haar kêrel afgesê. (“She broke up with her boyfriend.”) 

    Note: Uitmaak and its translation “made out” mean the exact opposite. In Afrikaans, it means that a couple plans to break up their relationship when you say: Hulle gaan uitmaak. However, in the translation “They will make out,” “making out” is an euphemism for sexual intercourse.

  • Graadpartikel / “Adverb particle”

    The particle te (“too”) modifies the verb to indicate excess. 

    Example: Dis te warm in die woestyn. (“It’s too hot in the desert.”)

Desert Dunes

DIS TE WARM IN DIE WOESTYN. (“IT’S TOO HOT IN THE DESERT.”)

1.10 “NUMBER WORDS” / TELWOORDE

DefinitionThese words indicate numbers or an amount.
How to IdentifyAsk yourself these questions:

a) Can I symbolize the word with numbers, like 1,2,3…? (With the exception of onbepaalde hooftelwoorde [“indefinite pronouns”].)

b) Can I turn the word into a rangtelwoord (i.e. ordinal number)?

c) Is it impossible to grade the word? (Number words cannot be expressed in grades. We cannot say, for instance, “one-er” or “one-est.” “One” is and can only be that—a single thing!)

d) Is this word indispensable in its modification of the noun? (A noun in a sentence will still “work” if adjectives are removed. However, most often, determiners such as numbers are indispensable to the meaning of the noun.)
Exampleself (“eleven”)
twee-en-twintig (“twenty-two”)
tiende (“tenth”)
massas (“masses”)
Main Sub-categoriesAll number words function as determiners of nouns (and not as adjectives).
  • Bepaalde hooftelwoord / Lit: “Definite cardinal-number word”

    These words denote quantity: een, twee, drie (“one,” “two,” “three”).

  • Onbepaalde hooftelwoord / Lit: “Indefinite cardinal-number word”

    These are also indefinite pronouns: hordes, massas, talle (“hordes,” “masses,” “many/countless”).

  • Bepaalde rangtelwoord / Lit: “Definite ordinal-number word”

    These words indicate rank: eerste, tweede, derde (“first,” “second,” “third”).

  • Onbepaalde rangtelwoord / Lit: “Indefinite ordinal-number word”

    laaste, soveelste (“last,” “umpteenth”)

1.11 “INTERJECTIONS” / TUSSENWERPSELS

DefinitionAn interjection is an utterance or exclamation that conveys a certain meaning or emotion.
How to IdentifyAsk yourself if the word can:
  • stand alone in a sentence, and
  • be followed by an exclamation mark.
There are some common interjections in every language, such as “Wow!”, and these are easily understood. However, every language also has culture-specific interjections, with nuances that won’t be easily discerned by a non-native speaker. It’s also difficult to describe their meaning to a non-native. Only by regularly practicing your Afrikaans with natives could you gain the subtler meanings of some interjections. (Others you may never fully understand!)
Examples
  • Eina! (“Ouch!”)
  • Sjoe! (Approximate: “Wow!”) This is commonly used in any situation that inspires awe.
  • Aitsa! (Approximate: “Wow! That’s great!”) This is used only if you’re impressed by something, usually positive. 
  • Haai?! (Approximate: “Huh?!”)
  • Siestog / Foeitog (Approximate: “It’s a shame”)
  • Awê (“Hi there”)
  • Aikona (“No”)
Main Sub-categoriesNone.

Woman Looking Amazed

SJOE! (“WOW!”)

Got it? Probably not, but don’t despair. No valuable discipline is ever gained overnight! 

Now let’s move on to the next point of basic Afrikaans grammar: how Afrikaans words get strung together into sentences.

2. Afrikaans Grammar: “Syntax” / Sintaksis

Syntax, which is the basic grammatical structure of sentences, can be a gruellingly complex subject in any language. Correct Afrikaans grammar largely depends on your ability to form sentences according to the proper structures and rules. However, the basics are fairly similar to English. 

Buckle up!

2.1 Enkelvoudige Sin (“Simple Sentence”) VS Saamgestelde Sin (“Compound Sentence”)

A) Simple sentences in both English and Afrikaans follow a simple Subject-Verb (SV) format. For example: Die kind eet. (“The child eats.”)

Notes: 

  • Simple sentences can have only one verb or gesegde. In Afrikaans syntax, single verbs and clauses are referred to as gesegdes (approximately: “clauses”). Read on for more about this.
  • Also remember: a gesegde comprising an auxiliary verb + main verb  = only one verb! 

B) Compound sentences always contain two verbs or gesegdes (“clauses”). For example: Die kind eet terwyl die hond blaf. (“The child eats while the dog barks.”)

2.2 Parts of Simple and Compound Sentences

Sentences consist of other parts, too. Very briefly, the following:

A) Enkelvoudige sinne / “Simple sentences”

1. Onderwerp (“Subject”)
Who or what performs the action in the sentence or phrase? The answer is always the subject. For example: Clint vlieg die vliegtuig. (“Clint flies the airplane.”)

2. Voorwerp (“Object”)
In a sentence, the object usually follows the subject (except in the passive voice). The object is that which the action is performed upon. For example: Clint vlieg die vliegtuig. (“Clint flies the airplane.”)

Note:

  • Direkte voorwerp / “Direct object”

    The direkte voorwerp (“direct object”) always follows the main transitive verb. For example:

      Vlieg (“fly”) = main verb
      Vliegtuig (“airplane”) = direkte voorwerp (“direct object”)

  • The indirekte voorwerp / “Indirect object”

    An indirekte voorwerp (“indirect object”) always follows a preposition. For example: Clint vlieg die vliegtuig vir Paul. (“Clint flies the airplane for Paul.”)

    The preposition vir is followed by Paul, the indirekte voorwerp (“indirect object”).

3. Gesegde (“Clause”)
As mentioned, all verbs and clauses are called a gesegde (approximate: “clause”) in Afrikaans syntax. They are sometimes referred to as a werkwoordstuk. (Lit: “verb piece”).

Example: Clint het die vliegtuig gevlieg. (“Clint flew the airplane.”)

    Het (“has”) = auxiliary verb of time
    gevlieg (“flew”) = main verb, simple past tense

(Refer back to Auxiliary Verbs of Time under the previous section for more information on the prefix ge-.)

Fighter Plane Pilot in the Cockpit

CLINT HET DIE VLIEGTUIG GEVLIEG. (“CLINT FLEW THE AIRPLANE.”)

4. Byvoeglike & Bywoordelike Bepalings (“Adjective and Adverbial Clauses”)

i) Byvoeglike Bepalings: In Afrikaans syntax, all adjective words or clauses are grouped under byvoeglike bepalings. Like in English, these describe nouns.

Example 1 [Single word adjectives]: Die honger kind eet die lekker kos. (“The hungry child eats the tasty food.”) 

Example 2 [Adjective phrases]: Die kind met die rooi trui eet die kos met baie kaas. (“The child with the red jersey eats the food with lots of cheese.”) 

ii) Bywoordelike Bepalings: All adverbial words or clauses are called bywoordelike bepalings in Afrikaans syntax. As in English, these describe actions or verbs. Adverbial words or clauses are divided into four groups: time, place, manner, and degree. 

Refer back to Bywoorde (“Adjectives”) under the previous section for examples of single words that fall into this category. Following are examples of adverbial clauses:

Example 1: Voor haar vertrek moet sy eers groet. (“Before her departure she must first greet.”) 

Here, the underlined = bywoordelike bepaling van tyd (“adverbial clause of time”).

Example 2: Hulle gaan oorslaap in die beste hotel. (“They are going to sleep over in the best hotel.”)

Here, the underlined = bywoordelike bepaling van plek (“adverbial clause of place”).

Couple Standing at a Hotel Reception

HULLE GAAN OORSLAAP IN DIE BESTE HOTEL. (“THEY ARE GOING TO SLEEP OVER IN THE BEST HOTEL.”)

B) Saamgestelde sinne / “Compound sentences” 

Compound sentences consist of two or more clauses or simple sentences with ideas that relate to each other. As mentioned, in Afrikaans syntax these always contain two gesegdes (“verbs” or “clauses”).

1. Neweskikkende sin / “Coordinating sentence”

Parts of sentences are grouped under this heading when they are of equal importance in terms of meaning. In Afrikaans, they also still make sense when the neweskikkende voegwoord (“coordinating sentence”) is removed, and can function as simple sentences.

Example: Jan wil skei maar Marta weier. (“John wants to divorce but Martha refuses.”) 

2. Onderskikkende bysin / “Subordinating sentence”

Compound sentences can also contain a main sentence and one or more subordinating clauses. The latter is identified by the fact that it doesn’t make sense when it stands alone. In such a case, the subordinating sentence or clause is called a bysin.

Example: Die man wat in die rooi sportsmotor ry, moet voor parkeer. (“The man who’s driving the red sports car must park in the front.”

Here, the underlined = Onderskikkende bysin.

Red Sports Car

DIE MAN WAT IN DIE ROOI SPORTSMOTOR RY MOET VOOR PARKEER. (“THE MAN WHO’S DRIVING THE RED SPORTS CAR MUST PARK IN THE FRONT.”)

2.3 Basic Word Order – STOMPI

Like most Germanic languages, such as English, Dutch, and French, the basic Afrikaans sentence follows the SVO pattern:

Subject: Ek
Verb: drink
Object: koffie

Translation: “I drink coffee.”

A Cup of Coffee with Coffee Beans

Obviously, things get more complex as you expand sentences. Throw adjectives, adverbs, conjunctions, etc., into the mix, and you soon sit with a more difficult sentence pattern. 

For this, we have a rule-of-thumb in Afrikaans: the oft-quoted STOMPI rule. It’s beguilingly simple because almost every sentence will more-or-less follow this pattern. Stick to this pattern, and you’re very unlikely to mess up your word order.

Note: Only in much-extended sentences will you be able to apply the STOMPI rule completely. This topic is thoroughly covered in our Afrikaans Word Order article, so be sure to study that too.

STOMPI is the easy acronym we use, but since we’re dealing with grammar, that’s not the whole picture. This is because it actually includes two silent verbs, and therefore stands for:

Subject              Die reën
(V1) Verb 1        kom
Time                  soms
Object               vir die Kapenaars
Manner             saggies
Place                 oor die berge
(V2) Verb 2        gesluip
Infinitive             om verligting te bring.

Translation: “The rain sometimes sneaks quietly over the mountains for the Capetonians to bring relief.”

As you can see, this is a very long, descriptive sentence. The following one is simpler, but also correct.

Subject            Die reën
(V1) Verb 1      sluip
Time                soms
Object               –
Manner             
Place                oor die berge
(V2)                   
Infinitive            om verligting te bring.

Translation: “The rain sometimes sneaks over the mountains to bring relief.”

3. AfrikaansPod101 – Your Excellent Afrikaans Grammar Companion!

Well, this is a whopper of a double-cream, super-sized article that hopefully whet your appetite for more! Do you have any comments or Afrikaans grammar questions? Don’t be shy! Post them below.

Also be sure to enroll right away so you can immediately start with some Afrikaans grammar exercises. As you can see, there’s a lot to know. But relax—AfrikaansPod101 really does take the lead in Afrikaans learning.

We offer you several excellent Afrikaans learning tools to help you master the language easily and almost effortlessly. There are so many learning options available! 

Our well-researched tools include:

1. An extensive vocabulary list page, updated regularly.

2. A new Afrikaans word to learn every day. Master these words easily with our recordings and flashcards!

3. Access to numerous recordings, such as those in this Afrikaans Vocab Builder.

4. A free Afrikaans online dictionary.

5. An excellent 100 Core Afrikaans Words list!

Learn much faster with the help of a personal tutor, who will first let you take an assessment to personalize your training. From there, he or she will work one-on-one with you to help you reach your goals and overcome obstacles.

Happy learning!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Afrikaans