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Lesson Transcript


Antoni: What is the difference between perfect and imperfect tense in Afrikaans?
Dewan: And how do you know which one to use?
Antoni: At AfrikaansPod101.com, we hear these questions often. Imagine this scenario: Lukas Venter and Mark Lee are talking about the food that they like. Lukas Venter says,
"When I was young, I used to eat pizza every day."
Lukas Venter: Toe ek jonk was, het ek elke dag pizza geëet.
Lukas Venter: Toe ek jonk was, het ek elke dag pizza geëet.
Mark Lee: Ek het gister pizza geëet.
Antoni: Once more with the English translation.
Lukas Venter: Toe ek jonk was, het ek elke dag pizza geëet.
Antoni: "When I was young, I used to eat pizza every day."
Mark Lee: Ek het gister pizza geëet.`
Antoni: "I ate pizza yesterday."

Lesson focus

Antoni: In this lesson, we will be looking at the difference between the perfect and imperfect tenses in Afrikaans. You will also be learning about which one you should use when.
But first, let’s just be sure we all know what we are talking about in terms of perfect and imperfect tenses. We’re not going to get technical about it. Instead, let’s just keep it simple by saying that a good example of how the imperfect tense is used in English is when we tell stories. For instance, a story might begin like this: “I was walking down the street…” This person is using the imperfect tense. The imperfect tense is what you use when you want to take someone back to the past as if the event or action is still in progress—just like one does in stories. A helpful trick might be to replace the word “imperfect” with the word “incomplete." The imperfect tense describes any action that is incomplete.
The perfect tense, on the other hand, describes an action that occurs before another action. An example would be to say “I had already eaten by the time my date arrived.” The “I had already eaten” part of the sentence is in the perfect tense. Generally, in English, the perfect tense always makes use of the auxiliary verb “have” in one form or another. This is good to know if you are learning English, but, for English speakers, this fact becomes really confusing when they want to learn Afrikaans. You see, Afrikaans uses the word “have” or
Dewan: het
Antoni: for just about ALL past tense constructions. In fact, you could say that Afrikaans only really has three tenses—the past, present, and future. To form the past tense in Afrikaans, one uses the auxiliary verb
Dewan: het
Antoni: and then adds the prefix
Dewan: ge
Antoni: to the verb in the sentence. Here’s an example that translates to “I sang.”
Dewan: Ek het gesing.
Antoni: Let’s break that down a bit. The Afrikaans word for “sing” is
Dewan: sing
Antoni: and the Afrikaans word for “sang” is
Dewan: gesing.
Antoni: Did you hear how we added the prefix to the verb? Now, listen to the full sentence again and listen to how he adds the auxiliary verb
Dewan: het
Antoni: as well. Here, we go:
Dewan: Ek het gesing.
Antoni: Just in case you forgot—that means “I sang.”
Now, here’s where it gets a little more complicated. If we want to form the imperfect tense in Afrikaans, meaning the tense where you are talking about something that was happening at a time in the past, then we don’t actually have to change anything. Let’s say you want to say “I was singing.” In Afrikaans, you could say
Dewan: Ek het gesing.
Antoni: Confused yet? As we said, Afrikaans really only has three tenses. Most of the time, if you want to convey something like the imperfect tense, you need to add context. There is another way though, and that is what we want to show you in this lesson.
In English, we can say, “I was busy singing” and that would also be the imperfect tense. In Afrikaans, if you want to write something in the imperfect tense, without any context, it is necessary to add other words that convey the “imperfectness” or “incompleteness” of the action. In the English sentence, we used as an example moments ago, that word was “busy." The word for “busy” in Afrikaans is
Dewan: besig
Antoni: Another thing you will notice about the English sentence is the use of the word “was”—“I was busy singing…” In Afrikaans, that word is
Dewan: was
Antoni: So, if we want to say the same sentence in Afrikaans, we can say
Dewan: Ek was besig om te sing.
Antoni: If we translate that directly, it comes out as “I was busy to sing.” The words
Dewan: om te
Antoni: mean the same as “to” in English when it is placed in front of a verb. Let’s have another example of this kind of construction. If we want to say “I was busy writing” in Afrikaans, we’d say
Dewan: Ek was besig om te skryf.
Antoni: This is one of the ways in which one can convey the imperfect tense in Afrikaans. Remember that one can also simply say
Dewan: Ek het geskryf
Antoni: and, as long as there is enough context, you will still be using something like the imperfect tense.
Let’s now have a look at some examples of the perfect tense in Afrikaans. Do you remember how we told you earlier that the perfect tense is when you talk about one thing in the past happening before another? Well, that’s what you can hear happening in this example, which means, “I had already eaten my food when my guest arrived.”
Dewan: Ek het reeds my kos geëet toe my gas daar aankom.
Antoni: An important thing to take note of when it comes to the perfect tense is that you will often hear words like “already” in the sentence. In Afrikaans, “already” is
Dewan: reeds.
Antoni: Another word you are likely to hear in a perfect sentence is “after.” The Afrikaans word for “after” is
Dewan: na
Antoni: or
Dewan: nadat
Antoni: Let’s look at a past perfect sentence using this word:
Dewan: Nadat ek my kos geëet het, het ek huis toe gegaan.
Antoni: This means, “After I ate my food, I went home.”
Hopefully, these examples will give you a good idea of how to form the perfect and imperfect tenses in Afrikaans.
[Recall 1]
Antoni: Let’s take a closer look at the dialogue.
Do you remember how Lukas says "When I was young, I used to eat pizza every day?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Dewan as Lukas Venter: Toe ek jonk was, het ek elke dag pizza geëet.
Antoni: What Lukas says here is a good example of how confusing the Afrikaans past tense can be without context. He is saying that he USED TO eat pizza every day, which is an imperfect tense construction, but if we translate the Afrikaans sentence literally, on its own, he simply says, “I ate pizza every day.” There is no equivalent of the words “used to” in the Afrikaans sentence to show us that he is using the imperfect tense. Again, it’s important to remember that Afrikaans uses context or other words that denote duration to convey the imperfect tense.
[Recall 2]
Antoni: Now, let’s take a look at our second sentence.
Do you remember how Mark says "I ate pizza yesterday?"
(pause 4 seconds)
Dewan as Mark Lee: Ek het gister pizza geëet.
Antoni: In this lesson, you learned that, in Afrikaans, the past tense is expressed in the same way as the English present perfect tense. In English, if we say, “I have eaten,” that is the present perfect, but if we say the same thing in Afrikaans,
Dewan: Ek het geëet
Antoni: I could very well be using the simple past or the present perfect. In other words, I might be saying, “I have eaten,” or “I ate." The distinction is made, in Afrikaans, through context. You also learned that something similar applies to the imperfect tense in Afrikaans. Where, in English, one can say, “I was speaking,” in Afrikaans, one can say
Dewan: Ek het gepraat
Antoni: which translates directly to the simple past in English “I spoke,” or it can mean “I was speaking.”
If one wants to use the past perfect in Afrikaans, it’s a little simpler because it’s more like in English where one uses words like “already” and “after” to form the tense. For example, if we want to say, “I had already spoken” in Afrikaans, we would say
Dewan: Ek het reeds gepraat,
Antoni: and we would know that we are in the past perfect tense. Unlike with other forms of the past tense in Afrikaans, this one is very clear and doesn’t really require additional words or context.
Expansion/Contrast (Optional)
Antoni: Earlier in this lesson, when talking about the imperfect tense, we pointed out that one can form it by using the verb
Dewan: was
Antoni: which means “was” and is the past tense of the verb “to be” or
Dewan: wees.
Antoni: We’d just like to add that, while most past tense expressions in Afrikaans take on what would be the present perfect form in English, there are those which don’t. These are expressions that contain the verb we just mentioned, as well as some of the modal verbs. Modal verbs are helping verbs, and they are usually found together with another verb to add to the meaning of the sentence. Consider the modal verb
Dewan: kan
Antoni: for instance. It means “can” and, in English, the past tense form would be “could." In Afrikaans, it is
Dewan: kon.
Antoni: Here, it is in a sentence, which means, “I could see nothing.”
Dewan: Ek kon niks sien nie.
Antoni: As you can hear, there is not a single
Dewan: het
Antoni: or
Dewan: ge
Antoni: in that sentence. The modal verb added more information about the verb “to see” or
Dewan: sien.
Antoni: As you can tell, it’s a good idea to get to know the modal verbs and their past tense forms so that you know how to use them in the past tense.
Antoni: Just a little pointer before we go. Thus far, we have only talked about forming the past tense by adding the prefix
Dewan: ge
Antoni: to the front of the verb. But, we want to point out that sometimes this prefix is placed in the middle of the verb. This is when the verb already has another prefix attached to it. A verb like
Dewan: bystaan,
Antoni: for instance, would become
Dewan: bygestaan
Antoni: This word means “supported” or “stood by.” You can use it in a sentence like “He stood by me” or
Dewan: Hy het my bygestaan.
Antoni: Afrikaans tenses might seem difficult to understand, but they are not. It’s because they are so simple that people sometimes get confused. As we mentioned before, Afrikaans only really has a past, present, and future tense. It's got none of that other complicated stuff, making it quite an easy language to learn.


Antoni: Do you have any more questions? We’re here to answer them!
Dewan: Totsiens!
Antoni: See you soon!
Credits: Dewan (Afrikaans, Pietermaritzburg), Antoni (English, synthetic voice)