A typical verb denotes the occurrence or abandonment of an action (run, stop), a relationship (have, lose), or a state (stand, melt). In Elefen, verbs do not change to indicate such things as tense or mood. Instead, adverbs are used – especially the three preverbs ia, va, and ta. Any verb can be reused without change as a noun.
The future tense is marked with va (a word of French origin). Past tenses, including perfect and pluperfect, are marked with ia (of Chavacano origin). These are special adverbs that precede the verb. The present tense is unmarked:
- Me canta. – I sing / I am singing.
- Me va canta. – I will sing / I am about to sing.
- Me ia canta. – I sang / I was singing / I have sung / I had sung.
Stories often describe events that take place in the past (or an imagined past), or whose location in time is of no concern to the reader. In such cases, the ia may be omitted.
Elefen does not distinguish perfect and imperfect aspects of the verb (e.g. “I ate”, “I used to eat”, “I have eaten”, “I had eaten”). However, one can easily clarify the temporal sequence of two actions by marking the earlier one with ja (“already”):
- Cuando tu ia encontra nos, nos ia come ja. – When you met us, we had (already) eaten.
- Si tu reveni doman, me va fini ja la labora. – If you come back tomorrow, I will have (already) finished the work.
- Sempre cuando me ateni la fini de un capitol, me oblida ja la titulo. – Whenever I reach the end of a chapter, I’ve (already) forgotten the title.
There are other ways to clarify the temporal sequence:
- Me ia come ante aora. – I ate before now.
- Me ia come plu temprana. – I ate earlier.
- Me ia fini come. – I finished eating.
- Me va come pronto. – I will eat soon.
- Me comensa come. – I start to eat.
- Me va come pos acel. – I will eat after that.
- Me va come plu tarda. – I will eat later.
- Me ia abitua come en la note. – I used to eat during the night.
- Me ia come abitual en la note. – I used to eat during the night.
Elefen has an optional “irrealis” particle ta (of Haitian origin) that can be used to indicate that something is unreal, or in doubt, or merely possible or desired. A sentence with ta addresses an alternative reality. In sentences using si (“if”), ta is added in the main clause, but it is usually omitted in the “if” clause – although including it there is not prohibited. It can suggest a future that is less probable than one using va. Ta can also convey a polite request. It can be used in various situations where many languages would use subjunctive or conditional moods, and it often corresponds to the English word “would”:
- Si me ta rena la mundo, cada dia ta es la dia prima de primavera. – If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring.
- Si lo no esiste, on ta debe inventa lo. – If it didn’t exist, you’d have to invent it.
- Si tu canta, me va escuta. – If you sing, I will listen.
- Si tu va canta, me va escuta. – If you will sing, I will listen.
- Si tu canta, me ta escuta. – If you sing, I would listen.
- Si tu ta canta, me ta escuta. – If you were to sing, I would listen.
- Me duta ce tu ta dise acel. – I doubt you would say that.
- Tu ta dona la sal, per favore? – Would you pass the salt, please?
Normally, only one of va, ia, and ta can be used with each verb. An exception is ia ta, which has the same meaning as the past conditional in the Romance languages and “would have” in English. An example is an amusing comment by Richard Nixon:
- Me ia ta es un bon pape. – I would have made a good pope.
Unlike in English, reported speech in Elefen retains the tense of the original utterance:
- El ia dise ce la sala es fria. = El ia dise: “Oji, la sala es fria.” – He said the room was cold. = He said: “The room is cold today.”
- El ia demanda esce la sala es fria. = El ia demanda: “Esce la sala es fria?” – He asked if the room was cold. = He asked: “Is the room cold?”
- El ia pensa ce la sala ia es fria. = El ia pensa: “Ier, la sala ia es fria.” – He thought the room had been cold. = He thought: “The room was cold yesterday.”
The imperative, or command form of the verb, is unmarked. It differs from the present tense in that the subject is omitted. The subject would normally be tu or vos, i.e. the person addressed. Ta or ta ce can be used if a subject has to be included:
- Para! – Stop!
- Pardona me. – Excuse me / Sorry.
- Toca la tecla de spasio per continua. – Press the spacebar to continue.
- Vade a via, per favore! – Please go away!
- Ta ce tua rena veni! – May thy kingdom come!, would that thy kingdom come!
- Ta ce nos dansa! – Let’s dance!
Verbs are negated with the adverb no, which precedes both the verb and va, ia, or ta:
- Me no labora oji, e me no va labora doman. – I’m not working today, and I won’t be working tomorrow.
- El no ia pensa ce algun es asi. – He didn’t think anyone was here.
- No traversa la strada sin regarda. – Don’t cross the street without looking.
A participle is a verb used as an adjective or adverb. Verbs form active participles in -nte, and passive participles in -da. These are adjectives equivalent to those in ”-ing” and ”-ed” (or ”-en”) in English, and can be used equally well as adverbs and nouns. The active participle normally also implies an ongoing action, while the passive participle suggests that the action occurred in the past:
- Un ruido asustante ia veni de la armario. – A frightening noise came from the cupboard. (adjective)
- La om creante scultas es amirable. – The man creating sculptures is admirable. (adjective; = la om ci crea scultas)
- El ia sta tremante en la porta. – She stood shivering in the doorway. (adverb)
- Nos ia colie tota de la composantes. – We have collected all of the components. (noun)
- Per favore, no senta sur la seja rompeda. – Please do not sit on the broken chair. (adjective)
- El ia leje xocada la reporta. – He read the report in shock. (adverb)
- Sua novela va es un bonvendeda. – Her novel will be a bestseller. (noun)
The active participle can have an object. Furthermore, it can be used as a complement of the verb es to convey a progressive sense:
- Me es lenta asorbente la informa. – I am slowly absorbing the information.
- Me no ia disturba tu, car tu ia es laborante. – I didn’t disturb you, as you were working.
But a participial construction is often unnecessary, as there are others ways to express this meaning:
- Me asorbe lenta la informa. – I slowly absorb / am slowly absorbing the information.
- Vade a via, me labora. – Go away, I’m working.
- Me continua come. – I continue to eat.
- Me come continual. – I eat continually.
- Me come tra la dia intera. – I eat throughout the day.
The passive participle can be used as a complement of the verbs es or deveni, producing a passive sense. Par (“by”) introduces the agent of a passive action:
- Esta sala ia es pintida par un bufon. – This room was painted by a clown.
- La sala deveni pintida. – The room is being painted.
- Acel ponte ia es desiniada par un injenior famosa. – That bridge was designed by a famous engineer.
- Lo ia deveni conoseda ce el ia es un om perilosa. – It became known that he was a dangerous man.
An active sentence with on or algun as its subject is often an elegant alternative to a passive sentence:
- On pinti la sala. – The room is being painted.
- On no sabe cuanto persones teme aranias. – It’s not known how many people are afraid of spiders.
- Algun ia come lo. – It was eaten by someone.
The active participle of es is esente:
- Esente un bufon, el ia senta sur la seja rompeda. – Being a clown, he sat on the broken chair.
A transitive verb is one that can be directly followed by a noun phrase (an object), with no intervening preposition. An intransitive verb does not have an object. For example:
- Me senta. – I am sitting. (senta is intransitive)
- La patatas coce. – The potatoes are cooking. (coce is intransitive)
- El usa un computador. – She’s using a computer. (usa is transitive)
- Los come bananas. – They’re eating bananas. (come is transitive)
Transitivity is flexible in Elefen. For example, if you add an object after an intransitive verb, the verb becomes transitive. The object corresponds semantically to the intransitive subject, and the verb now means “causes (the object) to …”:
- Me senta la enfantes. – I seat the children. (= Me causa ce la enfantes senta)
- Me coce la patatas. – I cook the potatoes. (= Me causa ce la patatas coce)
The object of a transitive verb can be omitted if it’s obvious from the situation or the context:
- El canta un melodia. – She’s singing a tune. > El canta. – She’s singing. (= El canta alga cosa)
When a verb’s object and subject are the same thing, you can use a reflexive pronoun as the object:
- Me senta me. – I seat myself / I sit down. (= Me deveni sentante)
- La porte abri se. – The door opens (itself). (= La porte abri – but emphasizing that nobody seems to be opening it; it’s opening by itself)
And to make it clear that a verb is being used transitively, you can use expressions with fa or causa:
- Me fa ce la enfantes senta. – I make the children sit. (= Me senta la enfantes)
- Me causa ce la fango adere a mea botas. – I cause the mud to stick to my boots. (= Me adere la fango a mea botas)
In some languages, the object of a transitive verb can have a complement. Elefen uses other constructions instead:
- Los ia eleje el a presidente. – They elected him president. (preposition of resulting state)
- Me ia pinti la casa a blanca. – I painted the house white. (preposition of resulting state)
- Me ia fa ce el es felis. – I made him happy. (noun clause)
- El ia dise ce me es stupida. – He called me stupid. (noun clause)
The one exception involves the verb nomi, and is regarded as an example of apposition:
- La esplorores ia nomi la rio la Amazon. – The explorers named the river the Amazon. (= los ia dona la nom “la Amazon” a la rio)
Verbs with dummy subjects
Every finite verb in Elefen must have a subject, even if only as a placekeeper.
In some languages, it’s possible to omit the subjects of verbs that refer to the weather or the general environment. In Elefen, lo (“it”) is used:
- Lo neva. – It’s snowing.
- Lo va pluve. – It’s going to rain.
- Lo es tro calda en esta sala. – It’s too hot in this room.
- Lo es bon – It’s good.
Another example is when the subject is effectively a trailing noun clause. Because it comes after the verb, lo is used as a dummy subject:
- Lo pare ce tu es coreta. – It seems that you are correct.
- Lo es importante ce me no oblida esta. – It’s important that I don’t forget this.
Likewise, with the verb es, if the subject is a pronoun (typically el, lo, or los) followed by a relative clause, one can move the real subject to the end of the sentence and substitute lo as a dummy subject:
- Lo es me ci ama Maria. = El ci ama Maria es me. – It’s me who loves Mary. = The one who loves Mary is me.
- Lo es Maria ci me ama. = El ci me ama es Maria. – It’s Mary that I love. = The one that I love is Mary.
- Lo es la bal blu cual me ia perde. = Lo cual me ia perde es la bal blu. = La bal blu es lo cual me ia perde. – It’s the blue ball that I’ve lost. = What I’ve lost is the blue ball. = The blue ball is what I’ve lost.
On ave indicates the presence or existence of something:
- On ave un serpente en la rua. – There is a snake in the road.
- On no ave pexes en esta lago. – There aren’t any fish in this lake.
- On ave multe persones asi oji. – There are many people here today.
Verbs as nouns
Elefen has two ways to use verbs as nouns: the infinitive and the verbal noun. Both use the verb unmodified.
The infinitive introduces a special kind of noun clause, called an “infinitive clause”, whose meaning is like a clause introduced by ce. The infinitive is still really a verb, capable of being followed by adverbs and an object, and of negation by the word no placed before it. Importantly, it does not accept a subject or an indicator of tense or mood. These are conveyed by the context.
The most common use of an infinitive clause is as the object of another verb. The subjects of both verbs are usually the same, but they can be different if the meaning suggests this, as in the example with proibi come below:
- Me espera ariva ante tua parti. – I hope to arrive before you leave.
- Me ia gusta multe escuta oji mea musica. – I greatly enjoyed listening to my music today.
- On pote nunca spele coreta mea nom. – People can never spell my name correctly.
- El teme no velia en la matina. – He fears not waking up in the morning.
- La empleor proibi come sanduitxes en la ofisia. – The employer forbids eating sandwiches in the office.
Infinitives are also often found after prepositions, where they can still accept no before them, and adverbs and an object after them:
- Me viaja per vide la mundo. – I’m travelling (in order) to see the world.
- El ia mori pos nomi sua susedor. – She died after naming her successor.
- El ia abri la noza par colpa lo forte con un martel. – He opened the nut by hitting it hard with a hammer.
- On no pote pasea tra la mundo sin lasa impresas de pede. – You can’t walk through the world without leaving footprints.
By contrast, the verbal noun is just a noun, and is normally preceded by la or another determiner. The noun denotes either an occurrence of the verb’s action, or its immediate result. It can accept adjectives, but a preposition (most commonly de) must be used if an object needs to be included:
- Sua condui ia es vera xocante. – His behaviour was really shocking.
- El ia destrui sua labora intera. – She destroyed her entire work.
- La valsa e la samba es dansas. – The waltz and the samba are dances.
- Esta va es un ajunta bela a la ragu. – This will be a fine addition to the stew.
- Me ia prepara du traduis de la testo. – I’ve prepared two translations of the text.
- Tu ave no comprende de la problemes. – You have no understanding of the problems.
- “LFN” es un corti de “Lingua Franca Nova”. – “LFN” is an abbreviation of “Lingua Franca Nova”.
- La universo ia es estrema peti a la momento de sua crea. – The universe was extremely small at the moment of its creation.
With a verb such as ajunta, there is little difference between un ajunta and un ajuntada. But la traduida is the original text from which la tradui is produced, and un crea is an act of creating un creada. This follows from the meaning of the objects of the verbs themselves: -da always refers to the object. With crea, the object is also the result of the action; but with tradui, the object and the result are two different things. With a few verbs, such as dansa, where the object and the action are the same thing, we say un dansa, not un dansada.
An infinitive clause can be used as the subject of a sentence:
- Nada es un eserse gustable. – Swimming / To swim is an enjoyable exercise.
- Nada en fango no es un eserse gustable. – Swimming in mud / To swim in mud is not an enjoyable exercise.
- Scrive la novela ia aida el a boni sua stilo. – Writing the novel helped her to improve her style.
But, in writing, if an infinitive clause is long, the reader may risk mistaking the infinitive verb for a command, at least until they get to the main verb of the sentence. One can avoid this by changing the infinitive to a verbal noun by adding la or another determiner before it, or by using the plural:
- La nada en fango no es un eserse gustable. – Swimming in mud is not an enjoyable exercise.
- La scrive de la novela ia aida el a boni sua stilo. – Writing the novel / The writing of the novel helped her to improve her style.
- Eras es umana, pardonas es divin. – To err is human, to forgive is divine.