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Lesson 11: Tenses

Nahuatl has several verb forms that indicate time or mood. The most commonly met are the "present" form that you have seen so far, the "preterit" or past, and the "future." For purposes of this brief introduction, these are the only forms we will consider. (the remaining forms are covered in the Inadequate Nahuatl Reference Grammar if you get curious or have need.

How the preterit and future are formed depends on the type of verb, illustrated by the four examples below.

Table of Verb Forms
TypeExampleSingularPluralaide-mémoire
1chöca Vi1 chöca = he crieschöca.h = they crybase form
chöca.c = he cried chöca.queh = they criedadd -c
chöca.z = he'll cry chöca.z.queh = they'll cryadd -z
2yöli Vi2 yöli= he lives yöli.h = they livebase form
yöl = he lived yöl.queh = they liveddrop final vowel
yöli.z = he'll live yöli.z.queh = they'll liveadd -z
3ältia Vt3 ältia = he bathes ältia.h = they bathebase form
älti.h = he bathed älti.h.queh = they batheddrop -a, add -h
älti.:z = he'll bathe älti.:z.queh = they'll bathedrop -a, add -:z
4cua Vt4 cua = he eats cua.h = they eatbase form
cua.h = he ate cua.h.queh = they ateadd -h
cua.:z = he'll eat cua.:z.queh = they'll eatadd -:z

The assignment of a verb to a verb type is largely regular, but the rules are complex. For purposes of this introductory course, I will simply indicate the type number for each verb: Vt2, Vi3, &c.

Examples

   



ahci Vi1 = to arrive

huälahci
huälahciz
ö huälahciqueh
nihuälahciz
tihuälahciz
tihuälahcizqueh

   


tlachia Vt3 = to watch, stare

ni.c.tlachi.h
ni.c.tlachi.ïz
tictlachïzqueh
nëch.tlachia.h
ö.nëch.tlachi.h.queh
ötëchtlachihqueh

   


temo Vi1 = to go down, descend

ni.temo.z
temozqueh
ö an.temo.queh
nitemoc
titemozqueh

   


yöli Vi2 = to live, dwell

tiyöl
yöl
anyölizqueh

   


miqui Vi2 = to die

miqui
miquih
ömic
ö micqueh
timiquiz
timiquizqueh
nimic

   

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Challenge: Very few Nahuatl dictionaires designate a verb with a type number as I have done here (Vt3, Vi2, etc.) Instead, it is conventional to list a preterit form after the entry. For example, Molina's dictionary of 1571 has the following entries on p. 97:

Temo.ni descendir o abaxar. Pre. onitemoc
Temo Vi descend or go down. Preterit: o nitemoc (= Type 1)

Temoa.nitla buscar algo, o inquirir de algun negocio. Pre. onitlatemo
Temoa Vt seek or inquire after. Preterit: onitlatemo (= Type 3)

The "ni" means the verb is intransitive. Otherwise Molina would have used "nite" or "nitla" with the dummy objects showing that it is transitive. The verb class is illustrated by the preterit. We know temo is type 1 because in the preterit it drops its final vowel. We know temoa is type 3 because of its two vowels it drops the second in the preterit. (It is homonymous with temohua, but if that were the correct spelling the preterit would in theory be temouh. This is one of the ways that we can "correct" early spellings.)

For each of the following verbs from the entries earlier on this page, how would a dictionary entry look that used this traditional notation rather than such codes at "Vt3"?

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