Content created: 2001-01-06
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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|
|1||chöca Vi1||chöca = he cries||chöca.h = they cry||base form|
|chöca.c = he cried||chöca.queh = they cried||add -c|
|chöca.z = he'll cry||chöca.z.queh = they'll cry||add -z|
|2||yöli Vi2||yöli= he lives||yöli.h = they live||base form|
|yöl = he lived||yöl.queh = they lived||drop final vowel|
|yöli.z = he'll live||yöli.z.queh = they'll live||add -z|
|3||ältia Vt3||ältia = he bathes||ältia.h = they bathe||base form|
|älti.h = he bathed||älti.h.queh = they bathed||drop -a, add -h|
|älti.:z = he'll bathe||älti.:z.queh = they'll bathe||drop -a, add -:z|
|4||cua Vt4||cua = he eats||cua.h = they eat||base form|
|cua.h = he ate||cua.h.queh = they ate||add -h|
|cua.:z = he'll eat||cua.:z.queh = they'll eat||add -: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.
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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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