Tenses

Four main tenses can be distinguished in the Sesotho language: Present, Past, Perfect and Future. The present tense is discussed on the Sentence Construction page, while the other three tenses are briefly discussed below:

Past

The past tense indicates that an action has already taken place. When creating a simple past tense sentence, ile is added after the subject concord followed with an infixed auxiliary -a- added to the subject concord.

Class  1 2 1a 2a 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 14 15
Subject concord o ba o ba o e le a se di e di bo ho
Auxiliary a ba a ba wa ya la a sa tsa ya tsa ba ha

Person Subject concord Auxiliary Translation
First - singular ke ka I
First - plural re ra we
Second - singular o wa you (singular)
Second - plural le la you (plural)

Simple sentence:

SUBJECT + SUBJECT CONCORD + ile + AUXILIARY + VERB + OBJECT 

Example: Monna o ile a palama baesekele. (The man rode a bicycle.) 

Sentence with no object 

SUBJECT + SUBJECT CONCORD + ile + AUXILIARY + VERB 

Example: Monna o ile a palama. (The man rode.) 

More examples: 
Dintja di ile tsa ja nama. (The dog ate the meat.) 
Ke ile ka bala buka. (I read a book.) 
Ke ile ka tseba. (I knew.) 
O ile a bona. (He saw.)


Perfect

This tense indicates that an action is completed. This tense is indicated by adding one of three formatives (-ile, -ele and -etse) to the end of the verb. Look at the basic sentence structure and then use various verbs, provided in a table below, within the context of a sentence. 

Simple sentence:

SUBJECT + SUBJECT CONCORD + VERB (with formative) + OBJECT (or no object) 

Example: Monna o kwetse monyako. (The man has closed the door.) 

Simple negative sentence:

SUBJECT + HA + SUBJECT CONCORD (class 1 and 1a = a) + a + VERB (basic form) + OBJECT (or no object) 

Example: Monna ha a a kwala monyako. (The man has not closed the door.) 

VERBS 
(translation - basic verb - verb in perfect tense)

answer - araba - arabile
argue - lwana - lwanne
ask - botsa - botsitse
bake - baka - bakile
bark - bohola - bohotse
bath - tola - todile
beg - kopa - kopile
bite - loma - lomile 
bring - tlisa - tlisitse
buy - reka - rekile
borrow - adima - adimile
boil - bela - betse
call - bitsa - bitsitse
catch - tshwara - tshwere
clean - hlakola - hlakotse
close - kwala - kwetse
come - tla - tlile
cook - pheha - phehile
cry - lla - llile
cut - seha - sehile
dance - tantsha - tantshitse
die - shwa - shwele
do/make - etsa - entse
drink - nwa - nwele
eat - ja - jele
enter - kena - kene
fall - wa - wele
help - thusa - thusitse
hit - otla - otlile
hit - shapa - shapile
hold - tshwara - tshwere
kick - raha - rahile
kill - bolaya - bolaile
kiss - aka - akile
listen - mamela - mametse
look - sheba - shebile
live - phela - phetse
open - bula - butse
pay - lefa - lefile
play - bapala - bapadile
put on - apara - apere
read - bala - badile
remove - tlosa - tlositse
rest - phomola - phomotse
return - kgutla - kgutlile
ride - palama - palamile
run - matha - mathile
see - bona - bone
sell - rekisa - rekisitse
sing - bina - binne
sit - dula - dutse
sleep - robala - robetse
stand - ema - eme
sweep - fiela - fietse
talk - bua - buile
tell - bolella - boleletse
travel - eta - etile
wait for - emela - emetse
wake up - tsoha - tsohile
walk - tsamaya - tsamaile
wash - hlatswa - hlatswitse
work - sebetsa - sebeditse
write - ngola - ngodile

-a turns to -ile 
-a turns to -ele 
-a turns to -itse 
-ala turns to -etse 
-ara turns to -ere 
-ela turns to -etse 
-la turns to -tse 
-la turns to -dile 
-na turns to -nne 
-sa turns to -sitse 
-tsa turns to - ditse

More examples: 
Monna o buile. (The man has talked.) 
Lepolesa le thusitse. (The police officer has helped.) 
Aubuti o bonne telebishene. (Older brother has watched TV.) 
Morekisi o rekisitse ditholwana. (The salesperson has sold fruit.) 


Future

The future tense indicates that an action will take place in the future. For this tense the future morpheme tla is added before the verb. While the morpheme tlo is used for negative sentences. 

Simple sentence:

SUBJECT + SUBJECT CONCORD + tla + VERB + OBJECT 

Example: Monna o tla palama baesekele. (The man will ride a bicycle.) 

Sentence with no object:

SUBJECT + SUBJECT CONCORD + tla + VERB 

Example: Monna o tla palama. (The man will ride.) 

Simple negative sentence 

SUBJECT + HA + SUBJECT CONCORD (class 1 and 1a = a) + tlo + VERB(-a) + OBJECT 

Example: Monna ha a tlo palama baesekele. (The man will not ride a bicycle.) 

Negative Sentence with no object 

SUBJECT + HA + SUBJECT CONCORD (class 1 and 1a = a) + tlo + VERB(-a) 

Example: Monna ha a tlo palama. (The man will not ride.) 

IMPORTANT RULES (Negative sentence):
1) Add ha before subject concord. 
2) Subject concord o of class 1 and 1a changes to a.
3) The morpheme tlo is added before verb. 
4) Verb ending remains -a

More examples: 
Lerato o tla ngola. (Lerato will write.) 
Monna o tla bua nnete. (The man will tell the truth.) 
Hosane batho ba tla sebetse. (Tomorrow the people will work.) 
Ke tla dula. (I shall sit.) 
Mosadi ha a tlo hlatswa dijana. (The woman will not wash the dishes.) 
Ha re tlo qoqa. (We shall not chat.) 


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J. Olivier (2009)