Verbs - present tense

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Verbs in Setswana (and most Bantu languages) are almost always accompanied by a subject marker (except in the imperative/command form).

Basic Subject Markers

We have already seen the subject markers

ke I (1st person)
o you (2nd person)
o* he/she (3rd person)
re we
le** you (plural)
ba them

.*in the negative, this becomes "a"
.**in some dialects, marker "lo" is used instead of "le"
These are the subject markers for people, there are many other markers for nouns which belong to other classes - see later in noun classes

Present Tense (Short Form)

In this form, the present tense is simply made by adding the subject marker and the verb. However, this can only be used when there is a word following the verb (otherwise you use the "long form" see below)

ke bidiwa Paul I am called Paul
o bidiwa Ntathi she is called Ntathi (or you are called Ntathi)
monna o ja apole the man (he) is eating an apple
re ithutha Setswana we are learning Setswana
ke bao ko lelapeng I am returning home

Present Tense (long form)

If there are no words following the verb, then an extra "a" marker must be added before the verb (called the "long form marker")

re a ithuta we are learning
basadi ba a ja the women (they) are eating
ke a kwala I am writing
ke a bao jaanong I am returning now *

.* the verb still takes the long form even though followed by "jaanong". More strictly the long form applies if the verb is "questionable" (eg "I am returning now" is questionable - where are you returning? but "I am returning home" is not)

Present Tense (negative)

To form the negative, the negative article "ga" comes before the subject marker, and the end of the verb changes from "a" to "e". The long form marker "a" disappears.

monna o ja apole monna ga a je apole* the man (he) is not eating an apple
re ithutha Setswana ga re ithuthe Setswana we are not learning Setswana
re a ithuta ga re ithute we are not learning
basadi ba a ja basadi ga ba je the women (they) are not eating
ke a kwala ga ke kwale I am not writing

.* Note "o" subject marker changes to "a" in negative form


Verb "to be"

There is no direct equivalent of the verb "to be" in Setswana. The marker "ke" is used to express identity, but in other situations the normal subject marker is used.

Jane ke moruti Jane is a teacher
Jane o montle Jane is beautiful

This will become clearer with use

Negative of verb "to be"

The marker "se" is used as the negative of "ke"

Jane ga se moruti Jane is not a teacher
Jane ga o montle Jane is not beautiful


Verb "to have"

The words "na le" are used for possession, and also for association (think of it as being "to be with")

ke na le koloi I have a car
Jane o na le bana Jane has children
Mary o na le Pitso Mary is with Pitso
Go na le batho mo ofising There are people in the office (literally "to be with people in the office")

"Go" is the subject marker for infinitives (see later in noun classes)

Negative of "to have"

In the negative form as well as adding the negative article "ga", the "le" dissapears

ke na le koloi ga ke na koloi I don't have a car
Jane o na le bana Jane ga a na bana Jane hasn't any children
Mary o na le Pitso Mary ga a na Pitso Mary isn't with Pitso
Go na le batho mo ofising Ga go na batho mo ofising There aren't any people in the office

Vocabulary - Verbs

bereka work
rata like/love
ithuta learn
tshwara catch
thusa help
bina dance
opela sing
nwa drink
taga intoxicate
utswa steal
batla want/need
sia run away
bela boil/brew
tsoga wake up
tlhola spend the day
robala sleep
sala stay

Vocabulary - Nouns

mosadi basadi woman
mosetsana basetsana girl
motswana batswana Botswana national
moithuti baithuti trainees/learners
lepodisi x police officer
x masole soldier
sefofu x blind person
x digole disabled person
kgomo x cow
lonao x foot
bojalwa x beer/alcoholic beverage
mabele x sorghum
setswana x language of Batswana
legodu x thief
metsi x water
madi x money/blood