To conjugate a verb in Amharic, you have to know the verb root, and knowing the verb root starts with knowing the infinitive.
Infinitive Verbs in Amharic
The infinitive form a verb in English is the form with “to” before it. For example, the infinitive form of “run” is “to run.” In Amharic and English, we use the infinitive form in similar ways. For example, we use the infinitive form to say that we like doing something.
example: to run = መሮጥ
I like to run = መሮጥ እወዳላሁ።
The Third-Person-Masculine-Past Tense (The Verb Root) in Amharic
The third-person-masculine-past tense is exactly what is sounds like — the verb, conjugated for the third-person-masculine (“he”) subject in the Amharic past tense (although to be clear, you don’t need to know the past tense to form the third-person-masculine-past tense root — just keep reading).
to go… he went
to play… he played
In Amharic, the third-person-masculine-past is common, and is often given in dictionaries instead of the infinitive form. It is also very useful when conjugating to other verb tenses, because the third-person-masculine-past acts as a “root” for most other verb conjugations. In most cases, if a grammar explanation says to use the verb “root,” this is what they’re talking about.
Changing Infinitives into Amharic Verb Roots
In Amharic, there are several types of infinitives. Different types of infinitives change differently into the third-person-masculine-past, based on different parts of the word.
1. CHANGES TO THE BEGINNINGS
Verbs that begin with መ (mä) drop the መ (mä) when they are conjugated. Verbs that begin with ማ (ma) drop the ም (m) but keep the አ (a).
መኖር/mänor (to live) — ኖረ/norä (he lived)
ማጥናት/mat’ïnat (to study) — አጠና/at’äna (he studied)
2. CHANGES TO THE MIDDLES
If the infintive has two consonants next to each other, or a “ï” with two dots in the middle, you add an “ä” between the consonants when conjugating (or change the “ï” to an “ä”). In Fidel-speak, a sixth-order character usually changes to a first-order when conjugated.
መብላት/mäbïlat (to eat) — በላ/bäla (he ate)
መምጣት/mämt’at (to come) — መጣ/mät’a (he came)
3. CHANGES TO THE ENDINGS
If the infinitive ends with “ት/t,” the “ት/t” is dropped when conjugated. If the verb doesn’t end with “ት/t,” then an extra “ä” is added to the end of the verb. In Fidel-speak, if the last character is sixth-order, it changes to first-order.
መተኛት/mätäñat (to sleep) — ተኛ/täña (he slept)
መስጠት/mäst’ät (to give) — ሰጠ/sät’ä (he gave)
መሄድ/mähed (to go) — ሄደ/hedä (he went)
Here are a few more examples. Try to identify which rules from above have been applied on these words.
|መግዛት/mägzat (to buy) ገዛ/gäza (he bought)||መሮጥ/märot’ (to run) ሮጠ/rot’ä (he ran)||ማወቅ/mawäk’ (to know) አወቀ/awäk’ä (he knew)||ማየት/mayät (to see) አየ/ayä (he saw)|
Practice Exercise: Amharic Infinitives and Verb Roots
Now, try and complete the following table by filling in the missing conjugations. This is primarily a grammar exercise, so don’t stress too much about the vocabulary/definitions. Once you’re able to change between these two forms, it will be a lot easier to look words up in the dictionary (or translate them using a phone app), because they will oftentimes be listed under the third-person-masculine-past.