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Although not widely accepted in linguistics, the term preverb is used in Caucasian (including all three families: Northwest Caucasian, Northeast Caucasian and Kartvelian), Caddoan, Athabaskan, and Algonquian linguistics to describe certain elements prefixed to verbs. In the context of Indo-European languages this term is usually used for separable verb prefixes.[1]

Theoretically, any prefix could be called a preverbal element. However, in practice, the term preverb applies more narrowly in these families, and refers to a prefixed element that is normally outside the premise of verbal morphology, such as locations of noun elements, or less often, noun elements themselves.

Northwest Caucasian

In the Northwest Caucasian family, such elements can include nouns, directional and locative preverbs (equivalents of prepositions), as in this example from Ubykh:

- bɣʲa- w- qʼa -najtʼ
1SG- PVB- 2SG- talk -IMPF
You were talking about me
(lit. you were talking on me)


In Caddoan linguistics, preverbal elements are less well defined as a class, and often "preverb" designates a part of the verbal root which can be separated from the rest of the root by certain prefixes, as in this Wichita example:

ta- i- aa- tíísaas kir ri- ʔa -s
INDIC- 3SG- PVB- medicine liquid portative- come -IMPF
He is bringing (liquid) medicine

Mandarin Chinese

For Mandarin Chinese and many other varieties of Chinese, the term preverb refers to certain words which carry the meanings of prepositions in English. In Chinese, these words are lexically verbs and appear before the noun in question. These words are more commonly referred to as coverbs.


In Georgian, the main function of a preverb is to distinguish between the present tenses and the future tenses. In order to make a present tense verb into a future tense, one has to add the preverb to the verb compound. In addition to this function, preverbs also have directional meanings in Georgian. Preverbs are directly attached to the beginning of the verb compound:

aketebs ("he does it") and gaaketebs ("he will do it")
vtser ("I am writing") and davtser ("I will write")

Note in the two examples that the meaning of the future tense is achieved only by adding the preverb; no other grammatical change occurs. Some examples where preverbs have directional meanings are:

modis ("he is coming")
midis ("he is going")
adis ("he is going up (the stairs)", "he is getting on (a bus)")
chamodis ("he is arriving")
shemodis ("he is entering")

Again, note that only the preverbs are changed in order to convey the meaning of various directional meanings. It should also be noted that preverbs add directional meanings not only to the verbs of motion, but to any kind of verbs. Compare the examples of the verb -tser- ("write"):

davtsere ("I wrote it")
mogtsere ("I wrote it to you")
mistsere ("I wrote it to them")
gadagtsere ("I wrote to you (from a place)")

As can be seen from the examples the preverb changes according to the indirect object (the person for (to) whom the verb is being done).

In Georgian many verbs have a common root. For example, "end" and "stay" have the same verb root, -rch-. The meanings of these verbs are rather distinguished through their preverbs and other elements of the verb compound:

rcheba ("he is staying"), darcheba ("he will stay")
rcheba ("it is ending"), morcheba ("it will end")

As one clearly notices, the verbs are identical in the present tense, but differ in the future tense, because of their preverbs.

Modern Persian

A preverb is a morpheme, which is applied together with the participles modifying their meaning and the meaning of their derivates.

Persian preverbs, referred to as "āndar" or "dar", are:

  • bar
  • bāz
  • farā and hā
  • farāz
  • foru and hō
  • ham
  • negah and negāh
  • pas
  • piš
  • ru
  • sar
  • var

Pre-verbs can modify the procedure attribute of the verbs and the infinitives, but they do not change their objective attribute:

.او کتابی داشت (static attribute)

U ketābi dāsht.


.او کتابی را برداشت (dynamic attribute)

U ketabi bar dāsht.


The Pre-verb is normally positioned ahead of the verb. If the verb is composed of two separable components, the pre-verb is positioned ahead of the second component. The Pre-verb can be positioned at the end of the sentence, owing to versification requirements:

از کارِ خير عزمِ تو هرگز نگشت باز

هرگز زِ راه بازنگشته‌ست هيچ تير

Manuchehri (11th - 12th Century AD)


In the Algonquian languages, preverbs can be described as phonologically separate words which may precede a verb and share its inflection. In particular, pronominal prefixes or initial change are applied to the first preverb (if any) in the verb complex rather than to the verb stem. Their meaning can range from past tense or perfective aspect to meanings that in English might use an adverb or another verb. Examples from Ojibwe:

Ojibwe English Comment
nibaa he/she sleeps has no preverb
ninibaamin we sleep likewise, with pronominal prefix
gii-nibaa he/she slept has past tense preverb
ningii-nibaamin we slept likewise, with pronominal prefix
gii-maajii-nibaa he/she started to sleep has past preverb, and a lexical preverb
ningii-maajii-nibaamin we started to sleep likewise, with pronominal prefix

In Munsee, some words can come between a preverb and its verb.

Compare also Prenoun in these languages.


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