Table of Contents

Lesson 8
How Verbs Work

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By now, you should be comfortable with D'ni letters and sounds, know a few simple phrases, and have some familiarity with nouns, adjectives, and numbers. The next big topic to tackle is verbs, one of the more complex aspects of D'ni, simply by virtue of its differences from what we're used to in English. Because of these differences, it is useful to spend a little time reviewing how verbs are put together in general, before delving into D'ni verbs in earnest.


An infinitive verb is a verb in its most pure form. It doesn't say anything about who or when or how, it simply gives the action or state of being that the verb describes. In English, we recognize an infinitive when the verb is preceded by the preposition to.

Examples: to move to see to write to be

In D'ni, much the same pattern is observed; if the verb is preceded by b' (b' | b'), a contraction of the preposition be (beh | be) which means to, it is in its infinitive form.

Examples: b'Kro (b'kro | b'kro) b'yim (b'yihm | b'yim)
b'sel (b'sehl | b'sel) b'Ken (b'kehn | b'ken)

From the infinitive, we can find the root of the verb as we do in English, by dropping the b', to. This root is the kernel of every conjugated verb, it is always the central part to which prefixes and suffixes are attached to indicate the who, when, and how.

Person and Number

When we conjugate a verb, we change it with prefixes and suffixes to take it out of the abstract infinitive and apply it to a particular subject at a particular time. Let's first look at how to specify the "who" of the verb, the subject. Traditionally, the subject of a verb is classified by its person (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) and by its number (singular or plural)

singular plural
1st I we
2nd you (singular) you (plural)
3rd he, she, it, Atrus they, Atrus and Catherine,
the Rivenese

The first person always indicates the person speaking the verb, whether it's just that sole person (I) or a group including that person (we). The second person always indicates the person spoken to, whether that is just one person (you sing.) or a group of people (you pl.). In English, we don't distinguish between the singular and plural you, except in slang where "y'all" could be said to be a second person plural. You'll soon see that D'ni does make this distinction (as do many other modern foreign languages). Finally, the third person indicates the person spoken about, whether just one person (he, she, it) or a group of people (they).

For each of these persons and numbers, there is a corresponding D'ni suffix that is attached to the end of the root verb. This is very different from verbs in English, which remain virtually unchanged regardless of person and number: I write, you write, she writes, we write, you pl. write, they write (the 3rd singular is the one exception). In D'ni, we should conjugate the same verb, sel (sehl | sel), as sel, selem, selen, selet, seltE, selEt. Notice that the root, sel, doesn't change from one form to the next, and that different suffixes correspond to each person and number. We will study these suffixes in depth in the next chapter.


Now let's look at how to specify the "when" of the verb. Since verbs describe actions or states of being, they necessarily take place in time, in the past, present or future.

Examples: I wrote I write I will write

Within the past, present, and future tenses, verbs can also describe the quality of an action — Is the action of writing completed? Is it in progress? — and thereby indicate the location of that action in time more specifically. All of these combinations of tenses are expressed in D'ni with prefixes that are attached to the root verb. For example, the simple past tense, I wrote, is written  Kosel (kosehl | kosel) in D'ni; the present perfect, I have written, lesel (lehsehl | lesel); the future progressive, I will be writing, boDosel (bodosehl | bodosel). Note how different prefixes are attached to the same root verb to indicate different tenses.

A general guideline to remember, then, is that prefixes indicate tense and suffixes indicate number and person.


The mood of a verb doesn't have anything to do with feeling happy or sad when you speak or write it. Mood, in the grammatical sense we mean here, is a way of categorizing the intent behind the verb, the force that motivates it. Most of the verbs we come across in English are in the indicative mood; they are simple statements of fact: I am hungry, she will write a letter, they went home. The same is true in D'ni — an overwhelmeing majority of the verbs you see are indicative.

Sometimes, we'll come across commands, like Say thank you! or Don't go! These commands are said to be in the imperative mood, and since they usually address someone or a group of people directly, they most often are 2nd person verbs. D'ni imperative verbs work the same way as in English, only instead of relying on an exclamation point, D'ni uses an additional suffix attached after the 2nd person ending. (We'll study imperative mood in a few chapters.)

We unfortunately know much less about the two other traditional moods, interrogative and subjunctive. Interrogative mood is used for asking questions. While we do know that questions can be asked in D'ni, we don't have enough evidence to say exactly how. The accepted theory is that, like in English, there is a punctuation mark that indicates a question. The subjunctive mood is all but dead in English, but still commonly used in many other languages; it expresses wishes, desires, doubts — things that are not factual but rather hypothetical, potential, relative. Certainly, D'ni can express wishes, desires, and doubts, but evidence seems to indicate that, like English, it does not have a separate verb form for the purpose.

Other Verb Elements

There are other important aspects of verbs to consider — things such as active and passive voice, modal auxiliaries, and verbals — but these are advanced topics that can be difficult to master and that we won't encounter for a while. For now, it is important to thoroughly understand person, number, tense, and mood before we start working with verbs in earnest.

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