How does tense, aspect, voice, and mood apply to Bambara and how are they are marked?

What’s happ’nin’! Does anyone know how tense, aspect, voice, and mood apply to Bambara and how they are marked?

For example, English has (generally speaking):

  • Two tenses: present and past

  • Four aspects: simple, progressive, perfect, perfect-progressive

  • Three moods: indicative, subjunctive, imperative

  • Two voices: active and passive


I ni ce, Christy!

Tense, aspect, mood

The short answer is that Bambara uses different “predicate markers” (that is, the little helper words or “auxiliaries” that appear between the subject and the verb; i.e., , , tɛna, etc.) to express tense, aspect and mood. For this reason, some linguists call things like “predicate markers” of Bambara, “TAM markers”—tense, aspect, mood markers.

Keep in mind that the word “tense” is often used as a non-technical term that captures all three things. That is, in school grammar lessons for many Western languages, we learn that verbs are “conjugated” for different “tenses”:

  • present
  • past
  • imperative
  • conditional
  • progressive
  • etc.

In reality, a list or table of verb “tenses” (such as in a conjugation book or a webpage like this one for “wash” in English or “parler” in French") is not a list of things just related to “tense” in the linguist’s sense. It is a list of “conjugations”—that is, “inflected or periphrastic verb forms that express a combination of tense, aspect, and mood”.


The distinction between active and passive voice is different because in Bambara (and Manding in general), it is no signaled by a clear set of words (e.g., “got”, “was”, etc.) like in English:

The man ate the lion. [ACTIVE]


The man got eaten (by the lion). [PASSIVE]

Instead, a passive voice effect is created when one uses an underlyingly transitive verb in a certain way:

Cɛ ye jara dun

‘The man ate the lion’


Cɛ dunna (wara fɛ).

‘The man was eaten by the lion’

Note that the second sentence is passive but it simply uses the “perfective” or “past” inflection of the verb k’à dun. There is no element in the sentence that tells you that the sentence is passive. You need to know the verb k’à dun and its nature (i.e., the fact that its default usage is transitive) to understand that it is a passive voice sentence.


Nse! I ni ce, Coleman! :slightly_smiling_face:

Tense, aspect, mood

OK. That’s the conclusion that I had come to… that Bambara uses different “predicate markers” to express tense, aspect and mood. I have a list of “predicate markers” that I got from the Bamadaba dictionary. Not saying it’s complete, just sharing what I have. So, are you saying that in Bambara each one of these “predicate markers” (listed below) can’t be placed inside of one or more of the individual TAM grammatical categories?

  • bɛ (IPFV AFF)

  • bɛ ka (PROG AFF)

  • bɛka (INFR.)

  • bɛna (FUT)

  • bilen (COND NEG)

  • ka (QUAL AFF)

  • ka (SBJV)

  • ka (INF)

  • kana (PROH)

  • ma (PFV NEG)

  • maa (DES)

  • man (QUAL NEG)

  • mana (COND AFF)

  • na (CERT.)

  • tɛ (IPFV NEG)

  • tɛka (INFR NEG)

  • tɛka (PROG NEG)

  • tɛna (FUT NEG)

  • ya (PFV TR)

  • ye (PFV TR)

  • ye (IMP)

  • ye (IPFV)

  • ye ka (RCNT)

  • diye (SEQ.)

To become something like… and this is just only for explanation example because I have no idea how to truly categorize these, but:

  • Three tenses: bɛ (IPFV AFF), bɛna (FUT), na (CERT.)

  • X amount of aspects: not sure which one(s) to add here as possible examples. :upside_down_face:

  • Two moods: kana (PROH.) and ka (SBJV)

  • Two voices: active (default transitive usage) and passive (when default transitive usage changes to intransitive)


Is the passive voice established only when a transitive verb usage changes to intransitive? Is that the only passive voice rule to memorize in Bambara?

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All of those that you listed are predicate markers that mark tense, aspect and/or mood. (Though the infinitive marker kà which could arguably be categorized separately since it doesn’t occupy the same slot syntactically normally.) Some of them are not very typical in standard Bambara or Jula so they aren’t listed in the AKT dictionary.

Yes. (But I’m forgetting something that’ll make it more complicated down the road so don’t quote me :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:.)


Unless they’re regional and community preferences? :eyes:

So… :upside_down_face:

  1. Which “predicate markers” mark tense?

  2. Which “predicate markers” mark aspect?

  3. Which “predicate markers” mark mood?

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I don’t know offhand. Such a classification would require an analysis to try to make a full classification of how each predicate marker can be categorized as marking tense, aspect, mood or some combination thereof.

The basic glosses of the predicate markers are listed on this page of the Bambara Reference Corpus website, but they are in shorthand.

If you look up the predicate markers individually in Bamadaba (by checking the individual pages and then doing a search within the page for pm.) or in the AKT dictionary (by checking the individual pages and then doing a search within the page for mp.) then you can find a potentially useful definition that explains the human meaning that the predicate marker has (but it might not state things in terms of the abstract linguistic concepts of “tense/aspect/mood”.