Linguistics

Grammatical categories

Grammatical categories

Grammatical category refers to a set of specific syntactic properties of words that can cause those words and/or other related words to change in form for grammatical reasons (ensuring agreement between words). The various kinds of grammatical categories include the following: number, definiteness, tense and aspect, case, person, gender and mood.

Number

The category NUMBER merely indicates the numerable property (singularity or plurality). It is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions (such as "one", "two", or "three or more").

 

In English, the two number categories are singular and plural.

Word Type

Number Category

Singular Example

Plural Example

Noun 

cat, mouse   

cats, mice

Pronoun

I, me, you, he, him, she, her, it

we, us, you, they, them

Adjective

this, that, a, an, my, your, his, her, its

these, those, our, your, their

Verb  

am, is, was, has, I play, he plays  

Are, were, have, they play

 

Sepedi and other African languages uses noun class system to determine the number category. The odd number classes present singular nouns and the even number classes present the plural nouns. Number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and concord agreement.

Class

Class Prefix

Example

 

Subject Concord

Object Concord

Possessive Concord

Demonstrative 1

1

mo-

mosadi (woman)

o/a

mo

wa

yo

2

ba-

basadi (women)

ba

ba

ba

ba

1a

Ø-

mma (mother)

o/a

mo

wa

yo

2b

bo-

bomma(mothers)

ba

ba

ba

ba

3

mo-

mohlare (tree)

o/wa

o

wa

wo

4

me-

mehlare (trees)

e/ya

e

ya

ye

5

le-

lenao (foot)

le/la

le

la

le

6

ma-

manao (feet)

a

a

a

a

7

se-

sediba (well)

se/sa

se

sa

se

8

di-

didiba (wells)

di/tša

di

tša

tše

9

N-

ntlo (house)

e/ya

e

ya

ye

10

diN-

dintlo (houses)

di/tša

di

tša

tše

14

bo-

botho (humanity)

bo/bja

go

ga

bjo

15

go-

go bolela (to talk)

go/gwa

go

ga

mo

16

fa-

fase (down)

go/gwa

go

ga

fa/mo

17

go-

godimo (up)

go/gwa

go

ga

fa/mo

18

mo-

morago (back)

go/gwa

go

ga

fa/mo

 

In/Definiteness

The category DEFINITENESS distinguishes definite and indefinite nouns. This grammatical category is typically associated to nouns through the use of determiners. A determiner is a word that determines the kind of reference a noun or noun phrase has, for example a, an, the, every, some. It distinguishes between referents/entities that are identifiable in a given context (definite noun phrases) and entities which are not (indefinite noun phrases). There is considerable variation in the expression of definiteness across languages and some languages do not express it at all.

For example, in English definiteness is usually marked by the selection of determiner. Certain determiners, such as a, an, many, any, either, and some typically mark a noun phrase as indefinite. Others, including the, this, every, and both mark the noun phrase as definite.

 

Some African languages have a property of definiteness within the noun prefix that has a relation function. Determiners, quantifiers, genitives and adjectives all have this relation function in a concatenation of modifiers of the Noun. They all dependent on the noun head, indicating this relationship through some part of the noun prefix which is referred to as the agreement element.

 

In isiZulu, for example:

Zonke             lezo     zicatulo          ezimnyama

All                    those shoes             which are black

 

The agreement element between the noun head izicathulo 'shoes' and its modifiers is indicated in bold. These agreement elements of the class 10 prefix izi- are said to identify a property of definiteness with the noun and its modifiers. This definiteness is compounded by the semantic property of specific identification associated with all modifiers universally whether agreement is represented morphologically or not (Alcock, 2000).

Tense and Aspect

 The category TENSE refers to the time at which the actions or events took place. The time of an expression serves as a reference point to past, present or future. Tense is a grammatical feature for any of the forms of a verb which show the time at which an action happened. The images below show the English tense and the Sepedi tense.

 

The category ASPECT expresses the way in which time is denoted by a verb. Aspect markers on verbs tell us whether an action is completed or is still continuing. This grammatical category relates to tense. The images above contain verbs that tell us about the state of the action.

English tense

Sepedi tense



English tense and the Sepedi tense

Check if the following grammatical categories apply both in English and any of the African languages:

Case

The category CASE expresses the functional role of a noun or noun phrase. This grammatical category conveys how different noun phrases in a sentence relate to the verb in different ways (subject, direct object or indirect object).

 

Person

The category PERSON used to classify pronouns according to whether they indicate the speaker (first person), the addressee (second person), or a third party (third person).

Gender

The category GENDER basically refers to a sub-division of nouns into masculine, gender and neuter.

Mood

The category MOOD relates to sentence types (statements, questions and commands). Mood is employed to refer to different forms of finite verbs (indicative, imperative, interrogative, conditional or subjunctive).

 

Last modified: 2019/12/10