Verbal Morphology

La Morphologgie Fêlie

4.1 Features

Much like the other Romance languages, Tunisian verbs are highly inflected for person, number, tense, mood, and voice. Most verbs consist of just two morphemes, a stem and a single inflectional ending. Naturally, each ending carries a heavy functional load, simultaneously marking each of these features. For instance, pydsams /pit.ˈsamz/ “we think” consists of the stem *pyds- and the ending -ams, which marks the first person singular present active indicative. Some stems also include derivational prefixes or suffixes in addition to the verb root.

Many verbs undergo stem vowel changes when they are conjugated in various vowels. While varying degrees of such vowel changes are common in other Romance languages, in Tunisian they have actually taken the form of ablaut with a limited but real contrastive function, as in dib /ˈdib/ “I need” versus deb /ˈdeb/ “he/she needs”.

Tunisian verbs inflect for three moods: the indicative, subjunctive, and imperative. Of these, the indicative is by far the most robust, inflecting for the present, imperfect, perfect, preterite, and two different future tenses. The subjunctive mood only has two forms, a present and past, with the latter in retreat. The imperative mood has always existed in just a single form, though it has actually been gaining some ground on the subjunctive. In some dialects, the subjunctive has completely disappeared, but this is not permitted in standard Tunisian.

Conjugated verbs can be either simplex or complex. Simplex tenses consist of just a single conjugated verb, and include the present, imperfect, preterite, future II, present subjunctive, and imperative. Complex tenses consist of an auxiliary verb plus a non-finite form (infinitive or participle), and include the perfect, future I, and past subjunctive.

Individual Tunisian verbs have three inherent qualities: conjugation class, transitivity, and aspect. The conjugation class determines how exactly the verb conjugates and what endings it takes; this is described in more detail in the following section. Transitivity determines whether a verb is able to take a direct object (transitive) or not (intransitive), and this in turns affects the conjugation in certain forms, such as the formation of the perfect tense; this can be manipulated through the use of certain reflexive pronouns or auxiliary verbs.

Tunisian treatment of aspect is somewhat more complex, and does not have a clear equivalent in other Romance languages. Verbs belong to one of three categories: inherently perfective, inherently imperfective, or biaspectual. Inherently perfective verbs describe a single event that cannot be drawn out over a period of time; these verbs completely lack imperfect tense forms. Inherently imperfective verbs describe actions that always take place over a period of time and cannot be single point events; these verbs completely lack perfects and preterites. Biaspectual verbs can freely appear with both perfective and imperfective meanings, and can conjugate in the perfect, imperfect, and preterite tenses.

4.2 Verb Roots and Conjugations

Tunisian verbs belong to one of four conjugation classes, numbered I, II, III, and IV. These classes are inherent to individual verb stems and are arbitrary; that is, any connotation that each conjugation may have once had has long since been completely lost. The four conjugations differ primarily in the vowels of certain endings, though in some tenses the actual endings may vary across conjugations.

Conjugation I, also known as the A-Class, can be distinguished by the vowel /a/ in several present tense forms and the infinitive ending . This is the largest conjugation class and the only class that is completely open, in that new loanwords and coinages can continually appear as new Conjugation I verbs. This class includes many old words of Latin origin such as levâ /lə.ˈvaː/ “wash” and pydsâ /pit.ˈsaː/ “think”, medieval and modern Arabic loans such as źeliâ /ðə.ˈljaː/ “insult”, and modern internationalisms such as telefoniâ /təl.fə.ˈnjaː/ “telephone”.

Conjugation II, or the E-Class, is the second most frequent conjugation class. This class is partially open; it no longer allows any new primitive stems, but productively accepts new words formed with certain derivational suffixes, such as the causative -s-. It is distinguished by the vowel /e/ in several present tense forms and the stressed infinitive ending . Primitive examples include debê /də.ˈbeː/ “need” and yspê /is.ˈpeː/ “taste”, while a derived example is blycsê /blik.ˈseː/ “whiten” from bleic /ˈblejk/ “white”.

Conjugation III, or the Y-Class, is the rarest of the four conjugation classes and is completely closed, consisting entirely of inherited verbs of Latin origin. These verbs are generally marked by an unstressed infinitive ending in -ey or rarely -y and vowelless present tense endings. Examples include péridey /ˈpe.ri.dej/ “lose”, véndey /ˈven.dej/ “sell”, and udy /ˈu.di/ “hear”.

Conjugation IV, or the I-Class, is another partially-open class that only accepts new verbs that contain particular derivational suffixes, most frequently the stative suffix -sc-. It is marked by infinitives ending in a stressed and by the vowel /i/ in present tense endings. Examples include dremî /drə.ˈmiː/ “sleep”, pretî /prə.ˈtiː/ “leave”, and chenoschî /kə.nos.ˈkiː/ “recognize”.

4.3 Ablaut Patterns

Tunisian verbs display two types of ablaut, known as the I-Ablaut and the Reduction-Ablaut. These terms will be used to identify whenever ablaut patterns regularly occur in verbal paradigms.

The I-Ablaut is a change triggered by the current or former presence of /i/ in the following syllable, and generally consists in a raising and fronting of the base vowel. The Reduction-Ablaut is triggered by historical stress patterns, where unstressed vowels will reduce to neutral vowels and unstressed diphthongs will reduce to monophthongs. Falling diphthongs pattern as distinct vowels from their components, while rising diphthongs pattern as glide + vowel; that is, /ei/ patterns separately from /e/ and /i/, while /ie/ behaves as /je/ and patterns with /e/.

Short vowels have two different forms under Reduction-Ablaut. Word-initially, they collapse as high vowels, with /a e i/ merging as /i/ and /o u/ merging as /u/. Everywhere else, they all reduce to schwa.

The table below shows every Tunisian vowel and diphthong and their counterparts under the I- and Reduction-Ablauts. A blank indicates no change.

Short Vowels
Base Vowel I-Ablaut Reduction-Ablaut
/a/ /e/ /i ~ ə/
/e/ /i/ /i ~ ə/
/i/ /i ~ ə/
/o/ /e/ /u ~ ə/
/u/ /ju/ /u ~ ə/
Long Vowels
Base Vowel I-Ablaut Reduction-Ablaut
/aː/ /aj/
/eː/ /ej/
/oː/ /uj/
Base Vowel I-Ablaut Reduction-Ablaut
/aj/ /i/
/ej/ /i/
/oj/ /i/
/uj/ /i/

Some recent loanwords do not orthographically distinguish the full and reduced grades, even though the difference is there in pronunciation: telefon /təl.ˈfon/ “he/she is calling” (full grade), telefoniams /təl.fə.ˈnjamz/ “we are calling” (not *telefeniams). I-Ablaut is always indicated if it is present: telefén /təl.ˈfen/ “I am calling”.

4.4 The Infinitive

The infinitive is the basic, unmarked form of the verb, lacking explicit marking for person, tense, and mood. It is also the citation form of verbs, and most verbs cited in this grammar will appear in the infinitive unless otherwise indicated. Unusually for a Romance language, the Tunisian infinitive has two forms, a singular and a plural.

Conjugation I verbs form their infinitive by adding the stressed suffix to the stem with Reduction Ablaut.

Conjugation II verbs form the infinitive with the stressed suffix plus Reduction Ablaut.

Conjugation III verbs form the infinitive one of the unstressed suffixes -ey or -y. Which stems take which suffix cannot be predicted; the suffixes are arbitrarily associated with particular verbs. There is no ablaut in the stem.

Conjugation IV verbs form the infinitive with the stressed suffix . Reduction ablaut in generally not present, although a few particular subclasses will have it. In particular, verbs with a metathesizing /r/ will show reduction in the infinitive.

Plurals for all conjugations are formed with the suffix -nes /nəz/ added directly to the stem, with no ablaut present. There is no contrast between the conjugations. This suffix is never stressed. If the stem ends in /n/, the two consonants merge into one.

Stem Conjugation Singular
*lav- “wash” I levâ
*cheit- “sing” I chytâ
*am- “love” I imâ
*déb- “need” II debê
*viçon- “see” II viçenê
*séd- “sit” II sedê
*vénd- “sell” III véndey
*lég- “read” III léggey
*ud- “hear” III udy
*ysc- “know” IV yschî
*chenosc- “recognize” IV chenoschî
*dorom- “sleep” IV dremî

Three verbs have irregular infinitives.

Stem Conjugation Singular
*es-/s- “be” n/a ystâ
*lév- “take” I loâ
*v- “go” IV unî

4.5 The Present Tense

4.5.1 Regular Forms

The following table shows the regular present-tense forms in each of the four conjugations. The verbs shown are prelâ “speak”, debê “need”, véndey “sell”, and chenoschî “recognize”.

Tunisian Regular Present Tense
1Sg prel
2Sg tu prals
3Sg eu/ele pral
1Pl nos prelams
2Pl vos prelats
3Pl els pralê

The first person singular consists of the bare verbal stem featuring the I-Ablaut in the final syllable.

The second person singular consists of the verbal stem plus the suffix -s. This is pronounced [s] after voiceless consonants and [z] everywhere else. If the stem ends in a coronal fricative, orthographically the form is regular, but an epenthetic [ɪ] is inserted between the stem and ending: pydsâ “think” → peidss [ˈpejt.sɪs].

The third person singular consists of the bare verbal stem with no ablaut. Consequently, the first and third person singulars are identical for most verbs if the stem cannot undergo I-Ablaut.

The first person plural consists of the verbal stem, a thematic vowel, and the ending -ms, pronounced [mz]. In the first, second, and fourth conjugations the thematic vowel is a stressed /a/, /e/, and /i/ respectively, while the verbal stem appears in its reduced grade. In the third conjugation, the stem appears in its full grade, but the thematic vowel is absent, and consequently an epenthetic [ɪ] is regularly inserted.

The second person plural behaves just like the first person plural, only with the ending -ts.

The third person plural adds the endings (I/II), (III), or -iô (IV) to the full grade of the verbal stem.

Some of these endings can result in fully predictable spelling changes even though the pronunciation is completely regular. Notice above, for instance, how the stem for “recognize” varies between *chenosc- when by itself or before a consonant and *chenosch- when before a front vowel. Similarly, the stem for “need”, which is always pronounced /deb/ in the full grade, is spelled *deb- in monosyllabic forms (since graphical e in a monosyllable is always /e/) and *déb- in polysyllabic forms (since graphical e in polysyllabic forms is always /ə/). More generally, Tunisian spelling, at least as far as conjugation is concerned, generally opts for the most appropriate spelling for a given pronunciation, regardless of the spelling of other related forms.

4.5.2 Semi-Regular Forms

Verbs that do not follow the regular pattern outlined in the previous section, but whose patterns can still be predicted based on the phonological structure of the stem, are known as semi-regular verbs or minor conjugations (as opposed to the four mentioned before, which are known as the major conjugations). Stems Ending in /j/

All verb stems ending in /j/ belong to Conjugation I. This was due to all /j/-final stems in other conjugations either shifting to Conjugation I by dissimilation or losing the /j/ entirely by assimilation, as it is much more salient before a back vowel (i.e., Cja) than before a front vowel (i.e., Cje or Cji). However, their conjugation seems to share some traits of both the A and I conjugations, due to this underlying /j/ vocalizing as /i/ in certain positions. The present tense of źeliâ “insult” is shown below.

Present Tense: źeliâ “insult”
1Sg źéle
1Pl nos źelims
2Sg tu źalis
2Pl vos źelits
3Sg eu/ele źale
3Pl els źaliê

In the first and third persons singular, the yod remains in place and vocalizes as /ə/. I-Ablaut still occurs in the first person singular, but on the preceding vowel.

In the second person singular, first person plural, and second person plural, the yod vocalizes as /i/ (unstressed in 2Sg, stressed in 1Pl/2Pl). This results in the 1Pl and 2Pl forms superficially looking like Conjugation III forms, except unlike Conjugation III, the stem appears in a reduced grade.

The third person plural is completely regular. Stems with Metathesizing /r/

The metathesizing /r/ phonomenon occurs in stems that formerly had the structure *CVrC-, but that now alternate between *CrVC and *CVrVC. Examples include the verbs dremî “sleep” and frevî “boil”. These stems have the following three grades:

With these special graded forms in mind, it then becomes possible to conjugate these verbs regularly. Shown below is dremî:

Present Tense: dremî “sleep”
1Sg dorim
1Pl nos dremims
2Sg tu dorums
2Pl vos dremits
3Sg eu/ele dorum
3Pl els dorumiô

Verbs with stem-final /r/ after a consonant will be covered in section as a case of final consonant clusters. Stems Ending in /n/

Stem-final /n/ is generally regular, but in the second person singular it weakens to /j/ immediately before the -s ending, forming diphthongs. Shown below is the conjugation of viçenê “see” (II) and pynâ “fight” (I); the former is a typical /n/-final stem, while the latter shows the further vocalization of /j/ as /iː/ after already-existing diphthongs.

Present Tense: viçenê “see”
1Sg viçuin
1Pl nos viçenéms
2Sg tu viçuis
2Pl vos viçenéts
3Sg eu/ele viçun
3Pl els viçunê
Present Tense: pynâ “fight”
1Sg poin
1Pl nos pynams
2Sg tu poîs
2Pl vos pynats
3Sg eu/ele poin
3Pl els poinê
[ˈpoj.neː] Stems Containing Velar + Front Vowel

Historically, Tunisian palatalized the velar stops /k g/ to /ʃ ʒ/ before stressed front vowels. This causes problems in verbal stems containing these sequences where the stress shifts on and off that particular front vowel, leading to a /k ~ ʃ/ or /g ~ ʒ/ alternation within the same verb paradigm. While these alternations still exist in some dialects (e.g., çin “I eat” vs. chenams “we eat”), in the standard they have been levelled out in favor of the plosive. The following tables show the conjugation of chytâ “sing” and glâ “freeze”.

Present Tense: chytâ “sing”
1Sg cheit
1Pl nos chytams
2Sg tu cheits
2Pl vos chytats
3Sg eu/ele cheit
3Pl els cheitê
Present Tense: glâ “freeze”
1Sg ghil
1Pl nos glams
2Sg tu ghels
2Pl vos glats
3Sg eu/ele ghel
3Pl els ghélê

This sort of environment can also appear at the end of a stem, when the stem ends in /k g/ and is followed by a stressed front vowel. Here, the alternation is fully permissable, as apparently stem-final consonant changes are not considered as salient as stem-initial ones. Below is the conjugation of leçê “shine”:

Present Tense: leçê “shine”
1Sg liuc
1Pl nos leçéms
2Sg tu lucs
2Pl vos leçéts
3Sg eu/ele lucs
3Pl els luccê
[ˈlu.keː] Stems Ending in Consonant Clusters

There are two types of semi-regular verbs with stems ending in consonant clusters: vowelless stems, where a historical vowel may sporadically reappear to break up the cluster, and true clustered stems, where an epenthetic vowel appears word-finally to support the cluster.

Vowelless stems are verb stems that once ended in -CVC, but due to Tunisian vowel reduction, the vowel was lost in reduced-grade forms. This vowel will then reappear in full grade or I-Ablaut forms. Note that vowelless stems may actually contain vowels, and in fact often do; the name simply refers to the disappearing vowel in the stem. Examples include yspê “taste” (Conjugation II with full grade stem *ysap-) and ifchey “cause” (Conjugation III with full grade stem *eféc-) 1 .

Present Tense: yspê “taste”
1Sg ysép
1Pl nos yspéms
2Sg tu ysaps
2Pl vos yspéts
3Sg eu/ele ysap
3Pl els ysapê
Present Tense: ifchey “cause”
1Sg efic
1Pl nos efécms
2Sg tu efécs
2Pl vos efécts
3Sg eu/ele eféc
3Pl els efécô

True clustered stems are stems that have always ended in a cluster, so there is no vowel to reappear in full grade forms. In these verbs, an epenthetic /ə/ is inserted at the end of the first person singular and third person singular forms, perhaps a faint remnant of the verb endings that were once present in Old Tunisian. Examples include ytrâ “enter” (I) and solbey “unlock” (III). Note that not all verb stems ending in clusters get this epenthetic vowel; many are completely regular, and will simply tolerate the word-final cluster. The distribution appears to reflect the phonotactics of an earlier form of Tunisian which was less tolerant of word-final clusters than the modern language.

Present Tense: ytrâ “enter”
1Sg eitre
1Pl nos ytrams
2Sg tu eitrs
2Pl vos ytrats
3Sg eu/ele eitre
3Pl els eitrê
Present Tense: solbê “unlock”
1Sg sélbe
1Pl nos solbms
2Sg tu solbs
2Pl vos solbts
3Sg eu/ele solbe
3Pl els solbê

4.5.3 Irregular Forms

Of course, not all verbs have a predictable conjugation. Some are simply irregular, with paradigms that have to be memorized individually. Only two are completely exceptional: ystâ “be” (which, interestingly, lacks third person forms) and “be (emphatic), really be”, which has an Arabic-derived conjugation.

Present Tense: ystâ “be”
1Sg som
1Pl nos sums
2Sg tu es
2Pl vos ests
3Sg eu/ele 3Pl els
Present Tense: “be (emphatic)”
1Sg râne
1Pl nos rânâ
2Sg tu râc
2Pl vos râcm
3Sg eu/ele
3Pl els râm

The present tense of ystâ is actually the only irregular conjugation preserved from Latin. All other irregular Latin present tense verbs were regularized or lost on the way to modern Tunisian. However, a number of new verbs have become irregular. These include loâ “take”, unî “go”, vivê “live”, ebê “have”, and yddâ “give”.

Tunisian Irregular Present Tense


2Sg tu levs
3Sg eu/ele lev
1Pl nos loâms
2Pl vos loâts
3Pl els lévê

4.6 The Imperfect Tense

4.6.1 Regular Forms

Conjugations III and IV merge in the imperfect tense. The table below shows the regular imperfect tense forms.

Tunisian Regular Imperfect Tense
1Sg prelâm
2Sg tu prelâs
3Sg eu/ele prelâ
1Pl nos praliâms
2Pl vos praliâts
3Pl els prelaiê

The first person singular consists of the verb stem, a long theme vowel, and the suffix -m. The theme vowel is /aː/ for Conjugation I, /eː/ for Conjugation II, and /iː/ for Conjugations III and IV. In Conjugations I and II, the stem is reduced and unstressed, while in III and IV, the stem is stressed and has I-Ablaut.

The second person singular consists of the stem, theme vowel, and the suffix -s. Stress and stem grades are as in first person singular.

In the third person singular, only the theme vowel is added to the stem. Stress and stem grades are as before.

The first person plural has two endings: -iâms (I/II) and -îms (III/IV), with no theme vowel differentiation. Stress is as in the other imperfect forms, but in Conjugations I and II, the stem appears in the full grade, not the reduced grade.

The second person plural behaves identically to the first person plural, with the suffixes -iâts (I/II) and -îts (III/IV).

The third person plural consists of the suffix -aiê in all conjugations. In Conjugations I and II, the vowel /a/ of the ending is stressed, and the stem appears in the full grade. In Conjugations III and IV, the stem is stressed and it appears in the full grade (without I-Ablaut).

The distribution of the full and reduced grade in Conjugations I and II in the imperfect are the inverse of those in the present; in the imperfect, the reduced grade is used in all vowels except the first and second persons plural. In Conjugations III and IV, however, the I-Ablaut is used in all forms other than the third person plural, where the regular full grade is used instead.

4.6.2 Semi-Regular Forms Stems Ending in /j/

Stems with final /j/ are largely regular in the imperfect. The only irregularity is that this /j/ vocalizes to a stressed /i/ in the first and second persons plural, where the orthographic i is doing double duty as both the vowel /i/ of the stem and the consonant /j/ of the ending, so that a form such as telefoniâms is pronounced /təl.fə.ˈni.jamz/, not */təˈnjaːmz/ as would regularly be expected.

Imperfect Tense: źeliâ “insult”
1Sg źeliâm
1Pl nos źaliâms
2Sg tu źeliâs
2Pl vos źaliâts
3Sg eu/ele źeliâ
3Pl els źeliaiê
[ðə.ˈljaː.jeː] Stems with Metathesizing /r/

Stems with metathesizing /r/ are regular in the imperfect, insofar as the standard creation of the different grades of metathesizing /r/ stems is considered regular.

Imperfect Tense: dremî “sleep”
1Sg dorimîm
1Pl nos dorimîmz
2Sg tu dorimîs
2Pl vos dorimîts
3Sg eu/ele dorimî
3Pl els dorumaiê
[ˈdɔ.ru.mʌ.jeː] Stems Ending in /n/

Stems ending in /n/ are completely regular in the imperfect.

Imperfect Tense: viçenê “see”
1Sg viçenêm
1Pl nos viçuniâms
2Sg tu viçenês
2Pl vos viçuniâts
3Sg eu/ele viçenê
3Pl els viçenaiê
[vi.ʃə.ˈnaː.jeː] Stems Containing Velar + Front Vowel

Velar + front vowel sequences in stems like chytâ are completely regular in the imperfect; since the stress never falls on the stem, the palatalizing environment never appears. On the other hand, in Conjugations III and IV, where the stress can fall on the first syllable, the same sort of alternation could be possible in theory; in practice, however, all such verbs have undergone paradigmatic levelling and now appear with the fricative in all forms, as in jestî “be ready” (older gestî).

Stem-final palatalization, however, freely appears throughout the paradigm aside from the third person plural.

Imperfect Tense: leçê “shine”
1Sg leçêm
1Pl nos luçiâms
2Sg tu leçês
2Pl vos luçiâts
3Sg eu/ele leçê
3Pl els leccaiê
[lə.ˈkaː.jeː] Stems Ending in Consonant Clusters

Stems ending in final consonant clusters always appear without any epenthetic vowels in the imperfect, no matter the subtype.

Imperfect Tense: ifchey “cause”
1Sg efchîm
1Pl nos efchîms
2Sg tu efchîs
2Pl vos efchîts
3Sg eu/ele efchî
3Pl els efcaiê
Imperfect Tense: ytrâ “enter”
1Sg eitrâm
1Pl nos ytriâms
2Sg tu eitrâs
2Pl vos ytriâts
3Sg eu/ele eitrâ
3Pl els eitraiê

4.6.3 Irregular Forms

Imperfect Tense: ystâ “be”
1Sg erîm
1Pl nos irîms
2Sg tu erîs
2Pl vos irîts
3Sg eu/ele êr
3Pl els erê

4.7 The Perfect Tense

The Perfect Tense is a compound tense, consisting of an auxiliary plus a passive participle. The auxiliary verb used is a reduced form of the present tense of “be” for intransitive verbs (including reflexive verbs) and a reduced form of the present tense of “have” for transitive verbs. The auxiliaries are shown below.

Perfect Auxiliaries
Reduced “Be” Full “Be” Reduced “Have” Full “Have”
1Sg sem/-em
[səm, əm]
[aj, aj]
2Sg tu es/-es
[ɛs, əs]
[ajz, əs]
3Sg eu/ele e/-e
[e, ə]
[aj, aj]
1Pl nos sems/-esms
[səmz, əsɪmz]
[ɛmz, əms]
2Pl vos ests/-ests
[ɛsts, əsts]
[ɛts, əts]
3Pl els sô/-çu
[sɔː, ʃu]
[ʌ.jeː, ʃi]

Each of the auxiliaries has both an independent (preposed) and bound (postposed) form. The past participle (the formation of which will be discussed later) retains full gender and number agreement when used in combination with an independent auxiliary, but will always appear in the bare masculine singular when used with bound auxiliaries. When present, participle agreement with the “be” auxiliary is with the subject, and with the “have” auxiliary is with the direct object.

Perfect Tense: unî “come”
Independent Bound
1Sg sem unit(e)
[səm ˈu.nit(ə)]
2Sg tu es unit(e)
[ɛs ˈu.nit(ə)]
3Sg eu/ele e unit(e)
[e ˈu.nit(ə)]
1Pl nos sems units
[səmz ˈu.nits]
2Pl vos ests units
[ɛsts ˈu.nits]
3Pl els sô units
[sɔː ˈu.nits]
Perfect Tense: yscribey “write”
Independent Bound
1Sg ai yscrébt(e/s)
[aj ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
2Sg tu ais yscrébt(e/s)
[ajz ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
3Sg eu/ele ae yscrébt(e/s)
[aj ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
1Pl nos ems yscrébt(e/s)
[ɛmz ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
2Pl vos ets yscrébt(e/s)
[ɛts ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
3Pl els aiê yscrébt(e/s)
[a.jeː ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]

4.8 The Preterite Tense

4.8.1 Regular Forms

The preterite tense, though once widely used as a general perfective past tense, nowadays has a rather limited distribution, restricted by and large to narration (primarily in the written language) and marking immediate past or immediate future. It is also particularly prone to irregularities, which in combination with its restricted usage has resulted in many verbs having two preterite forms: an inherited irregular conjugation and a newer, regularized conjugation.

The table below shows the regular preterite conjugation.

Tunisian Regular Preterite Tense
1Sg prels
2Sg tu prélist
3Sg eu/ele prels
1Pl nos prélrims
2Pl vos prélrists
3Pl els prélrî

Each conjugation uses a different type of verb stem. Conjugations I and IV use the I-grade of the stem, due to the following theme vowel /i/ in most of the preterite endings. Conjugation II, which has the theme vowel /o/, uses the full grade. Conjugation III, which is ending-stressed in the preterite, uses the reduced grade throughout.

The preterite endings for all conjugations are 1Sg -s, 2Sg -Vst, 3Sg -s, 1Pl -rVms, 2Pl -rVsts, 3Pl -V̂, where V represents the conjugation's theme vowel. This theme vowel is /i/ in Conjugations I and IV, /o/ in Conjugation II, and /e/ in Conjugation III.

Note that Conjugation III features an augmented stem in the first and third persons singular, with the suffix *-ét- added after the verbal stem and before the preterite endings.

4.8.2 Semi-Regular Forms

The Tunisian preterite has very few semi-regular forms. Only two subcategories apply. Stems Ending in /j/

Stem-final /j/ vocalizes to /i/, and then regular preterite endings are added. If stem-final [i] comes in contact with an ending beginning with [i], the two merge into a long vowel: *teleféni- + -isttelefénîst “you phoned/are about to phone”. With telefoniâ “telephone”:

Preterite Tense: telefoniâ “telephone”
1Sg telefénis
1Pl nos telefénirims
2Sg tu telefénîst
2Pl vos telefénirists
3Sg eu/ele telefénis
3Pl els telefénirî
[təl.ˈː] Stems Ending in /m/ or /n/

Stem-final /m/ and /n/ denasalize in the plural forms of the preterite, becoming /b/ and /d/ respectively. This results in the immediately-preceding vowel diphthongizing and acquiring a /j/ off-glide prior to applying I-ablaut; since diphthongs have no I-grade equivalent, this often gives the appearance of diphthongization instead of applying I-ablaut. Historically, this was because *mr and *nr clusters were disallowed, and an intervening stop was introduced, giving *mbr and *ndr; the nasals were subsequently elided.

In addition, stem-final /n/ (but not /m/) will elide to /j/ in the first and third person singular forms as well, again taking place before the application of I-ablaut.

Shown below are the conjugations of cremâ “call” (standard grade stem *cram-) and chenâ “eat” (standard grade stem *chên-):

Preterite Tense: cremâ “call”
1Sg crems
1Pl nos craibrims
2Sg tu crémist
2Pl vos craibrists
3Sg eu/ele crems
3Pl els craibrî
Preterite Tense: chenâ “eat”
1Sg cheis
1Pl nos cheidrims
2Sg tu chinist
2Pl vos cheidrists
3Sg eu/ele cheis
3Pl els cheidrî

4.8.3 Irregular Forms

Latin had four types of irregularly-formed perfect stems (the predecessor of the Tunisian preterite). Of these, one (reduplication) was completely eliminated through analogical processes and another (vowel lengthening) disappeared through regular sound change. The two remaining class (waw perfects and sigmatic perfects) are the main source of modern irregular preterites. However, the distinction between these two classes has muddled, due to how both classes have historically influenced the regular preterites, and consequently modern Tunisian irregular preterites have features of both systems.

Irregular preterites occur only among Conjugation II and III verbs. They follow a special paradigm that combines aspects of the regular Conjugation II and III paradigms. There are two broad types, though they follow the same basic conjugation rules. Some, such as diccey “say”, yscribey “write”, and iôccey “arrive” have a preterite stem consisting of the regular verb stem + /s/: *dics-, *yscrips-, *iôcs-. Others, such as poney “put”, séndey “feel”, and tenê “hold” actually replace the stem-final consonant with /s/ in the preterite: *pos-, *seis-, *tés-.

The endings used by the first type are -Ø, -ost, -Ø, -roms, -rosts, -rô, all ending-stressed when applicable. The 1Sg and 3Sg endings are zero since the usual -s marker has been incorporated into the verb stem. In the plural forms, the stem-final /s/ will usually undergo metathesis with the immediately preceding consonant in order to avoid a -Csr- cluster.

The endings used by the second type as -s, -ost, -s, -roms, -rosts, -rô, all ending-stressed when applicable. Here the 1Sg and 3Sg endings are always explicitly marked orthographically, even though there is no difference in pronunciation. This is due to the fact that replacing the stem-final consonant with /s/ gives more of an appearance of suppletivism, so the regular preterite endings are applied as they would normally be, whereas the first type has more of an appearance of a stem where this /s/ has just been generalized, and thus is already present in the 1Sg and 3Sg forms.

In modern Tunisian, almost all verbs with irregular preterites may also be conjugated regularly, with the irregular forms typically having more of a literary or formal feel. In colloquial usage, the first type of irregular preterite is almost always regularized, while the second type tends to be more resilient.

Shown below are the preterite conjugations, both regular and irregular, of four verbs. Diccey and yscribey represent the first type, while poney and tenê represent the second type.

Preterite Tense: diccey “say”
1Sg dics
1Pl nos descroms, dicroms
[dəs.ˈkromz, ˈdi.kromz]
2Sg tu decsost, dicost
[dək.ˈsost, ˈdi.kost]
2Pl vos descrosts, dicrosts
[dəs.ˈkrosts, ˈdi.krosts]
3Sg eu/ele dics
3Pl els descrô, dicrô
[dəs.ˈkrɔə, ˈdi.krɔː]
Preterite Tense: yscribey “write”
1Sg yscrips, yscribs
1Pl nos yscresproms, yscribroms
[is.krəs.ˈpromz, ˈis.kri.brumz]
2Sg tu yscrepsost, yscribost
[is.krəp.ˈsost, ˈis.kri.bost]
2Pl vos yscresprosts, yscribrosts
[is.krəs.ˈprosts, ˈis.kri.brusts]
3Sg eu/ele yscrips, yscribs
3Pl els yscresprô, yscribrô
[is.krəs.ˈprɔə, ˈis.kri.brɔː]
Preterite Tense: poney “put”
1Sg poss, penéts
[ˈpos, pə.ˈnɛts]
1Pl nos pesroms, peidréms
[pəs.ˈromz, pej.ˈdrɛmz]
2Sg tu pesost, penést
[pə.ˈsost, pə.ˈnɛst]
2Pl vos pesrosts, peidrésts
[pəs.ˈrosts, pej.ˈdrɛsts]
3Sg eu/ele poss, penéts
[ˈpos, pə.ˈnɛts]
3Pl els pesrô, peidrê
[pəs.ˈrɔə, pej.ˈdreə]
Preterite Tense: tenê “hold”
1Sg tess, teis
[ˈtɛs, ˈtejz]
1Pl nos tesroms, teidroms
[təs.ˈromz, ˈtej.drumz]
2Sg tu tesost, tinost
[tə.ˈsost, ˈti.nust]
2Pl vos tesrosts, teidrosts
[təs.ˈrosts, ˈtej.drusts]
3Sg eu/ele tess, teis
[ˈtɛs, ˈtejz]
3Pl els tesrô, teidrô
[təs.ˈrɔə, ˈtej.drɔː]

A handful of verbs have truly irregular preterite stems with no option for regular forms.

4.9 The Future Tenses

Tunisian has two future tenses, a synthetic form (typically called Future I) and an analytic form (typically called Future II). The synthetic future is almost completely absent in colloquial usage, and is mostly confined to higher registers and the literary standard.

4.9.1 Regular Forms

The Future I is formed identically across all four conjugation classes. It consists of the full grade stem plus the suffixes -rai, -rais, -rai, -rms, -rts, -rê.

1Sg pralrai
2Sg tu pralrais
3Sg eu/ele pralrai
1Pl nos pralrms
2Pl vos pralrts
3Pl els pralrê

The Future II consists of an auxiliary verb, the definite article il (singular subject; l- before a vowel) or ls (plural subject, pronounced [uz]), and the singular or plural infinitive of the main verb. The auxiliary marks person and number, though has very irregular conjugation: viuc, vucs, vuc, vumsc, vutsc, vuct. In colloquial usage, the form vûsc has been generalized to all plural forms as well as the second person singular, yielding the following forms: viuc, vûsc, vuc, vûsc, vûsc, vûsc.

1Sg viuc il prelâ
[ˈvjuk il prə.ˈlaː]
viuc il debê
[ˈvjuk il də.ˈbeə]
viuc il véndey
[ˈvjuk il ˈvɛn.dej]
viuc il chenoschî
[ˈvjuk il kə.ˈnos.kiː]
2Sg tu vucs il prelâ
[ˈvuks il prə.ˈlaː]
vucs il debê
[ˈvuks il də.ˈbeə]
vucs il véndey
[ˈvuks il ˈvɛn.dej]
vucs il chenoschî
[ˈvuks il kə.ˈnos.kiː]
3Sg eu/ele vuc il prelâ
[ˈvuk il prə.ˈlaː]
vuc il debê
[ˈvuk il də.ˈbeə]
vuc il véndey
[ˈvuk il ˈvɛn.dej]
vuc il chenoschî
[ˈvuk il kə.ˈnos.kiː]
1Pl nos vumsc ls pralnes
[ˈvumsk us ˈpraːl.nəz]
vumsc ls débnes
[ˈvumsk uz ˈdɛb.nəz]
vumsc ls véndnes
[ˈvumsk uz ˈvɛn.nəz]
vumsc ls chenoscnes
[ˈvumsk us kə.ˈnosk.nəz]
2Pl vos vutsc ls pralnes
[ˈvutsk us ˈpraːl.nəz]
vutsc ls débnes
[ˈvutsk uz ˈdɛb.nəz]
vutsc ls véndnes
[ˈvutsk uz ˈvɛn.nəz]
vutsc ls chenoscnes
[ˈvutsk us kə.ˈnosk.nəz]
3Pl els vuct ls pralnes
[ˈvukt us ˈpraːl.nəz]
vuct ls débnes
[ˈvukt uz ˈdɛb.nəz]
vuct ls véndnes
[ˈvukt uz ˈvɛn.nəz]
vuct ls chenoscnes
[ˈvukt us kə.ˈnosk.nəz]

4.9.2 Semi-Regular Forms

Only Future I poses an issue with semi-regular and irregular verbs, since Future II is regularly formed from the infinitive. For the most part, the semi-regular Future I forms mirror those of the preterite. Stems Ending in /j/

Stem-final /j/ vocalizes to /i/ in the Future I. In addition, the 1Pl and 2Pl endings become pleophonic, realized as -rims and -rits rather than -rms and -rts.

Future I Tense: telefoniâ “telephone”
1Sg telefonirai
1Pl nos telefonirims
2Sg tu telefonirais
2Pl vos telefonirits
3Sg eu/ele telefonirai
3Pl els telefonirê
[təl.ˈfɔ.ni.reː] Stems Ending in /m/ or /n/

Stem-final /m/ and /n/ denasalize in the Future I, becoming /b/ and /d/ respectively. The vowel immediately preceding it acquires a /j/ off-glide. As in the preterite, this is due to historical *mr/*nr becoming *mbr/*ndr, with subsequent weakening of the nasal element.

Future I Tense: cremâ “call”
1Sg craibrai
1Pl nos craibrms
2Sg tu craibrais
2Pl vos craibrts
3Sg eu/ele craibrai
3Pl els craibrê
Future I Tense: chenâ “eat”
1Sg cheidrai
1Pl nos cheidrms
2Sg tu cheidrais
2Pl vos cheidrts
3Sg eu/ele cheidrai
3Pl els cheidrê

4.9.3 Irregular Forms

Four verbs have irregular Future I forms: ystâ “be”, loâ “take”, unî “go”, and ebê “have”. All four add regular endings to an irregular stem.

Tunisian Irregular Future Tense
1Sg irai
2Sg tu irais
3Sg eu/ele irai
1Pl nos irims
2Pl vos irits
3Pl els irê

4.10 The Subjunctive Mood

Formal and literary registers of Tunisian have two tenses in the subjunctive mood: an analytic present subjunctive and a periphrastic past subjunctives. The past subjunctive consists of the present subjunctive of ystâ or ebê plus a participle (just like the perfect tense). The subjunctive is mostly absent in colloquial usage.

4.10.1 Regular Forms

For most verbs, the behavior of the present subjunctive closely parallels that of the present indicative, and it is common for several verb forms to be identical in both moods. In fact, the only distinct endings are those for the 1Pl and 2Pl forms, with Conjugation I verbs taking -éms and -éts and all other verbs taking -ams and -ats, and for some verbs the 3Pl form (with being used across all conjugations, rather than only Conjugation III). However, unlike the present indicative, all verbs share a single stress pattern with the 1Pl and 2Pl being ending-stressed and all other forms stem-stressed, and instead of the full grade on stem-stressed forms, the I-ablaut appears throughout. The contrast between Conjugations II, III, and IV is lost completely.

Tunisian Regular Present Subjunctive Tense
1Sg prel
2Sg tu prels
3Sg eu/ele prel
1Pl nos preléms
2Pl vos preléts
3Pl els prélê

The past subjunctive is always regular, and is formed following the same rules as the perfect indicative, with the exception that the auxiliary appears in the present subjunctive and cannot appear in a bound form. Shown below are the past subjunctive forms of the intransitive verb unî “go” and the transitive verb yscribey “write”:

Past Subjunctive
unî “go” yscribey “write”
1Sg sî unit(e)
[siː ˈu.nit(ə)]
ai yscrébt(e/s)
[aj ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
2Sg tu sîs unit(e)
[siːz ˈu.nit(ə)]
ais yscrébt(e/s)
[ajz ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
3Sg eu/ele sî unit(e)
[siː ˈu.nit(ə)]
ae yscrébt(e/s)
[aj ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
1Pl nos sims units
[simz ˈu.nits]
iams yscrébt(e/s)
[jamz ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
2Pl vos sits units
[sits ˈu.nits]
iats yscrébt(e/s)
[jats ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]
3Pl els siê units
[sjeː ˈu.nits]
aiê yscrébt(e/s)
[a.jeː ˈis.krɛpt(ə/s)]

4.10.2 Semi-Regular Forms

Just about every class of semi-regular verb in the present indicative also exists in the present subjunctive under much the same conditions. However, the subjunctive will not create new changes or consonant alternations that do not already exit in the present indicative; for instance, if the present indicative does not have a palatalization alternation, the present subjunctive also will not, even if the environment is correct for palatalization to take place. Stems Ending in /j/

Stem-final /j/ vocalizes as /ə/ in the first person singular and third person singular, and as /i/ in the second person singular. In all plural forms it remains consonantal, unlike the indicative present. With źeliâ “insult”:

Present Subjunctive: źeliâ “insult”
1Sg źéle
1Pl nos źeliéms
2Sg tu źélis
2Pl vos źeliéts
3Sg eu/ele źéle
3Pl els źéliê
[ˈðe.ljeː] Stems with Metathesizing /r/

Stems with a metathesizing /r/ behave as in the present tense, bearing in mind that the I-ablaut form *CVriC- appears whenever the stem is stressed.

Present Subjunctive: dremî “sleep”
1Sg dorim
1Pl nos dremams
2Sg tu dorims
2Pl vos dremats
3Sg eu/ele dorim
3Pl els dorimê
[ˈdɔ.ri.meː] Stems Ending in /n/

Stem-final /n/ weakens to /j/ in the second person singular (disappearing after diphthongs), as in the indicative present.

Present Subjunctive: viçenê “see”
1Sg viçuin
1Pl nos viçenams
2Sg tu viçuis
2Pl vos viçenats
3Sg eu/ele viçuin
3Pl els viçuinê
[ˈvi.ʃuj.neː] Stems Containing Velar + Front Vowel

Stems containing a velar + front vowel combination decline as in the present indicative.

Present Subjunctive: chytâ “sing”
1Sg cheit
1Pl nos chytéms
2Sg tu cheits
2Pl vos chytéts
3Sg eu/ele cheit
3Pl els cheitê
Present Subjunctive: glâ “freeze”
1Sg ghil
1Pl nos glems
2Sg tu ghels
2Pl vos glets
3Sg eu/ele ghel
3Pl els ghélê

Stem-final velars can be grouped into two subtypes. If the consonant undergoes palatalization in the present indicative, then it will also undergo palatalization in the present subjunctive in the same forms, even if the environment is not one that would normally trigger palatalization; leçê “shine” below demonstrates this class. On the other hand, if the consonant does not undergo any changes in the present indicative, then no palatalization will take place in the subjunctive; crecâ “try, attempt” demonstrates this class.

Present Subjunctive: leçê “shine”
1Sg liuc
1Pl nos leçams
2Sg tu liucs
2Pl vos leçats
3Sg eu/ele liuc
3Pl els liuccê
Present Subjunctive: crecâ “try”
1Sg crec
1Pl nos creccéms
2Sg tu crecs
2Pl vos creccéts
3Sg eu/ele crec
3Pl els créccê
[ˈkre.keː] Stems Ending in Consonant Clusters

Stem-final consonant clusters behave the same way as in the present indicative. In particular, the expanded present-tense stems used by verbs with vowelless roots are the same in the present subjunctive. However, if the verb belongs to Conjugation III (and thus always has strong forms in the present indicative), it will undergo reduction in the subjunctive; compare present indicative efécms and present subjunctive ifcams “we cause”.

Present Subjunctive: yspê “taste”
1Sg ysép
1Pl nos yspams
2Sg tu yséps
2Pl vos yspats
3Sg eu/ele ysép
3Pl els ysépê
Present Subjunctive: ifchey “cause”
1Sg efic
1Pl nos ifcams
2Sg tu efics
2Pl vos ifcats
3Sg eu/ele efic
3Pl els eficcê

4.10.3 Irregular Forms

Several verbs have irregular subjunctive forms. Note that they appear to have mutually influenced each other, as can be seen in the first person/third person singular forms.

Tunisian Irregular Present Subjunctive Tense



2Sg tu sîs
3Sg eu/ele



1Pl nos sims
2Pl vos sits
3Pl els siê

4.11 The Imperative Mood

The Tunisian imperative mood exists solely in the present tense, and only has second person forms. The singular consists of the bare strong grade stem with no endings; it is almost always identical with the third person singular of the present indicative, including verbs with semi-regular conjugations. The plural adds an unstressed -it to the singular; this suffix will never cause palatalization.

Tunisian Imperatives
2Sg 2Pl
prelâ “speak” pral!
debê “need” deb!
vendey “sell” vend!
chenoschî “recognize” chenosc!
źeliâ “insult” źale!
çirey “want” çir!
dremî “sleep” dorum!
viçenê “see” viçun!
chytâ “sing” cheit!
yspê “taste” ysap!
ytrâ “enter” eitre!

A few verbs have irregular imperative forms. Note that most of these are syncretic with the third person singular present subjunctive, rather than the present indicative. Several of these verbs have multiple possible imperative forms.

Tunisian Irregular Imperatives
2Sg 2Pl
ystâ “be” sî!
loâ “take” lî!
lévit! leît!
[ˈle.vit, ˈle.jit]
unî “go” vî!
vénit, vît!
[ˈve.nit, ˈviːt]
ebê “have” ab!
yddâ “give” dî! dâ! dad!
[ˈdiː, ˈdaː, ˈdaːd]
dadit! daît!
[ˈdaː.dit, ˈdaː.jit]

4.12 Participles

Tunisian verbs can form two participles: a present active and a past passive. These forms are morphologically adjectives, showing gender and number agreement like any other adjective, but retain a few distinctly verbal qualities such as the ability to take direct objects. These syntactic features will be discussed in more detail later.

The present active participle is generally quite regularly formed. The masculine singular (i.e., the simplest form) consists of the weak-grade verbal stem plus the suffix -én. This suffix is always stressed. If the stem ends in a velar consonant and undergoes palatalization in the present tense, then palatalization will occur in the present participle as well.

The past passive participle in more complicated in formation. The basic suffixes are -ast for Conjugation I, -ust for Conjugations II and III, and -ist for Conjugation IV. In Conjugation III, the root is strong-grade and stressed; everywhere else, the root is weak-grade and the ending is stressed. The suffix -ist always triggers palatalization of stem-final velars, with -sc- in addition becoming -ç-. These regular suffixes describe the vast majority of Tunisian verbs, and for historical reasons are often known as weak participles.

All verbs have both participles. Even intransitive verbs, which cannot normally appear in the passive voice, have past passive participles, since they are required to form the perfect tense.

Tunisian Regular and Weak Participles
Present Past
prelâ “speak” prelén
debê “need” debén
véndey “sell” vendén
chenoschî “recognize” cheneschén
źeliâ “insult” źelién
çirey “want” çerén
dremî “sleep” dremén
viçenê “see” viçenén
chytâ “sing” chytén
yspê “taste” yspén
ytrâ “enter” ytrén

The -is- derivational suffix is dropped in the past participle, but not in the present particple.

Tunisian -is- Participles
Present Past
unisî “unify” unisén
civilisî “civilize” civilisén
energisî “energize” energisén

Tunisian also has a number of strong (irregular) passive participles, all belonging to Conjugation II and III verbs. Their unifying feature is that the participle-forming suffix is added directly to the verbal stem with no intervening vowel, which may trigger other irregularities. There is a strong, but not absolute, correlation between verbs that have strong past passive participles and irregular preterites. As in the preterite, there are two subclasses: some verbs simply add -t (not -st!) directly to the strong-grade stem, and others first replace the stem-final consonant with /s/ before adding -t. Unlike the preterite, verbs with strong participles do not have the option of using regularized weak forms instead.

Tunisian Irregular and Strong Participles
Present Past
capey “understand” chepén
crudey “close” credén
diccey “say” deccén
faccey “make, do” feccén
iôccey “arrive” iôccén
iprey “open” iprén
yscribey “write” yscribén
léggey “read” leggén
ys-morey “die” ys-merén
poney “put” penén
rompey “break” rempén
séndey “feel” sendén
tenê “hold” tenén
veiccey “win” vyccén

Prefixed derivatives of verbs with strong participles themselves have strong participles: veiccey “win” → cheveiccê “convince” → chevéct “convinced”, capey “understand” → rçipey “receive” → rçipt “received”.

The verbs that tend to be irregular throughout the language—verbs like “be”, “go”, “give”, etc.—actually tend to have fairly regular participles.

Tunisian Participles
Present Past
ystâ “be” ystén
loâ “take” loên
unî “go” unén
ebê “have” ebén
yddâ “give” dén

4.13 Negation

For most verbs, negation is handled by a circumfix consisting of the prefixed clitic n-/m-/nu- and the particle /mic. The prefixed element always comes at the absolute beginning of the verb phrase, attaching itself to whatever word (whether verb or clitic pronoun) comes first. The particle behaves more like an unbound adverb; its most neutral position is at the end of the verb complex (after any clitics or participles, but before secondary infinitives), but may also appear at the beginning or end of the clause. The details of word order will be discussed later.

The prefixed negative clitic takes one of three forms, depending on the following element. If it is attached directly to the verb and the verb begins with /p/ or /b/, it takes the form m-, pronounced [ɪm]: m-pet mî il diccey [ɪm.ˈpɛt miː il ˈdi.kej] “I cannot say”. If it is attached directly to the verb and the verb begins with any other sound, it takes the form n-, pronounced [ɪn] before a consonant and [n] before a vowel: n-viv mî nic [ɪn.ˈviv miː ˈnik] “I don't live here”, n-usc mî [ˈnusk miː] “I don't know”. The form nu- is used when the clitic is followed by yet another clitic: nu-t chenésc mî [nut kə.ˈnɛsk miː] “I don't know/recognize you”.

The negative particle has two forms, a bound form and an unbound form mîc. The bound form is used whenever the particle appears in its default position at the end of the verb complex, and the unbound form in all other positions, although there is some variation in clause-final position: n-dics mî llî! [ɪn.ˈdiks miː u.ˈliː] “I didn't say that”, mic n-dics llî! [ˈmik ɪn.ˈdiks u.ˈliː] “I did not say that!”.

The future auxiliary has irregular negative forms. The initial /v/ changes to /b/, and thus the prefixed negative clitic is always m-: viuc il prelâ [ˈvjuk lil prə.ˈlaː] “I will speak”, m-biuc mî prelâ [ɪm.ˈbjuk miː prə.ˈlaː] “I will not speak”.

4.14 The Mediopassive Voice

Tunisian forms mediopassives with the clitic s- (before a vowel) or ys- (before a consonant) attached to the otherwise regularly-conjugated verb: s-iprey [ˈsi.prej] “open, be opened”, ys-léggey [ˈis.le.gej] “be read”. In constructions with multiple or auxiliary verbs, the clitic attaches to either the first or second verb according to specific rules that will be outlined later. This clitic is considered part of the citation form of the verb. When added to words beginning with the letter y (representing a historic epenthetic vowel), this vowel converts to u: s-uscribey [ˈsus.kri.bej] “be written”.

Old Tunisian could also form passives using the verb ystâ “be” plus a passive participle, but this is no longer idiomatic outside of certain fixed expressions.

4.15 Stative Verbs

Stative verbs are a special subparadigm of Conjugation IV verbs that follow a defective and highly idiosyncratic pattern. These verbs denote that a particular state or quality is present at a particular point in time, but at the same time is ephemeral and not an inherent quality of the subject being described. They often derive from adjectival bases, such as novî [nu.ˈviː] “appear new” or rosî [ru.ˈsiː] “appear red, blush”, but a handful do not, such as jestî [ʒəs.ˈtiː] “be ready” or nodî [nu.ˈdiː] “bore, be boring”.

These stative verbs all belong to Conjugation IV and can only appear in compound tenses (i.e., the perfect or future), and conjugate in the present tense using a compound construction not used by other verbs. They also have a defective preterite form, their sole finite form that does not require an auxiliary verb. To further complicate matters, they switch between active and middle voice depending on tense.

In the present tense, stative verbs appear using a conjugated form of ystâ “be” plus a present participle. The participle will agree with the subject in gender and number.

Present Tense: rosî “appear red, blush”
1Sg som resén(e)
[som rə.ˈsɛn(ə)]
1Pl nos sums reseis
[sumz rə.ˈsejz]
2Sg tu es resén(e)
[ɛs rə.ˈsɛn(ə)]
2Pl vos ests reseis
[ɛsts rə.ˈsejz]
3Sg eu/ele resén(e)
3Pl els reseis
Present Tense: jestî “be ready”
1Sg som jestén(e)
[som ʒəs.ˈtɛn(ə)]
1Pl nos sums jesteis
[sumz ʒəs.ˈtɛjz]
2Sg tu es jestén(e)
[ɛs ʒəs.ˈtɛn(ə)]
2Pl vos ests jesteis
[ɛsts ʒəs.ˈtejz]
3Sg eu/ele jestén(e)
3Pl els jesteis

The perfect and future tenses operate as expected, except that they must appear in the middle voice in the perfect.

Perfect Tense: rosî “appear red, blush”
Independent Bound
1Sg sem yst-resist(e)
[səm is.trə.ˈsist(ə)]
2Sg tu es yst-resist(e)
[ɛs is.trə.ˈsist(ə)]
3Sg eu/ele e st-resist(e)
1Pl nos sems yst-resiçs
[səmz is.trə.ˈsistʃ]
2Pl vos ests yst-resiçs
[ɛsts is.trə.ˈsistʃ]
3Pl els sô st-resiçs
Perfect Tense: jestî “be ready”
Independent Bound
1Sg sem ys-jestist(e)
[səm iz.ʒəs.ˈtist(ə)]
2Sg tu es ys-jestist(e)
[ɛs iz.ʒəs.ˈtist(ə)]
3Sg eu/ele e s-jestist(e)
1Pl nos sems ys-jestiçs
[səmz iz.ʒəs.ˈtistʃ]
2Pl vos ests ys-jestiçs
[ɛsts iz.ʒəs.ˈtistʃ]
3Pl els sô s-jestiçs
Future I Tense: rosî “appear red, blush”
1Sg viuc il rosî
[ˈvjuk il ru.ˈsiː]
1Pl nos vumsc ls rosnes
[ˈvumsk uz ˈros.nəz]
2Sg tu vucs il rosî
[ˈvuks il ru.ˈsiː]
2Pl vos vutsc ls rosnes
[ˈvutsk uz ˈros.nəz]
3Sg eu/ele vuc il rosî
[ˈvuk il ru.ˈsiː]
3Pl els vuct ls rosnes
[ˈvukt uz ˈros.nəz]
Future I Tense: jestî “be ready”
1Sg viuc il jestî
[ˈvjuk il ʒəs.ˈtiː]
1Pl nos vumsc ls jéstnes
[ˈvumsk uz ˈʒɛst.nəz]
2Sg tu vucs il jestî
[ˈvuks il ʒəs.ˈtiː]
2Pl vos vutsc ls jéstnes
[ˈvutsk uz ˈʒɛst.nəz]
3Sg eu/ele vuc il jestî
[ˈvuk il ʒəs.ˈtiː]
3Pl els vuct ls jéstnes
[ˈvukt uz ˈʒɛst.nəz]

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the sole inflected finite form is the preterite. In the first and second persons, stative verbs follow the regular preterite paradigm. In the third person, the form used is always the strong stem + -s, for both singular and plural. Note, however, that the boundary behavior in the third person is more typical of adjectives than of verbs, such as how st+s collapses into çs in the third person in jéçs “he/she/it was ready”, but not in the first person singular jists “I was ready”.

Preterite Tense: rosî “appear red, blush”
1Sg ress
1Pl nos résrims
2Sg tu résist
2Pl vos résrists
3Sg eu/ele ross
3Pl els ross
Preterite Tense: jestî “be ready”
1Sg jists
1Pl nos jistrims
2Sg tu jistist
2Pl vos jistrists
3Sg eu/ele jéçs
3Pl els jéçs

1) Note that while Conjugation III and IV verbs typically have infinitives in the full grade, vowelless stems always have infinitives in the reduced grade. Thus, the infinitive is ifchê “to cause”, not *eféccê.