Extraction or Focus

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Sereer has grammaticalized focus marking. This page is dedicated to explaining these patterns.



Sereer employs special morphology on the verb when a constituent has been fronted for focus or wh-marking. This morphology generally involves the vowel u, and therefore is sometimes referred to as u-morphology here. Examples are below:

  1. Yande nafu Jegan 
    Yande naf-u Jegan Yande hit-foc Jegan
    'It's Yande who hit Jegan. (165)'
  1. Yande anafu.
    Yande a= naf-u Yande 3sg.sbj hit-foc
    'It's Yande he hit. (165)'
  1. xar ajawu.
    xar a= jaw-u what 3sg.sbj cook-foc
    'What did he cook?. '

Example (1) is an instance of subject focus. The verb takes the suffix -u and has no subject marking. Example (2) shows object marking, where the object Yande has been fronted and the -u again occurs. Finally, we see an object wh-question, and the suffix -u again surfaces.

U-Extraction in Wh-questions

See the page on Questions. When a licensed argument---either licensed by the verb itself or by an applicative suffix---is fronted to form a WH-question, the suffixal marker of extraction -u is added to the verb. This suffix is visible if the relevant clause's verb is not marked for ongoing action, in which case the -u suffix seems to be deleted by the -a 'PROG' suffix.

Reduplication of predicates cannot occur when question-related wh-extraction of the subject is marked: qaarit ke a laaɓiira (laaɓiir) 'the friends are generous' but qaarit qum laaɓiiru (*laaɓiir)?, 'which friends are generous?' (115)


Focus marking and wh-question formation both involve fronting of the constituent in focus or in question. Other arguments stay in the same position. These constructions should probably be analyzed as involving only a single clause. Evidence for this comes from resumption. When a pause is inserted between Yande and the verb in (2), the verb must take the object suffix -(i)n:

  1. Yande, anafun.
    Yande a= naf-u-n Yande, 3sg.sbj hit-foc
    'Yande, it's him who he hit. (165)'

I (Nico) take this to indicate that Yande above is clause external and coreferenced with the pronominal suffix on the verb. This contrasts to example (2) in the introduction, where Yande seemingly occupies the same position but there is no resumption.

Verum focus with kaa=

The "particle" kaa (1sg form: kaam) may mark verum focus on the clause in which it appears. Verum focus is the focus of the positive truth value of a clause. In the examples below, (5) shows a non-verum-focused sentence, and (6) shows an identical sentence with verum focus.

  1. injawa	maalo.
    in= jaw –a maalo 2PL= cook -PROX rice
    'We cook rice. (217)'
  1. kaa injaw maalo.
    kaa= in= jaw maalo VFM= 1PL= cook rice
    'We (do) cook rice. (217)'

kaa cannot co-occur with negation, as seen in (7). This is because it only focuses positive truth-value.

  1. *kaa te ʄufee
    kaa= te= ʄuf -ee VFM= 3SG= run -NEG
    'Intended: He doesn’t run/ isn’t running. (258)'

kaa can also be used in question formation, as in (8). Presumably, it questions formed with kaa presuppose a truth value for the sentence, but it is not clear at this time whether that truth value is affirmative or negative (compare to English isn't or doesn't in polar questions).

  1. kaa gef’u aplat?
    kaa= gef -' -u aplat VFM= break -PST -FV plate
    'Did you break a plate? (282)'

Questions with kaa can also be formed with the interrogative particle ndax, as in (9).

  1. ndax kaam ñaamaa?
    ndax kaam ñaam -aa interr vfm.1sg eat -pres.prog
    'Am I eating? (101)'

Because kaa focuses positive truth value, it cannot be used as an answer to a WH question, as the question answer pair in (10) and (11) show.

  1. xar nuñaam’u?
    xar nu= ñaam -‘ -u what 2PL= eat -PST -FOC
    'What did you eat?'
  1. #kaa iñaam maalo
    kaa= i= ñaam maalo VFM= 3SG= eat rice
    'We eat/ate rice. (217)'

It is also incompatible with constituent focus, as shown in (12).

  1. *maalo kaa iñaam(u)
    maalo kaa= i= ñaam (-u) rice VFM= 1PL= eat (-FOC)
    'Intended: It's rice that we did eat.'

kaa= and verbal inflectional morphology

kaa triggers the use of a distinct verbal inflectional paradigm. Subject and tense/aspect marking are the affected categories.

subject marking

The table below shows the different combinations of kaa with subject pronouns. Most of these are formed with the 'strong' form pronouns (see Subject marking paradigms), but the first person singular takes a special combined form kaam.

kaa subject paradigm



1st Person


kaa in

2nd Person


kaa nu(n)

3rd Person

kaa te

kaa de

object marking

Object marking appears to be the same as for non-kaa sentences. The table below shows the object marking paradigm for the verb naf in the past tense with verum focus.

"hit", past tense with kaa and pronominal objects

1st sg. obj.

2nd sg. obj.

3rd sg. obj.

1st pl. obj.

2nd pl. obj.

3rd pl. obj.

1st sg. subj.


kaam naf'ong

kaam naf'in


kaam naf'a nun

kaam naf'a den

2nd sg. subj.

kaa naf'aam


kaa naf'in

kaa naf'a 'in


kaa naf'a den

3rd sg. subj.

kaa te naf'am

kaa te naf'ong

kaa te naf'un

kaa te naf'u 'in

kaa te naf'u nuun

kaa te naf'u a den

1st pl. subj.


kaa inaf'ong

kaa inaf'un


kaa inaf'u nun

kaa inaf'u a den

2nd pl. subj.

kaa nunaf'am


kaa nunaf'un

kaa nunaf'u 'in


kaa nunaf'u a den

3rd pl. subj.

kaa de naf'aam

kaa de naf'ong

kaa de naf'un

kaa de naf'u 'in

kaa de naf'u nun

kaa de naf'u a den

tense and aspect

kaa is incompatible with the future and present tense auxiliaries. It also triggers different marking of tense and aspect for the proximal, past, and past progressive, as shown in the examples below (compare to the tense and aspect marking without kaa.

  1. kaa  te        bug   a    Yande  
    kaa  3SG.SUBJ  love  OBJ  Yande  
    'He loves Yande.'
  1. kaa  te        bug   -‘    -u   a    Yande  
    kaa  3SG.SUBJ  love  -PST  -FV  OBJ  Yande  
    'He loved Yande.'
  1. kaa  te        bug   -eeg       -u   a    Yande  
    kaa  3SG.SUBJ  love  -PST.PROG  -FV  OBJ  Yande  
    'He was dating/loving Yande.'

The final vowel -u' seen in the last two examples above also appears in many narrative contexts. The conditioning of final -u as opposed to the more widely distributed default -a is not currently known.

kaa in embedded clauses

Kaa can only appear in clauses that make assertions. Generally these are main clauses, but there are certain types of embedded clauses that also permit the use of the particle. kaa can appear in reported speech and statements of knowledge/belief (or lack thereof), as shown in the examples below.

  1. xalatee yee kaa te gefaa afnir le.
    xalat -ee yee kaa= te= gef -aa afnir =le think -NEG COMP VFM= 3SG= break -PRES.PROG plate =DET
    'He doesn’t think that he’s breaking the plate. (290)'
  1. alaya yee kaa te nafaa a Fatou.
    a= lay -a yee kaa= te= naf -aa a Fatou 3SG= say -PROX COMP VFM= 3SG= hit -PRES.PROG OBJ Fatou
    'He says that he’s hitting Fatou. (290)'

It can also appear in subordinate clauses with yam 'because', as shown below. It is ungrammatical to use kaa with the complementizer yee with verbs of this type.

  1. betoxam yam kaa fecaa
    bet -oox -am yam kaa= fec -aa surprise -REFL -1SG.SUBJ because VFM= dance -PROG
    'I'm surprised because you are dancing. (318)'

kaa is not permitted in relative clauses or with the conditional/simultaneous -anga.

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