Verb Phrases

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Verb phrases (VP's) in Sereer consist of a verb optionally modified by any or all of the following components: any number of adverbs, a noun phrase, or a prepositional phrase. These components are ordered as follows:

1) Verb
2) Adverb / Noun Phrase / Prepositional Phrase



There is a limited system of auxliaries in Sereer. The auxiliaries are xe, a marker of stage-level predicates, fat, which indicates obligation, xan, a future auxiliary,bar, the prohibitive, and kaa, which indicates verum focus. Each of the auxiliaries is structurally similar, in that they appear before the verb, but after an overt NP subject. Examples of each of the auxiliaries are given in (1)-(4). The morphological characteristics of the auxiliaries are discussed in Inflectional Verbal Morphology.

  1. axe ɗaanaa
    a= xe ɗaan -aa 3= AUX sleep -PROG
    'He is sleeping. (310b)'
  1. fat iƭaan
    fat i= ƭaan OBLIG 1PL= sleep.PL
    'We must sleep. (310b)'
  1. xan oɗaan
    xan o= ɗaan FUT 2S= sleep
    'You will sleep. (310b)'
  1. bar nundet
    bar nu= ndet PROHIB 2PL= go.PL
    'Don't go! (310b)'

Modal information is not expressed through auxiliaries, but instead through main verbs that appear to carry full verbal inflection.

Valence patterns and alignment

In basic word order, Sereer is a nominative-accusative language whereby the subject of the transitive verb [A] patterns syntactically with the subject of intransitive verbs [S] by appearing before the verb and/or auxilliary, whereby the direct object of a transitive verb [O] appears following the verb and/or auxiliary.

Intransitive Verbs

Sereer is a head marking language, with subject agreement on verbs. Subjects make be overtly realized preverbally as in (6), or omitted and expressed with subject agreement on auxilliaries and/or verbs (7) and (8):

  1. okoor oxe axona
    okoor ox-e a-xon-a man DET-DEF 3sg-be.dead-NPT
    'The man is dead'
  1. i-ƭaanaa 
    i-ƭaan-aa 3sg-sleep-PROG
    'We sleep'
  1. inwe ƭaanaa 
    i-nwe ƭaan-aa 3sg-PROG sleep-PROG
    'We are sleeping'

Transitive Verbs

Direct object arguments follow verbs, as in (9):

  1. Jegan afala naak le
    Jegan a-fal-a naak le 3-kick-3. cow DET
    'Jegan kicks the cow'

Direct objects may be overtly realized, or omitted, as in (10) and (11):

  1. ambeel ale dasna xomb le
    ambeel ale a-das-in-a turtle DET lake DEM 3-hide-CAUS-3
  1. ambeel ale dasna
    ambeel ale a-das-in-a lake DEM 3-hide-CAUS-3
    'The lake conceals it.'

If a direct object is raised, and appears preverbally, the verb is marked with -u for focus. See Focus Fronting and Extraction [1]

Ditransitive Verbs

Direct object and oblique arguments follow verbs, and there are no restrictions on the ordering of these arguments, as shown in (10) and (11):

  1. Miñaan acooɗa (a) Yande oleetar ole
    Miñaan a-cooɗ-a (a) Yande oleetar ol-e 3sg-give-3sg OBJ DET
    'Miñaan gave Yande the letter'
  1. Miñaan acooɗa  oleetar ole (a) Yande
    Miñaan a-cooɗ-a oleetar ol-e (a) Yande 3sg-give-3sg DET
    'Miñaan gave the letter (to) Yande'

For applicative arguments, the same lack of restrictions apply, as shown by (12) and (13):

  1. Jegan afalana naak le a doktoor fe
    Jegan a-fal-an-a naak le a doktoor fe 3-kick-BEN.APPL-3 cow DET OBJ doctor DET
    'Jegan kicked the cow for the doctor. '
  1. Jegan afalana  a doktoor fe naak le
    Jegan a-fal-an-a a doktoor fe naak le 3-kick-BEN.APPL-3 OBJ doctor DET cow DET
    'Jegan kicked for the doctor the cow'

If an oblique is raised, and appears preverbally, the verb is marked with -u for focus. See Focus Fronting and Extraction [2]

Adverbials and Other Modifiers


The position of adverbials is as flexible in Sereer as in English, as examples (1) and (2) show:

  1. nangam weʄa legleg	
    nang -am weʄ -a legleg habitual 1sg swim INF sometimes
    'I swim often.'
  1. legleg nangam weʄa	
    legleg nang -am weʄ -a sometimes habitual 1sg swim INF
    'Often I swim.'

Adverbs themselves appear to be verbs used in serial verb constructions, or appearing with deverbalizer -u as in (3) and (4):

  1. retaam ñofu
    ret-a-am ñof-u go-NPST-1sg be.quick-DEV
    'I go quickly'
  1. ñofaam oret
    ñof-a-um o-ret be.quick-NPST-1sg AGR-go
    'I hurry (up) and go.'

See adverbs [[3]]

Prepositional Phrases

Prepositional phrases appear after the verb :

  1. axuuma oƥaak tok asondeel ale
    a-xuum-a oƥaak tok asondeel ale 3-tie-3 rope on candle DET
    'He ties a rope on the candle'
  1. ga'am okoor oxe kam ower ole
    ga'-am okoor oxe kam ower ole see-1sg man DET inside glass the
    ' I see the man inside the glass'

See "Adpositions" [4]

It appears prepositions are optionally expressed;however, If an argument introduced by a prepositional phrase is raised, and appears preverbally, the verb is marked with -u for focus. See Focus Fronting and Extraction [[5]]

  1. ofiloor ole abeera (kam) oxiiƈ ole
    ofiloor ole a-beer-a (kam) oxiiƈ ole bullet DET (inside) bone DET
    ' The bullet went (through) the bone'
  1. kam oxiiƈ ole ofiloor ole ɓeeru
    kam oxiiƈ ole ofiloor ole ɓeer-u inside bone DET bullet DET
    ' Through the bone the bullet went.'


Sereer features serial verb constructions, with verbs taking similar inflection across verb forms, contrary to some forms of subordination and coordination.

Coordination between verb phrases consists of serial verbs:

  1. nuumofa njala
    nuun-mof-a n-jal-a 3pl-sit-NPST 3pl-work-NPST
    'You guys sit and work'

Modal verbs war 'must, might, should' and wag 'be able' take full inflection and are followed by a non-finite verb form:

  1. wagaam (o)jaw
    wag-a-um (o)jaw AGREE-cook
    'I can cook.'
  1. waraam (o)jaw
    war-a-um (o)jaw modal-NPST-1sg AGREE-cook
    'I must cook.'
  1. xam wara (o)jaw
    xan-am war-a (o)jaw FUT-1sg modal-NPST AGREE-cook
    'I might cook.'
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