The (Hidden) Simplicities of Georgian Verbs

Updated: Jul 14


That’s an oxymoron to nearly all native and non-native Georgian speakers alike, but stick with us, because there truly is a simple beauty to Georgian verbs.


Unfortunately, Georgian verbs have a reputation that precedes them regarding their difficulty and complexity. To those who have just begun their journey with the Georgian language, Georgian verbs are vastly different than what is found in Romance language, such as French, Spanish, and Italian, Slavic languages, such as Russian, Czech, and Serbian, or Germanic languages, such as German and English. These differences aren't all bad, after all, different doesn't imply better or worse.


In the case of the Georgian verb, many of these differences can actually make the language easy, especially in comparison to Russian and French, which have a complex system of cases and verb conjugation, respectively. We thought of five unique attributes of Georgian verbs which might actually make them simple to learn and use.


Simplicity 1:


Georgian verbs conjugate differently than Romance, Germanic, and Slavic languages. Think of how you would say "I speak, (s)he speaks," in English" je parle, il/elle parle," for French, and "я говорю, он(a) говорит," for Russian. Georgian verbs use indicators to identify the person (she/he, I, we, they, you), but rather than changing an infinitive verb, such as "to speak" becoming "I speak, (s)he speaks," in English, parler becomes je parle, il/elle parle," for French, and говорить becomes "я говорю, он(a) говорит," for Russian. Instead, Georgian verbs take their active form--in this case, for the verb “speak” it is საუბრობ saubrob, and attach pronoun-specific markers to this form--I speak ვსაუბრობ vsaubrob and (s)he speaks საუბრობს saubrobs. This is how the most common verbs and tenses are conjugated, while a few tenses have their own pronoun-specific conjugation patterns.

The beauty of Georgian in Gori, Georgia. Photo from Visiting-Georgia.

Simplicity 2:


Georgian verbs only have main three conjugation patterns--active verbs (to speak, to write, to eat, ect…), verbs of being (to be hungry, to be sleepy, to be angry, etc...), and verbs of motion (to go, to ascend, to arrive, etc…). Each verb type has its own conjugation pattern. Also, irregular verbs aren’t as common in Georgian as they are in many other widely-spoken languages, such as French, which has over 200 verbs whose roots change between tenses, and English, which has strong and weak verbs, such as 'I run vs I ran," "I speak vs I spoke," and "I eat vs I ate."


Simplicity 3:


Many Georgian tenses don’t follow complex tense conjugation patterns, where each tense is conjugated differently instead, six Georgian tenses use a somewhat system of prefixes and suffixes. Perfective tenses (tenses which describe a complete action) use prefixes while imperfective tenses do not. Georgian combines these prefixes and suffixes to form many of its different tenses, including some of the most commonly used tenses in the language.


Simplicity 4:


Georgian verbs of motion are formed by attaching different prefixes to a fixed root. The main prefixes of Georgian, when speaking about verbs of motion, describe different forms of motion such as "going up," "coming," and "away." These prefixes can even be combined to make ideas such as "to come down" and "to come up" which, in English, are expressed by separate words all together.


Each verb has a prefix which is “assigned” to it, and the prefix is generally associated with that verb’s form of motion. For example, the verb “to translate” uses the prefix გადა- gada- which is the prefix for “to cross” (because you are “crossing” languages), the verb “to write” uses the prefix და- da- which is associated with “habitually going” (because the pen is habitually moving across the paper),  and the verb “to listen” uses the prefix მო- mo- which is associated with movement towards the speaker (because the sound is moving towards the speaker). 

The primary prefixes of Georgian verbs. Photo by Visiting-Georgia.

Simplicity 5:


Georgian verbs of motion are amazingly easy. All verbs of motion share the same stem/root, and it is actually the prefix which changes the meaning of the verb. For example, saying “I am coming” is მოვდივარ movdivar, saying “I am ascending” is ავდივარ avdivar, and saying “I am entering” is შევდივარ shevdivar. Notice how the root for the 1st person singular for the present tense, which is -ვდივარ -vdivar, is the same for all three verbs, and only the prefix changes. So the difference between saying “I go” and “I come” and “I exit” isn’t an entirely new verb, but is actually the same verb with only a changed prefix!


It's All About Perspective


Of course, this isn’t to say that Georgian verbs are always easy. After all, this is a language which allows you to say “I wrote it to you” as one verb using two different conjugation patterns simultaneously. This also isn’t to say that irregular verbs don’t exist, but nevertheless, the main elements of Georgian verbs--how they are conjugated, how few irregular verbs there are, how tenses are made, and how verbs of motion work--have a simple beauty to them which is frequently hard to find in many languages.


Ultimately, what is considered to be simple, difficult, and complex, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.

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