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In languages with conjugated verbs there is usually a similar structure across verbs that makes them easy to recognize even if you do not know the word. For example in German, all verbs after the pronoun 'Sie' end with 'en' which makes them easy to recognize. This is compounded by the fact that verbs are in second position, making the verb in a sentence very easy to pick out.

In my language verbs are not conjugated, nor do they have tense. The way the language is structured, there can be multiple verbs per sentence, and it would make the language easier to parse if verbs could be picked out easily. I also worry that similar sounding nouns will become easy to confuse with verbs as I grow my dictionary, which would be nice to avoid completely.

I considered making all verbs have a particular ending, but this quickly gets repetitive and breaks up sentence flow since the sound will be made several times in one sentence.

What strategies can I adopt to make the verbs recognizable as verbs even if the reader/listener does not already know the specific verb being used?

  • Sorry, your title doesn't make a lot of sense - setting verbs apart when you don't know which they are? Do you want to ask about strategies for languages without verb inflection? Why is a language having multiple verbs in a sentence a problem? That doesn't prevent a purely strict syntactic strategy. – curiousdannii Feb 19 '19 at 8:22
  • Your German example is not correct; you could easily say Sie geht weg, where the verb ends in -t. – Oliver Mason Feb 19 '19 at 9:39
  • @OliverMason I was referring specifically to the formal second person pronoun, I tried to convey that by capitalizing, which is how it is set apart in the language – rtpax Feb 19 '19 at 14:56
  • @curiousdannii I want to be able recognize verbs on sight/sound because verbs dictate sentence flow in my language. Having multiple verbs in a sentence can be hard to follow because it is not necessarily clear from context what the verbs are, which makes the entire sentence difficult to parse – rtpax Feb 19 '19 at 15:06
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In Lojban, cmevla (proper nouns, like .alis.) are the only words ending in a consonant. Depending on how big your vowel inventory is, you could make all verbs end in a vowel and everything else end in a consonant. That way, they are easy to pick out and still provide much variety.

To generalize that, you could just take the last sound of a verb from any distinct group of sounds, like nasals, fricatives or labiliased consonants ("labialiseds"?). One could also use that to make word correspondences, e.g. nominalization changing the verb's final sound to the corresponding nasal.

You also mentioned position in the sentence. Having the verb in a specific position (first, last, second, etc.) is a good way to distinguish them, but depending on your language, dependent clauses could get difficult.
Of course, coupling position in sentence with a specific ending sound provides a nice way to recognize sentence borders. There, one could again use the ending sound kind to modify the verb to signify a dependent clause.

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There are several options; the most obvious ones I can think of are:

  • Position: In Hawai'an (and Klingon), the verb is at the initial position of the clause. If there are multiple clauses in a complex sentence, you will need to mark the clause boundaries in some way, eg through punctuation or use of specific conjunctions. So you can put anything in that place, and it will be interpreted as a verb: 'Ono means "delicious" as an adjective, in 'Ono ka hua moa it is used as a verb to mean "the egg is delicious". That also might solve problems when you later grow your lexicon.

  • Markers: In toki pona, the verb is always in second position in a clause, and is separated from the subject (which is in first position) through the particle li. So the sentence waso li lape can be parsed as waso - subject, lape - verb, even if you have no clue what the words actually mean ("bird" and "to sleep" respectively) Note: the personal pronouns mi ans sina are an exception to this rule, as they are not followed by li. Lape can also be a noun ("the sleep"). Transitive verbs are separated by e from the object, which again helps identifying the sentence structure.

  • Morphology: if you want to avoid repetitive sounds, you can nominate different verb endings (or prefixes) to either introduce variation for variation's sake, or to indicate other features (number, tense, aspect, modality, ...) While Esperanto uses a limited set of verb endings indicating (mostly) tense, it does not sound repetitive. If your verbs are not marked for grammatical features, morphology obviously is not an option.

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  • Actually, the adjective-as-a-verb example doesn't quite translate properly into English (where delicious is not a verb). – Oliver Mason Feb 19 '19 at 11:46
  • I like the idea of a specific verb for "being delicious" :) – Domino Feb 19 '19 at 16:03
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What you want to avoid the most is to have too many rhyming words. A rhyme occurs when the last vowel and any consonants following it are the same.

You could end all verbs using the same consonant or consonant cluster. This would also give you an easy way to form verbs from nouns and nouns or adjectives from verbs: just add a suffix.

Instead of just ending all verbs with one ending, you could also have a small set of possible endings - which could carry some meaning too. Or you could simply forbid all consonant clusters in your language except when a word is formed by adding to a previous verb.

Example:

Say our language uses -ct for intransitive verbs and -st for verbs that imply causality - the subject causes something to the object.

The noun vis means life, the verb visect means to live and the adjective visecti means alive. By extension, avisecti means dead and avisectist means to cause death.

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  • If you're curious, the idea came from French where infinitive verbs have one of four endings. I knew most verbs rhymed in [e], [iʁ] or [waʁ] but I was quite surprised when I realized that all other verbs end in [ʁ]. It's just not as obvious since it's just one consonant. It's also less obvious when you conjugate verbs, but still... – Domino Feb 19 '19 at 16:01

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