Common Topic


Keywords: verbs grammar conjugation valence

In this unit, we will introduce the basics of verb conjugations, especially focusing on the system of auxiliary determiners that are a mandatory component of each verb in Common.

Verbs are the heart of sentence structure in Common. The verbal auxiliary is the only element of a grammatical declarative sentence that cannot be omitted. Although the grammar of verbs is a larger topic that we will return to directly and indirectly many times, this basic grounding is necessary to have a discussion about this or any other feature of the language.

As discussed earlier, Common verbs inflect for the following features:

  • Valence (na Kyrakkas Tret). The valence categories are:
    • Avalent (Zresu). Verbs that have no arguments. An example in English would be 'it rained', where the 'it' is just a grammatically required dummy subject. Common would not need the equivalent of 'it', and such verbs would use avalent agreement instead. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'zresu', to rain.
    • Intransitive (Pali): Verb has one argument, the subject, in the absolutive case. An example in English of an intransitive verb would be 'to sleep'. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'pali', to stand.
    • Semitransitive (Noxaj): Verb has two arguments. One, the subject, is in the absolutive case, and the other, a recipient of the action that is not viewed as a patient affected by the action, is in the dative case. There is no good equivalent in English. Common uses this pattern for verbs of motion, analogous with 'to go' - the absolutive subject is the thing moving, and the dative indirect object is the destination. This is an example of the Common dative being used as a lative case. This pattern is also often used for verbs of emotion or desire. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'noxaj', to go.
    • Transitive (Skurun): Verb has an actor, the subject, in the ergative case and a patient, the object, in the absolutive case. An example in English would be 'to hit' .In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'skurun', to hit.
    • Ditransitive (Happat): Verb has an actor, the subject, in the ergative case, a patient, the direct object, in the absolutive case, and a recipient, the indirect object, in the dative case. And example in English would be 'to give'. In Common it is named for its paradigm verb 'happat', to give.
  • Tense (na Celysyn). The time the speaker is referencing. There are two tenses:
    • Past (Kiles): Actions that took place before the present. They might possibly be ongoing in the present, but the focus of attention is the past action.
    • Nonpast (Panas): Present and future actions or focus.
  • Aspect (na Trijustep): The manner in which the action of the verb is performed. There are two aspects:
    • Perfect: The action of the verb is complete. Combined with the nonpast tense this still implies a past action, but the focus is on the present.
    • Imperfect: Ongoing or habitual actions.
  • Mood (na Puesyn). There are two grammatical moods:
    • Realis (na zra puesyn): The action is real and concrete.
    • Irrealis (na sihys puesyn): The action is somehow hypothetical or potentially counterfactual. This is again a case where Common has simply defined its own terms and made everyone else deal with them - these moods could be just as easily have been called indicative and subjunctive.

The most important of these categories is valence. There are actually five verbal auxiliaries - one for each valence pattern. Each auxiliary then inflects for tense, aspect and mood in a separate conjugational paradigm.

Each verb in Common belongs to a family which has a 'paradigm verb' (na utólys hultan) which is an ordinary verb which is considered to represent the family. There are five paradigm verbs, corresponding to the five valence patterns. When a verb belongs to a certain paradigm, that paradigm determines which verbal auxiliary you must use with the verb, and what the semantic impact of instead using a different auxiliary is. The paradigm verb has a grammatical function as well, as any verb can be substituted with its paradigm verb if you want to avoid saying the verb itself or if you can't think of exactly the right word. The particle 'yn' can also be used for this purpose, but the advantage the paradigm verb gives is that it disambiguates whether the auxiliary is the default or valence shifted, and if valence shifted, the meaning of the valence shift.

In rare cases, a verb may have two usages, where it can belong to more and one paradigm, and you have to infer the paradigm intended from context - an example is 'fella', 'fog'. Usually, however, verbs belong to a single paradigm, and this can narrow the possible usage of the verb.

How to use this section: The dictionary entry for the verb will provide a discussion of the verb's usage and any special arguments introduced by prepositions - as well, it will give the paradigm verb, which determines the default auxiliary, explain the roles of the defined actors (the absolutive, ergative and dative noun phrases mandated by the default auxiliary), and talk about any special considerations when a valence change is employed by changing the auxiliary. Generally speaking, just refer to the dictionary entry for usage, determine the auxiliary to use from the paradigm verb, and then look up the conjugation of the auxiliary for the mood, tense and aspect required.

As you study Common, you may notice that the auxiliary verbs resemble their paradigm verb or else some other normal verb in the language. This is because Common was designed with a pseudohistory by its creator, Peter K. Davidson. Davidson claimed to have created a protolanguage to inform his choices in creating the actual Common language, actually a common approach among constructed language enthusiasts seeking a naturalistic result. Whether this protolanguage actually existed or not, and if it did, how extensive it was, is not known, as no notes from Davidson about this language have survived to the present day other than the claim it existed. But regardless, Davidson is on record as saying that the Common verbal auxiliaries evolved from normal verbs in its pseudohistory, and this is the reason for any resemblances.

Another pattern you will notice is that all verbal auxiliaries have a stressed syllable with a nucleus vowel that is low (e, a or o) in the realis mood and high (i, y, or u) in the irrealis mood. There are reasons for that in the real and pseudo history of the language that we will go into in another article, but for now just notice the pattern, there's a reason for it, and you will see a similar pattern with noun articles.

The default, dictionary entry form of any auxiliary ('auxiliary lemma') is considered to be the realis nonpast imperfect.

Nonfinite Verbs and Verb Chaining

Common does not have any nonfinite verbs (verb forms that do not require a subject but may take an object, like an infinitive or gerund) per se. The verbal auxiliaries below are always finite. A modifying term used in a verb phrase is essentially like a nonfinite verb, however, functioning like an infinitive, and verbal terms may be chained in a verb phase. The last term is the head term, and its paradigm is the paradigm of the verb phrase overall. This is a common way to create modal expressions. Otherwise, Common uses noun phrases and relative clauses for a number of idioms where another language might use an infinitive, participle or gerund.

This topic will be an article in its own right, this note is just to explain that the reason why nonfinite forms may appear to be missing from this discussion is not due to an omission. Basically they don't exist, and Common speakers manage these types of forms in different ways.

Valence Group Conjugations

Avalent Verbs

Paradigm Verb: zresu, 'rain'
Auxiliary Lemma: zres

The avalent is used with atmospheric verbs that don't have actors. The equivalent in English is something like 'it is raining', where there is a dummy subject 'it' - there really is no 'it' that you're thinking of that's doing the raining, the 'it' is just a dummy subject required by a grammatical rules of English. In Common, such verbs conjugate with 'zres'. Avalent verbs have no thematic roles, they can't take subjects or objects. Information about the action is carried in adverbs and prepositional phrases.

This is an auxilliary that is often used without a head term to just mean 'rain', although something like 'zresa zresu' ('it was raining') is also common. It is more emphatic than just 'zresa', or may contrast with a different atmospheric like 'snow' if rain is somehow unexpected.

Realis Conjugation of zres
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past zres zreset
Past zresa zreseta
Irrealis Conjugation of zres
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past zris zrisit
Past zrisy zrisity


Zres fure.
rain(NP.IM) wind.

'It's windy.'

Intransitive Verbs

Paradigm Verb: pali, 'stand'
Auxiliary Lemma: se

Intransitive verbs have a single actor, a subject in the absolutive case which experiences the action of the verb. Examples are verbs like 'sleep'. The paradigm verb is 'stand', which Common means in the sense of 'to be at a place' or 'to be upright' as opposed to the sense in English of 'to stand something up'. That latter sense can be achieved by using a causative form of 'pali'. Notice the irregularity in the past irreal, where the 'a' ending doesn't raise like in the other auxiliary verbs.

Realis Conjugation of se
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past se sete
Past sea seta
Irrealis Conjugation of se
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past si siti
Past sia sita


A pepe se hitaj.
The(ABS) baby stand(NP.IM) sleep.

'The baby is sleeping.'

Transitive Verbs

Paradigm Verb: skurun, 'hit'
Auxiliary Lemma: te

Transitive verbs have two actors, an ergative subject which is the actor or cause of the action, and an absolutive direct object which is the patient of the action.

Realis Conjugation of te
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past te tene
Past teo teno
Irrealis Conjugation of te
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past ti tini
Past tiu tinu


Ja pocuk teo zeul a pikki.
The(ERG) child hit(P.IM) eye the(ABS) cat.

'The child was looking at the cat.'

Semitransitive Verbs

Paradigm Verb: noxaj, 'go'
Auxilliary Lemma: nox

Semitransitive verbs are a strange category from the point of view of English speakers (or just strange, period), but are easy enough to work with if you accept that you will have to memorise which words are semitransitive and conjugate the verbs appropriately. Actually, there is some rhyme and reason. Semitransitive verbs have two actors, just like transitive verbs. One is a subject in the absolutive case, and is the experiencer of the action. The other is in the dative case and is the recipient, purpose, destination or beneficiary of the action.

Verbs of motion mostly fall into this category, with the destination of the motion as the dative object. If the dative object is omitted, the action is still considered to be purposeful towards an end. To get the sense of no specific end, as in the English expression 'go away', the disintentive valence change operation is performed to use the intransitive agreement instead of the semitransitive.

An important category of verbs that are semitransitive, aside from verbs of motion, are verbs of abstract possession or ownership, where the owner is the absolutive subject and the thing owned is the dative indirect object. Such constructions express relatively alienable possession.

Realis Conjugation of nox
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past nox noxot
Past noxa noxota
Irrealis Conjugation of nox
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past nux nuxut
Past nuxy nuxuty


A atuin nux jusal ija lelu.
The(ABS) person go(IR.NP.IM) want the(DAT) fish.

'The person would like the fish.'

Ditransitive Verbs

Paradigm Verb: happat, 'give'
Auxilliary Lemma: hap

Ditransitive verbs are verbs like 'give' or 'throw' that have an actor, a patient and a recipient. They have an actor in the ergative case who causes or initiates the action, a patient in the absolutive case that is the thing acted on or transferred, and an indirect object in the dative case that is the recipient, purpose, destination or beneficiary of the action.

Realis Conjugation of hap
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past hap hanne
Past hapo hanno
Irrealis Conjugation of hap
  Imperfect Perfect
Non-past hyp hynni
Past hypu hynnu


Ja lijátuin hanne fereh si te slek ija sy paluh.
The(ERG) FEM-person give(NP.PF) that(ABS) hit(NP.IM) eat the(DAT) sir dog.

'The woman let her dog eat.'

The word 'sy' is a term of respect and is actually referring back to the woman in this case, not the dog (if it were referring to the dog it would be last). This is an adposition possessive, referring to the referent in a respectful way.

Valence Change Operations

By default, when conjugating a verb, you identify the verb's paradigm verb, select the verbal auxiliary that goes with that paradigm, and then conjugate the auxiliary for mood, tense and aspect as needed. However, many if not most verbs can be used with auxiliaries other than the default one for their paradigm. These are valence change operations. The meaning of the specific valence change depends on the paradigm the verb belongs to. Hence, if the head term is omitted or replaced with 'yn', the proper interpretation of the verbal auxiliary is ambiguous and must be determined from context. The speaker can substitute the verb with its paradigm verb to disambiguate this aspect and still obscure the head term.

There are four possible valence change operations in Common. These operations are limited, and all have paraphrastic workarounds. All, however, are very commonly used in popular idioms of modern Common. For each operation, only verbs that belong to certain paradigms can undergo the shift. For example, an intransitive verb (pali paradigm) can be placed in the causative, but a transitive verb (skurun paradigm) cannot form a causative. Causation of a transitive verb can only be expressed periphrastically.

Antipassive (Na Hultanys Ajsy)

Transitive (skurun paradigm) and ditransitive (happat paradigm) verbs can form the antipassive.

Transitive: Use 'se' as the auxiliary instead of 'te' (switch to intransitive agreement)
Ditransitive: Use 'nox' as the auxiliary instead of 'hap' (switch to semitransitive agreement)

The existing ergative agent is promoted to the absolutive case. The former absolutive patient is dropped completely. This has the effect of strongly emphasising the agent and de-emphasising or removing the patient from consideration.

The patient can optionally still be referenced, but must be referenced periphrastically. The patient can be referenced using a prepositional phrase introduced with the preposition 'u' followed by the patient in the nominative case. This has the effect of reducing the emphasis on the patient, or dropping the patient completely without retaining the assumption of a specific patient.

All of the core arguments of a Common verb can actually grammatically be dropped, unlike in English, but for a normal verb, any argument that isn't mentioned is treated like it has a specific referent, almost like the presence of a generic pronoun is implied. Whereas with the antipassive, there is not implicitly assumed patient argument.

The antipassive does much like what the passive voice does in English, reduces the valence of the verb and forces one of the actors to be referred to obliquely, but it is exactly opposite in what it emphasises and what it de-emphasises. Common doesn't actually have a passive voice (in places where English would use the passive voice, Common uses the active voice, usually fronts the patient to emphasise it, and just drops the agent).

A detailed discussion of the usage of the antipassive is a much longer article, but one common idiom using the antipassive in Common is sentences where a language like French might use a reflexive verb. A verb like 'wash', for example, is a skurun verb in Common. To say one washes oneself, or some thing like the English expression 'to wash up', Common would use an antipassive. 'I am washing up' is not the only thing the equivalent Common sentence using the antipassive could mean, but idiomatically, that's what it probably means.

The antipassive is notoriously hard for learners of Common. The first adopters of the language struggled with it, but the feature persisted to the phase of the language's history where it began to have L1 speakers, where it took off. Native speakers use it often and don't avoid it, so it is important to learn in order to become fluent in Common.

Causative (Na Weros Ajsy)

Instransitive (pali paradigm) and semitransitive (noxaj paradigm) verbs can form the causative.

Intransitive: Use 'te' as the auxiliary instead of 'se' (switch to transitive agreement)
Semitransitive: Use 'hap' as the auxiliary instead of 'nox' (switch to ditransitive agreement)

The causative operation adds an ergative argument. Unlike with the antipassive, the existing argument or arguments retain their meaning. The added ergative argument is the cause of the action. An example of this would be with an intransitive verb like 'sleep'. An intranstive sentence like 'the child is sleeping' could mean something like 'I am putting the child to bed' in the causative. English speakers typically have a much easier time with the causative than with the antipassive.

Disintentive (Na Ikháppatys Ajsy)

Semitransitive (noxaj paradigm) and ditransitive (happat paradigm) verbs can form the disintentive.

Semitransitive: Use 'se' as the auxiliary instead of 'nox' (switch to intransitive agreement)
Ditransitive: Use 'te' as the auxiliary instead of 'hap' (switch to transitive agreement)

The disintentive is another made-up Common idea. What the disintentive does is it removes the dative indirect object from a verb that ordinarily requires it, but otherwise leaves the argument structure in place. What this operation implies is a lack of clear, conscious goal or direction to the action. For example, where English would use an expression to 'throw something away', Common would use the disintentive of the verb to throw. Similarly, a verb like noxaj, 'to go', normally implies the idea of going somewhere, but used in the disintentive implies something more like wandering around aimlessly, or fleeing without a distination in mind.

Benefactive (Na Happatys Ajsy)

Instransitive (pali paradigm) and transitive (skurun paradigm) verbs can form the benefactive.

Intransitive: Use 'nox' as the auxiliary instead of 'se' (switch to semitransitive agreement)
Transitive: Use 'hap' as the auxiliary instead of 'te' (switch to ditransitive agreement)

The benefactive operation adds a dative argument. As with the disintentive, the existing argument or arguments retain their meaning. The added dative argument is the principal beneficiary of the action. For example, taking a transitive sentence like 'I picked the apples', the benefactive would be something like.'I picked the apples for my family', where the 'for my family' part would just be the word 'family' in the dative case.

A very common pattern with Common happat and noxaj verbs where the dative argument is interpreted to be benefactive is to introduce the dative argument with the preposition 'erpa', 'against'. The effect of this pattern is to state that the action is away from the dative object, or intended to hinder, inhibit, frustrate or interfere with it. This pattern can be seen both with valence shifted as non-valence shifted happat and noxaj verbs. An example can be found in the happat verb 'hap fesi', which means to pull but can also have the sense of assist or hinder.

Jaz Kaskétijas aspesyn hapo fesi ar zeulmotu ija lufis Onpa Mawacasyn.
The(ERG.PL) Cascadia-MOD secure-MOD-TER give(P.IM) pull the(ABS.PA) eye-foot the(DAT.S) new Globe Cover-CAU-MOD-TER

'The Cascadian security forces were helping the New World Army with some patrols.

Jaz Kaskétijas aspesyn hapo fesi ar zeulmotu erpa ijar kyrísfisas trol.
The(ERG.PL) Cascadia-MOD secure-MOD-TER give(P.IM) pull the(ABS.PA) eye-foot the(DAT.PA) Christ-belief-MOD terrorist.

'The Cascadian security forces were making patrols against Christian terrorists.

Copula and Existential Clauses (Naz Anys Lawt)

A copula is a linking word that connects the subject of a sentence to its predicate. In English, the copula verb is 'to be', as in, 'The dog is brown' (the subject linked with an adjective that describes it) or,  'The woman is a doctor' (the subject linked to a noun phrase that identifies it in some way). The predicate reveals information about the subject. An existenial clause is an expression like 'there is' in Enlgish, 'il y a' in French, 'hay' in Spanish or 'es gibt' in German that asserts the existence of something. Common uses the same basic mechanism, the verb 'an'.

The world's languages have a number of different strategies for dealing with copular expression. A language can have no copula or permit the copula to be dropped - dropping the copula in the present tense is common in a host of languages, like Russian or Arabic, and zero copula may be even more extensive, for example in Malay and Indonesian. Others like Spanish might have two main copular verbs ('estar' and 'ser') with different functions. In English, we have the verb 'to be', and a number of other verbs of becoming, feeling or seeming can also be used in a copular sense.

It is very common for copular verbs in a language with a case system to take the nominative case for both the subject and predicate, because the verb is in a sense an 'equals sign' and it doesn't seem grammatically appropriate to use the accusative case for one of the arguments. On this basis, you might expect Common to have a copular valence pattern with a copular auxiliary that take two absolutive arguments, or even have a holdover copula connecting two nominative arguments from its pseudohistory as a nominative-accusative language..

This is not what Common does. Common takes a relatively strange approach to the problem. Common handles copular expressions (of both kinds, the linking to an adjective and the linking to a noun phrase) and existential clauses with the verb 'an', which means something like 'exist', 'be', or in some sense 'have'. It is an intransitive verb and behaves much like any other intransitive verb, taking the verbal auxiliary 'se', forming causatives and benefactives via valence change, etc.

When used to assert the existence of something, the 'there is' use, it is used just by itself with the absolutive subject being the thing that is asserted to exist. When used to assert new information about the absolutive subject in the form of an adjective, that adjective is introduced as a modifier of the verb 'an' - 'an' has the special property that modifiers used on it are usually interpreted as adjectives applying to the subject rather than adverbs as normal - otherwise, syntactically, they behave as completely normal adverbial modifiers in terms of where they can be placed in the sentence. The final use, to link a subject to a noun phrase, requires the noun phrase to be expressed periphrastically using a prepositional phrase (most commonly the null preposition, so in effect the predicate is a naked nominative noun phrase).

Common essentially frames its copular expression as first stating its subject in the absolutive case, then asserting that the subject exists, and then optionally introducing new information about it, which can be adjectives (in the form of adverbs on the copula) or a periphrastic noun phrase. It heavily emphasises the idea of introducing old information and then marking new information about the subject (topic/comment) as opposed to declaring a subject and predicate equivalent. As in English, Common has a number of other verbs with a somewhat copular sense that follow a similar pattern.

Existential Example:

Y eotil costo se an.
There is a red house.

Copula Examples:

A paluh se an akpe.
The dog is big.

A eon se an ny sinéon.
The sun is a star.

The former is a copular expression linking an adjective to the subject, and the latter is a copular expression using a noun. The noun is introduced with the null preposition 'y' (it is referred to as 'y' for historical reasons but it is virtually always omitted in modern High Common) and takes a nominative object, hence ny sinéon.


Common doesn't have an equivalent to what we see in many European languages where certain verbs are grammatically reflexive. Verbs can be pragmatically reflexive, however, like in English, indicating that the agent of an action is also the patient. This can be accomplished in a couple of ways:

  1. Use an antipassive, as noted above. Many antipassives idiomatically convey a reflexive sense.
  2. Construct a normal patient using the head term 'win', or 'self'.
  3. With either of the above strategies, modify the verb with the modifier 'winys', 'selfly'.

Examples of this:

We se sufet.
I(ABS) stand(NP.IM) wash

'I am washing up.'

This is an example of using an antipassive as a reflexive. The verb 'sufet' has an idiomatic reflexive sense when used in the antipassive. If you wanted to emphasise that you are washing yourself and not something else, though:

We se winys sufet.

'I am washing myself.'

You can also use a normal active voice sentence for the same meaning using 'win':

Ja pikki te sufet a win.
The(ERG) cat hit(NP.IM) wash the(ABS) self.

'The cat is washing itself.'

What you generally should not do is use a form like:

*Ja pikki te winys sufet.

Where the reflexive objective is removed and the adverbial form of 'win' is added for emphasis, what this tends to do is sound like the cat washed by itself, but leaves it hanging what the cat washed. This rule may seem strange given how many other times you can just drop whatever you want in Common. Nevertheless, good, idiomatic Common would require you to state the reflexive object if using a transitive construction and use 'winys' only for emphasis:

Winys ja pikki te sufet a win.

Other Verbal Semantics

You may notice that the verbal grammar above covers a lot of ground but leaves out constructions we are used to from other languages, such as the future. In fact, Common has a lot more verbal morphology than languages like Chinese or Malay, but a lot less than languages like Spanish. One missing element is an explicit future tense.

This area is another large topic to be addressed in another article, but basically, like other languages that lack certain features you may be used to, often the meaning is clear form context and the missing element is not really necessary. This strategy of relying on context is uniquitous in the world's languages and generally works. As well, Common has a large set of modifiers and expressions of time, aspect and mood that can be used to express periphrastically anything that cannot be expressed morphologically using Common's mandatory verb inflections.

The future, for example, is usually expressed with the nonpast, and the future meaning is usually clear from context. However, adverbs of time and adding modifying terms that imply a future time are strategies Common has available for disambiuguation if necessary.


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