Past Tense

Past (abu) tense

There are several past tenses in Ateso which express different shades of meaning. Only two of these tenses will be dealt with in this book, the remainder being listed in Appendix I. These two are the past (abu) tense with its subsidiary form the narrative tense and the past (a– or e-) tense.*

The past (abu) tense is formed by using the irregular verb abunere (ko)-(to come) as an auxiliary. The main verb has the personal prefix ka– in the first person singular and plural and ko– in all other persons in ko class verbs. In ki class verbs the personal prefixes are ke– in the first person singular and plural and ki– in all other persons. These personal prefixes are added to the root in the singular. In the plural the suffix –oto or –ata is added; –oto follows roots containing “close” vowels and –ata follows roots containing “open” vowels or –a. This suffix –oto or –ata is frequently abbreviated to –o or –a, particularly when the root ends in a -t.

The past (abu) tense is therefore as follows:

AIDUK (ko)–to build                                             AILIP (ki)—to pray

abu kaduk—I built                                                 abu kelip -I asked

ibu koduk—you built                                            Ibu kllip – you asked

abu koduk— he built                                            abu kilip-he asked

apotu kadukoto — we built                                apotu kelipata — we asked

ipotu kodukoto — you built                                ipotu kilipata — you asked

apotu kodukoto—they built                               apotu kilipata —they asked

A common alternative way of expressing past action is to use verb adaun (finish) in the perfect (root) tense (see Appendix I. Part a) followed by an infinitive:

Adau eon manyun bian. —- I saw it yesterday

The older forms of the auxiliary verb, kebu (third person singular) and kipou (first person plural), are still widely used.

Note: The main verb in this tense is identical in form with the subjunctive/imperative which will be explained in Chapter 8 below. The auxiliary verb is irregular. Note that the 1st person plural, unlike the present tense, takes plural endings.

The past (abu) tense is used of a past completed action:

Abu etelepat kolot ore bian—The boy went home yesterday.

Apotu kodukoto etogo sek—They built the house long ago.

Note that the subject of the verb is placed after the auxiliary abu and before the main verb.


Continuous Verbs

Continuous take the same personal prefixes as other verbs in the past tense but retain the same indings as in the present tense. Note, however, that the first person plural in the past tense must have the plural ending:

abu kakoto– I wanted                                    abu kener-I said

ibu kokoto-you wanted                                 ibu kiner—you said

abu kokoto-he wanted                                 abu kiner-he said

apotu kakotos-We wanted                          apotu keneras–we said

ipotu kokotos-you wanted                           ipotu kineras—you said

apotu kokotos-they wanted                        apotu kineras—they said

The past (abu) tense is not, however, commonly used with continuous verbs, which prefer the past (a– or e-) tense.


Narrative Past

In narrative, when several past tense verbs having the same subject follow one another, it is usual to use the past (abu) tense for the first verb of the series, but to omit the auxiliary abu in the remaining verbs:

  1. Abu etunganan kolot Amuria koduk etogo. —The man went to Amuria and built a house.

Kanen abu koje(acip) idita, kiworiwor nes, ido kibwaik ikoku nen, kidokok nes kuju aladoi. —- She made a basket, plastered it, put the child in it and placed it amongst the reeds.

Past tense (a– or e-)

There is one other past tense which is so common and useful as to necessitate inclusion. In form it is the same as the present tense except that it uses in the third person singular and plural, the personal prefix of the person:

Aduki—he was building, he built

Elipi—-he was praying, he asked

Adukete —-they were building, they built

Amina —- he loved

The difference in meaning between the past (abu) and the past (a– or e-) tenses is not easily defined. It appears that the latter is preferred whenever the time at which the action took place is expressed:

  1. Asubi kolo Akuj or Lokasuban akwap. — God created the world long ago.

Akuj — God.

It also appears that the past (a- or e-) tense is  used when the past action was a continuing one rather than a definite one:

  1. Aminas Iteso noi amej. — The Iteso were fond of hunting,

The Iteso differentiate between this tense and the present tense by difference in pitch of the syllables, a subject not covered in this work.



Aidar (Ki)—To Keep, Look After                         Ebore (Iboro)—Thing(Things)

Kotoma Or Toma—In                                            Aibwok (Kl)–To Carry

Kanuka-For                                                              Abunere (Ko)—To Come

Atipet-Quickly                                                         Ayogan (Ki)—To Greet

Mam-Not                                                                  Ainyam (Ko)—To Eat

Bian-Yesterday                                                       Akoru (Ko)–To Cultivate


  • The soldier begged for water for the dog.
  • He built a house quickly.
  • The boy greeted the girl in the house.
  • The dogs loved eating rats.
  • The bull did not want to go home.
  • Did you want to carry the things there?
  • He went to Soroti, built a house and looked after the property
  • I could not come here yesterday.
  • Did I not ask the boy to carry the books?