Present and Future Tenses in Ateso

Classes of verbs

Ateso expresses many parts of speech by using verbs: adjectives are constructed from verbs, conjunctions and prepositions are frequently translated by verbs and many nouns are derived from verbs. Many varying forms of verbs can be derived from one root, which is the part of the word which conveys the basic meaning.

Aiduk means “to build”                Eduki means “he builds

Edukete means “they build“.

The root of this verb is duk, which conveys the basic meaning and which remains unaltered in all tenses, moods and derived forms of the verb. Only a few of the many derived forms and many tenses will be dealt with in this book, although other forms and tenses will be listed in Appendix I.


All verbs in Ateso fall, for grammatical purposes, into two classes, which differ from each other in conjugation. These two classes are termed the ko and the ki class from the prefixes used in the imperative:

Aiduk (ko class)-to build. Imperative: Koduk

Ailip (ki class)—to ask or pray. Imperative: Kilip

There is no rule to assist one in placing any particular verb in its appropriate class.* In the vocabularies the class will be indicated in brackets after each verb.


Present tense: The verb changes according to person by adding prefixes. These personal prefixes are:

Ko class: a-, i-, e-, ki-, i-, e

Ki class: e-, i-, i-, ki-, i-, i

This is not wholly true. Different pitch or tone patterns indicate whether a verb in its basic form belongs to the ko or to the ki class. Syllable tone in ko verbs is level (e.g. amin – -), whereas in ki verbs the tone goes down on the -i- of the infinitive and up slightly on the root (e.g. allip – _ -).

The present tense is formed by putting the personal prefixes in front of the root and by adding –i after the root the singular and first-person plural and –ete in the second and third persons plural for both classes of verb. The present in therefore as follows:


AIDUK (ko) — To build     

Aduki — I build

Iduki — You build

Eduki — he builds

Kiduki — we build

Idukete — you (pl.) build

Edukete — they build


AILIP (ki) — to  ask or pray

Elipi — I ask or pray

Ilipi —  you ask or pray

Ilipi — he asks or prays

Kilipi — we ask or pray

Ilipete — you (pl) ask or  pray

Ilipere — they ask or pray


The present tense can be translated by “I build” or “I am building” according to context.

Continuous verbs

There are some verbs which express an idea of continuing or prolonged action: e.g. Asesen — “to stare”              Akote — “to want”.

Such verbs form a group, which differs from ordinary verbs by having different suffixes in the various tenses. Verbs in this group may belong either to the ko or ki class. The verbs have been called “continuous verbs” by Father Hendriksen and other grammarians and we have followed his terminology for want of a better word.

It should, however, be noted that the idea of continuity in some verbs in this group is not always apparent to Europeans, e.g. Einer — To speak). Moreover, there are some verbs which to Europeans may express an idea of continuity, but which do not fall in this group, e.g. Aomit —- To think. In the new Maasai Grammar this group is termed “verbs ending in a vowel but this terminology is inapplicable to Ateso.

Continuous verbs have the same personal prefixes as other verbs but the suffixes –o or –a replace the suffix –i and the suffixes –o and suffixes –os or –as replace the suffix –ete. The suffixes –o and –os are used after roots containing “close” vowels and the suffixes –a and –as after roots containing “open” vowels or –a-.*

*A glance at Chapter 15 or Part 2 of Appendix I will show that continuous verbs have the same shape and conjugation as reflexives







AKOT (ko) – To want       AMIN (ko) – To love           EINER (kl) -To speak

Akoto – I want                 Amina – I love                 Enera – I speak

Ikoto – You want             Imina – You love              Inera – You speak

Ekoto – He wants             Emina – He loves             Inera – He speaks

Kikoto – We want            Kimina – We love             Kinera – We speak

Ikotos – You want            Iminas – You love            Ineras – You speak

Ekotos – They want          Eminas – They love          Ineras – They speak


Future tense

There is no separate form of the future tense in Ateso. The present tense is often used to indicate future action and the context makes the future meaning clear:

  1. Eduki mol – He will build tomorrow

Where the idea of futurity cannot be made clear by the context the two verbs alosit (ko) (to go) and abunere (ko)-(to come) are used, followed by an infinitive:

e.g. Ebuni aanyun-He will see

Kilosi ailip—We shall pray, we are going to pray.


Uses of the infinitive are explained in full in Chapter 8 below. For the present it will suffice to say that it is commonly used, as in English, after certain verbs expressing ability or wishing:

e.g. Epedor igirigori aanyun emon-Gregory is able to see a bull.

Ekoto nesi aiduk etogo – He wants to build a house.

The infinitive form of the verb is given in the vocabularies. It consists of a prefix al– or a– (rarely ei-) and the root of the verb.




Aiduk (ko) — To build

Akot (ko) – To want

Amin (ko) – To love

Aipup (ko) – To hear, listen

Atakan (ko) – To appear

Ainom (ki) – To beat

Ailip (ki) – To pray

Einer (ki) – To speak

Aanyun (ko) – To see

Alosit (ko) – To go

Apedor (ko) – To be able

Kwana – Now



  • He will build a house.
  • I want to pray.
  • We want to hear the names.
  • You (plural) see the beds.
  • The soldier appears here.
  • He wants to beat the table.
  • We want to be here.
  • They are praying.
  • The boy wants to go home.
  • The girl can go now.