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Georgian verbal morphology includes a concept called a preverb, which has several functions compounded into one morpheme:

  • distinguishes present (without preverb) from future (with preverb)
  • adds direction or other nuance to a verb (like verb prefixes in German or Russian)
  • can totally change the meaning of a verb (also like verb prefixes in German or Russian)

(If you are not familiar with German or Russian verbs, preverbs are a bit like "down" in "cut down" or "up" in "eat up" in English.

Now there is a conflict in the literature which I cannot resolve:

  • Source after source states that preverbs are only used in future forms and this is what makes the future forms distinguishable from the present forms.

    ... the main function of a preverb is to distinguish between the present tenses and the future tenses. In order to make a present tense verb into a future tense, one has to add the preverb to the verb compound.

  • But source after source also lists present forms of to go and to come with preverbs!

    modis = ("he is coming")
    midis = ("he is going")

So what am I failing to understand? If preverbs are only for future forms why are they also in present forms?


UPDATES

In my continued reading on this topic I've found two interesting facts:

  • The verb base of "to come" / "to go" uses suppletion heavily. Several different roots are used for different screeves or forms of the verb.
  • Some sources say preverbs are used for present forms, other sources say they are used for perfective forms. Since "present" and "perfective" are not at all synonyms, these terms might be obscuring a more tricky actual situation.
  • The more I learn about Georgian, the more it seems that the "verbs of motion/movement" are exceptional and use the same prefix morphemes that elsewhere are preverbs, but that they are not preverbs in this case! Yet none of my textbooks actually state this so I'm still in doubt.
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    I fixed the formatting thing you needed. :) By the way, about the first quote, can you add the source? – Alenanno Mar 3 '12 at 14:01
  • Both quotes are from the Wikipedia page I linked to in the bold italic preverb but similar things are said all over the place. – hippietrail Mar 3 '12 at 16:36
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    I'm struggling to come up with a better title for this question. Any idea how to make the title more descriptive? – Louis Rhys Mar 4 '12 at 10:41
  • great, sounds better now – Louis Rhys Mar 4 '12 at 15:57
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    So what would the future tense versions of modis and midis look like? How would you say "he'll come" or "he'll go"? – Leah Velleman Apr 4 '12 at 1:55
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It is perhaps worth thinking separately about I. preverbs used with verbs of motion, and II. preverbs used with other verbs.

I. For verbs of motion, the preverb has a strictly lexical function: it shows which direction the motion takes place. For სვლა, change in tense is shown by using a different stem, so, for example, in მოდის (X comes) and მოვა (X will come), we understand which is present and which is future not from the presence or absence of a preverb, but from the choice of stem. Other verbs that use preverbs in this way are "to run", e.g. მორბის (X runs here/X comes running) მოირბინს (X will run here/X will come running), and bring/take/carry/fetch... For example, მომაქვს (I am bringing X here), მოვიტან (I will bring X here).

II. For other verbs, remember that preverbs are only used in the I and II conjugations. The III conjugation forms its future stem by circumfixing ი...ებ, while the IV circumfixes ე...ებ. As for the function of a preverb, its addition changes presents to futures, imperfects to conditionals and imperfective aorists to perfective aorists (however, imperfective, i.e. preverbless, aorists don't seem to be particularly common).

However, to return to your question, it is not only the verb of motion that takes a preverb in the present tense... As an exception to what I wrote above, some III conjugation verbs can take preverbs in the present tense, so from ლაპარაკობს (X speaks), we can derive მოლაპარაკობს (X comes speaking) მილაპარაკობს (X goes speaking). As far as I know, these forms only exist in the present series... It is tempting to think that when used like this, preverbs keep their lexical meaning, but I don't know enough Georgian to know if this is always the case.

Finally, there are also some other verbs that, for some reason, take a preverb in the present series. The only one I can remember at the moment is შე(მო)=ჰ-კივის (X screams at Y) შე(მო)=ჰ-კივლებს (X will scream at Y).

I do apologise for the rather disorganised state of my answer: it reflects my own rather tenuous grasp of the subject, but all the same, I do hope that it will be of some help.

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Well I'm still learning, but I have made some important advances on this front:

  • The so-called Georgian Verb(s) of motion is/are an important and exceptional (set of) verbs.

  • Georgian grammar is usually analysed as having four classes of verbs. Some classes form the future/perfect forms by addition of preverbs, others form them in other ways. The verb(s) of motion fall into the latter category.

  • Textbooks and websites tend to be unclear on whether there is one verb of motion, which changes nuance by changing a preverb, or a set of several related verbs of motion, which differ by initial morpheme.

  • Textbooks and websites on Georgian grammar are inconsistent on whether to call the same morphemes preverbs as they are used with the verb(s) of motion. Also the verb(s) of motion tend not to fit into the standard formats of vocabularies and dictionaries used for normal verbs with their preverbs.

  • Textbooks and websites tend to be unclear on the relationship between the various functions of preverbs: forming the future/perfect; adding a directional component; distinguishing different senses of the same basic verb.

  • Vocabularies and dictionaries may list their verbs alphabetically by a present form, only some of which add the preverb as a data point in a way similar to how other languages might deal with gender. But the verb(s) of motion will typically be listed with the initial morphemes that may or may not be considered preverbs.

  • The verb(s) of motion do(es) not exist in a form lacking this preverb-like morpheme. There exists modis and midis but not plain *dis.

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It is interesting data. Not knowing anything about Georgian, I am guessing from your summary that the uses you quote have to do with the second use "adds direction or other nuance." There are some languages (Toqabaqita, for example) which have no basic verb meaning "come," but combine a verb meaning "move" with directional particles to get things translatable as "come" or "go".

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  • Yes Georgian has something like but, but what I read is quite clear that present shouldn't have the preverb, unless all of the sources are unclear in the same way (ie that one use to distinguish the future and that another is to distinguish senses of the verb even in the present). One thing I did find out is that "to go" is highly suppletive. So one possibility is that maybe with one root it is grammatically future but semantically present, though I haven't been able to find this stated anywhere which would be a highly interested fact to not comment on! – hippietrail Mar 4 '12 at 1:59
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    Looking here I see that the verb in Georgian is quite complex. Looking at the 'future screeve' page I see that, for most verbs, future is marked by addition of a preverb, but for some (statives) this is not so. Class 3 verbs take no preverb but require a pre-radical vowel. – Gaston Ümlaut Mar 4 '12 at 11:50

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