More specifically, what I'm looking for is this: verbs have no conjugation or inflection; the only form is the infinitive. The language does have verb tenses, (past, present, future, conditional, etc), and the tense is indicated by an auxiliary verb, not surrounding context, e.g. forms like I will go and I did go, not I go tomorrow or I go yesterday.

Obviously the above examples show that English does this for some tenses, but I'm curious if there's a language that exclusively does it.

  • 3
    What do you mean by "tenses" and "conjugation"? It sounds like you're asking for a contradiction. All languages can refer to the past, present and future; not all languages have tenses. I suspect you are asking about tense inflection without subject inflection.
    – user6726
    Dec 12, 2019 at 5:44
  • 4
    I don't think it is a contradiction - I think the asker is looking for languages which have tense morphemes that are not affixes. For example, Mandarin Chinese verbs do not inflect, but a particle (separate grammatical word) is added to the end of the sentence for various aspects (not quite tenses, but related) Dec 12, 2019 at 5:55
  • 1
    I might not be using the term tenses correctly. I mean that there are different ways of using the verbs to indicate things such as different points or periods in time. And I mean that the verb word itself is not modified to do it.
    – adashrod
    Dec 12, 2019 at 6:13
  • Japanese uses suffixes for tense and aspect, and also for respect, but there is no indexing of verb forms to match gender, number, person, or any other properties of the subject or object.
    – Colin Fine
    Dec 14, 2019 at 0:15

4 Answers 4


There are plenty of languages that do what you are looking for. In linguistic typology, languages that encode grammatical functions (such as tense) as separate words are called "isolating" (one mnemonic that I use is "they isolate the different meanings into different words"). Those separate words are frequently referred to as "particles."

Polynesian languages tend to have isolating verbs with a lot of tense particles. Some examples from the Wikipedia page on Hawai'ian (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawaiian_grammar#Tense,_aspect,_and_mood)

ua + verb: perfective aspect, past tense; or perfect tense/aspect (ua hana au "I worked", "I have worked"). Note that the pre-verbal marker ua is often omitted in speech.

i + verb: past tense (i hana au "I worked"); or, perfect participle (i hana "having worked", "who had worked")

e + verb + ana: imperfective aspect (e hana ana au "I was working", "I will be working")

ke + verb + nei: present tense, progressive aspect (ke hana nei au "I am working")

e + verb: future tense/mood (e hana au "I will work"); or, infinitive (e hana "to work"); or, imperative mood (e hana ʻoe "Work thou!")

mai + verb: negative imperative mood (mai hana ʻoe "Do not work thou!")

verb + ʻia: passive voice where the agent is marked by e (Ua hana ʻia ka honua e ka Haku. The world was created by the Creator.)

I also am providing a link to a map of languages with this set of features. Black means "have past tense and have a fully isolating typology," blue means "have past tense, and have both isolating and non-isolating typology, so might fit the bill," and white means "does not fit what you are looking for" https://wals.info/combinations/20A_66A?v6=c00d&v1=c000&v0=cfff&v14=cfff&v13=c00d&v8=c000&v7=cfff&v24=cfff&v27=cfff&v23=cfff&v22=cfff&v21=cfff&v26=cfff#2/25.5/153.0

Aspect is another grammatical category which is not quite tense, but similarly is an encoding for a verb in time. Mandarin Chinese uses particles to express aspect, so might also be what you are looking for.


I understand "conjugation" as combination of a verbal stem with pronominal affixes, and "inflexion" as vocalic modification of the verbal stem.
This being said, an example is Coptic. AFAIK, verbal forms in Coptic combine independent pronouns followed by more or less complex Tense-Mood-Aspect-Modality forms followed by a stable verbal stem.
Plenty of languages actually have that kind of system. "conjugation" and "inflection" as defined above are not the most frequent situation (IMHO).


I don't know Chinese, but since the current form of the Mong Language (mainly for those in Southeast Asia and the diasporas in the USA, France, Australia, etc.) is pretty much just a creole of the pidgin that our ancestors used with their neighboring Chinese communities, we use auxiliary verbs periphrastically with the main verb to tell tense. Growing up in Southeast Asia, I notice Thai and Lao also doing the same, using helping verbs to tell the tense of the main verb, and not by inflection--changing the spelling of the verb to tell the tense.

Since there are two main mother tongues of our dialect, Mong Leng and Hmong Der, let us look at the regular verb "to change." In these examples, "I" is the subject of the verb and could be replaced by he/she/it/they/we/our. • Present Simple: I change – kuv hlòòv – kuv hloov • Present Continuous: I am changing – kuv tseem taabtom hlòòv – kuv tséém tabtom hloov • Present Perfect: I have changed – kuv hlòòv lawm– kuv hloov lawm • Present Perfect Continuous: I have been changing – kuv tseem taabtom hlòòv – kuv tséém tabtom hloov • Past Simple: I changed / I did change – kuv tub hlòòv – kuv twb hloov • Past Continuous: I was changing – kuv tub tseem taabtom hlòòv – kuv twb tséém tabtom hloov • Past Perfect: I had changed - kuv tub hlòòv lawm – kuv twb hloov lawm • Past Perfect Continuous: I had been changing - kuv tub tseem taabtom hlòòv – kuv twb tséém tabtom hloov • Future Simple: I will change – kuv yuov hlòòv – kuv yuav hloov • Future Continuous: I will be changing – kuv tseem yuov taabtom hlòòv – kuv tséém yuav tabtom hloov • Future Perfect: I will have changed – kuv yuov hlòòv lawm – kuv yuav hloov lawm • Future Perfect Continuous: I will have been changing - kuv tub tseem taabtom yuov hlòòv – kuv twb tséém tabtom yuav hloov

Native English speakers tend to learn how to use these tenses naturally, and for other learners, understanding the parts of speech and how to conjugate verbs often transfers between languages.

Tseem/tséém is the adverb indicating when the progressive or continuous action of the past, present and future, whereas taabtom is the helping verb using as the present participle -ing ending in English, to inform the continuous tense. Even though lawm is the perfect indicator, it does not work the same way as in English for us to use lawm for a present perfect continuous tense. It could be argued that we do not have the present perfect continuous tense or past perfect continuous tense. With tub/twb being the auxiliary verb indicator for past tense, however, we use the same phrasing for past continuous and past perfect continuous. The perfect indicator does not work with the continuous indicator in our language. We can only have one or the other, not both. In most cases, the past indicator is the one overriding the perfect indicator. Future perfect continuous will be something that is harder for most of us to grasp because we don’t use this tense on a regular basis, plus the perfect indicator lawm will actually make it sound weird, unnatural, therefore the past indicator that indicates something has already been done tub/twb will be used instead. The main difference between the past perfect continuous and future perfect continuous is the inclusion of the future indicator word yuov. I know some will argue that for the future tense, the helping verb maam/maamle/lemaam could be the alternative of yuov. To me, maam/maamle/lemaam are used in emphasis, placing the importance of which word in the sentence has more weight, therefore when it comes to future tense the yuov would be the true indicator auxiliary verb.

Thaumtwg koj maam uo is only a general question and has no point of emphasis. Thaumtwg koj lemaam uo emphasize on the when thaumtwg. Thaumtwg koj maamle uo emphasize on the action verb uo. Tog koj paub taab tsaiv maam qha koj is just a general statement. Tog koj paub taab tsaiv lemaam qha koj emphasize on the action of paub taab. Tog koj paub taab tsaiv maamle qha koj emphasize on the action of qha. Puob maam yuov mòòg thaum nwg uo tav is only a general statement. Puob lemaam yuov mòòg thaum nwg uo tav emphasize on the noun puob. Puob maamle yuov mòòg thaum nwg uo tav emphasize on the action mòòg.


You can look into Malay Language that is used in Malaysia, Brunei & Singapore.

Go to Youtube channel called Langfocus. It gives a very good introduction. The title of the video is - The Malay Language (Bahasa Melayu).

I'm Malaysian by the way.

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