Spelling of Verbs in Mongolian Cyrillic Script
Spelling verbs in the Mongolian Cyrillic script is hard to get right. There are dictionaries of 'correct spelling' designed to profit from the inability of many Mongolians to do so.
The following is my own method of remembering (if not understanding) the rules. I divide the verbs into five classes. The first two classes are regular and (reasonably) well-behaved. The other three contain the exceptions that plague the learner. The five classes are:
The main problem is that there are few across-the-board rules. Most rules are qualified by exceptions, or even exceptions to exceptions).
I. Verb stems ending in long vowels 😇
This class is easy to identify and well behaved. It includes two types: stems that end in double vowels and stems ending in 'diphthongs' (although these are mostly not technically diphthongs).
The stem is derived by dropping the -х of the infinitive. Endings are then added in a regular manner. The -ч/ж verb form always uses -ж. Suffixes starting with vowels (-аарай, -аасай etc.) require a -г- to be inserted between the stem and the ending.
a) Verb infinitive ends in double vowel + -х
b) Verb infinitive ends in 'diphthong' + -х
II. Verb stems that end in consonants 🙂
This is the default for verbs that do not end in a long vowel and covers a huge range of verbs. However, it does not cover all such verbs; the exceptions are what make the spelling rules so troublesome. There are also some quirks in the rules for adding endings (e.g., the -ч/-ж form).
a) For verb infinitives with consonant + vowel + -х (includes -ших, -чих, -жих, but excludes other infinitives ending in -их):
To derive the stem, remove both the last vowel and -х. The resulting verb stem will end in a consonant.
The main exceptions to this rule are:
The rules for arriving at the -ч/ж form of the verb are:
a) For verb infinitives with two consonants + vowel + -х (excludes two consonants + и + х):
There are a number of exceptions to this class, and remembering them is key to mastering the spelling rules. The following are not included in Class II:
To arrive at the stem, remove both the last vowel and -х. The resulting stem will end in a consonant. For the -ч/-ж form, a vowel is inserted before -ч/-ж. The exception is stems ending in -с, which can also take -ч.
III. Verb stems that keep the final vowel (stem ends in consonant + vowel) 😧
This group of exceptions to Class II comprises verbs that would be expected to remove the entire -ах, -ох, -өх, -эх infinitive ending to arrive at the stem (as in Class II), but for various reasons do not. Membership must be committed to memory.
a) Verb infinitive ends in -нах, -нэх, -нох, -нөх (excludes -них)
This group is here because of a phonological peculiarity of Mongolian. If we remove -ах, -ох, -өх, and -эх, from infinitives ending in -нах, -нэх, -нох, or -нөх, the stem will end in -н. Since -н would be pronounced /ŋ/, it's necessary to retain the vowel letter in order to ensure that it is pronounced /n/. The stem is thus formed by removing the final -х only.
The -ч/ж form of the verb always takes -ж. Where the suffix starts with a vowel (e.g., -аарай), the extra vowel is dropped.
b) Verb infinitive ends in consonant + -гах, -гэх, -гох, -гөх (plus one Verb infinitive that ends in -агах)
This group is here because the letter г needs to be accompanied by a vowel. In order to retain the vowel, only the final -х is removed. (Where г is preceded by a vowel, e.g. өгөх and тэгэх, the vowel is kept. Such words belong to Class II.)
The -ч/ж form of the verb always takes -ж. Where the suffix starts with a vowel (e.g., -аарай, -аасай), the extra vowel is dropped.
The verb дагах also belongs here.
c) Verb infinitive ends in монгол баавар consonant + -лах, -лох, -лөх, -лэх
The infinitive endings -лах, -лох, -лөх, -лэх drop only the -х when they follow these consonants: м, н, г, л, б, в, and р, known as the монгол баавар consonants.
Where the suffix starts with a vowel (e.g., -аарай), the extra vowel is dropped. The -ч/-х form adds -ж directly.
d) Verb infinitive ends in монгол баавар consonant + -бах, -бох, -вах, -вох
This is a very small group. If в or б are preceded by м, н, г, л, б, в, or р (the монгол бааавар consonants), remove only the final -х. The resulting verb stem ends in a vowel.
e) Verb infinitive ends in ях or ёх
This small group is a result of the adoption of the Cyrillic letters я and ё to represent 'semi-consonant + vowel' combinations. If they were written хайах and ойох respectively, this group would not exist.
IV. Verb stems that switch vowels and consonants around 😱
This brings us to a mischievous class of verbs that play a trick on us when deriving the stem.
After the final -х has been removed, the final vowel and consonant switch places. Moreover, certain members of the class even bring in different vowels. What makes this class confusing for Mongolians, especially, is that the spelling is at odds with the pronunciation in many verb forms.
a) Verb infinitive ends in цоожоо засад тушаачих consonant + -лах, -лох, -лөх, -лэх
We saw above that -лах, -лох, -лөх, -лэх are well behaved in good company, that is, with монгол баавар. Unfortunately, there is a group of consonants that have a bad influence on -лах, -лох, -лөх, -лэх: the consonants ц, ж, з, с, д, т, ш, ч, or х, which are known as the цоожоо засад тушаачих consonants. Under the influence of these consonants, the final two letters of the stem are swapped around, resulting in a stem that ends in a consonant.
For example, туслах becomes тусал- in the stem.
Three of those consonants give rise to further mischief:
Where the consonant is ж, ч, or ш, the rearranged vowel turns into an и. That is, the -а- or -э- of the infinitive turns into an и.
For example, авчрах becomes авчир- in the stem.
Verb endings are than added to the altered stem. However, endings that begin with vowels form an exception: the vowel is removed. For example, the imperative form is not ту-сал-аарай or ту-сла-аарай but ту-сл-аарай.
The following verbs have stems with -жил, -чил, and -шил.
b) Verb infinitive ends in Consonant + -рах, -рох, -рөх, -рэх
Unlike -лах, -лох, -лөх, -лэх, which only swap under the influence of the цоожоо засад тушаачих consonants, the consonant р switches after any consonant. (After vowels, of course, р behaves quite differently.)
For example, амрах becomes амар- in the stem. The exception is verbs ending in -чах (-чох, -чөх, -чэх), - жах (-жох, -жөх, -жэх), - шах (-шох, -шөх, -шэх), which switch to -и- when swapping.
The following verbs have stems with -жил, -чил, and -шил.
V. Verb stems in the -их family that use the soft sign (ь) 😧
For verb infinitives ending in consonant + и + х (excluding -жих, -чих, -ших)
The rules for this group are largely the same as those for Class III (stems ending in vowels), but there are idiosyncrasies in the treatment of the vowel и.
To derive the stem, -х is dropped and ь is substituted for и. The verb stem thus ends in the soft sign.
The use of и or the soft sign in inflected words depends on the suffix. The soft sign is used before -сан and -ч/ж (with the notable exception of infinitives ending in -хих, in which и is retained), but и is used before -на and suffixes beginning with vowels. In forms like -аарай, -аасай, etc, note that the first vowel of the suffix should be dropped after и.