Crystallising Mongolian Grammar

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Two neglected Mongolian imperatives

23 December 2016 (Preliminary version)

This posting is about two Mongolian imperative verb forms that appear to be missing from most standard grammar books. Before looking at the two forms, I will take a brief look at second-person imperative forms and requests in Mongolian.

1. Rundown on Mongolian imperatives
2. -аадах (-оодох, -ээдэх, -өөдөх)
3. -ваа (-воо, -вээ, -вөө)

'Imperative' is a grammatical category referring to verb forms typically used to express requests, commands, instructions, and the like. In Western grammatical traditions the term 'imperative' tends to be confined to the plain imperative, as in 'Come in', 'Sit down', 'Pull up a chair'. Needless to say, there are many ways of expressing requests and instructions other than using a direct imperative. For example, in English, polite requests are often phrased as questions, as in 'Could you come in please' or 'Would you mind coming in for a moment?'.

Mongolian is richer in imperative forms than English. Kullman and Tserenpil's Mongolian Grammar (Ulaanbaatar 2005) lists five second-person forms for expressing commands, requests, demands, and appeals. In addition, several interrogative forms can be used for making requests.

1. Rundown of Mongolian second-person imperatives and forms used for making requests

The main second-person imperative forms are as follows (examples mostly from Kullman and Tserenpil):

1. Plain imperative (Command)

The plain imperative uses a zero suffix, that is, the imperative is formed with the stem of the verb itself. For some verbs the orthography must drop the final vowel (e.g., оро- oro- becomes ор or). Colloquial Mongolian: The Complete Course for Beginners by Jantsangiyn Bat-Ireedui and Alan J K Sanders characterises this as the Present Imperative.

Examples of the plain imperative include:

Номоо нээ!
Open your books.
Билет ав!
Buy tickets.
Эндээс гар!
Get out of here!

While the plain imperative expresses a direct command, it can be used in familiar situations with good friends and within the family to make requests. The negative form uses бигтий or бүү (e.g., битгий хар 'don't look').

Doubling makes the form more polite (e.g., ор ор! 'come in, come in').

Adding даа (дээ, доо, дөө) serves to soften the tone.

л даа (-л дээ, -л доо, -л дөө) is used for stronger urging or repeated requests.

Суу л даа!
Please do sit down!
Та миний сэтгэлийг ойлго л доо! Та миний үгийг сонс л доо!
Understand my feelings! Listen to what I have to say!

2. Requests: -аач (-ооч, -ээч, -өөч)

Adding the suffix -аач (-ооч, -ээч, -өөч) expresses a concrete demand or urgent request (the -ч is derived from чи 'you'). Spelling is -иач (-иоч) after verb stems ending in -и or -ь. Where the stem ends in a long vowel or diphthong, -г- is inserted.

Цаг боллоо, чи хурдан яваач.
It's time; go quickly please.
Чи энэ ажлыг хийгээч.
Please do this work.
Хувцсаа солиоч.
Please change your clothes.

The negative is битгий (e.g., битчий очооч 'don't go there').

The abruptness of this imperative form can be softened depending on the tone of voice and intonation, and also by adding аа (ээ, оо, өө).

The form өгөөч, which is the request form of the verb өгөх 'to give', can also be used to make requests more polite (e.g., Хэлээд өгөөч 'please tell me' is commonly used over the telephone).

Kullman and Tserenpil note the dialect form -аат (-оот, -ээт, -өөт), related to the polite pronoun та.

For Inner Mongolia, Chingeltei notes the dialect form -аас (-оос, -ээс, -өөс).

3. Polite Demands: -аарай (-оорой, -ээрэй, -өөрэй)

The suffix -аарай (-оорой, -ээрэй, -өөрэй) can be used to make polite demands. Spelling is -иарай (-иорой) after verb stems ending in -и or -ь. Where the stem ends in a long vowel or diphthong, -г- is inserted.

Colloquial Mongolian: The Complete Course for Beginners by Jantsangiyn Bat-Ireedui and Alan J K Sanders characterises this as the Future Imperative. It is less abrupt than the plain (or Present) imperative and can be softened by adding a personal pronoun (e.g. Та).

Над руу утасдаарай.
Please ring me.
Энэ эмийг хоолны өмнө уугаарай.
Please take this medicine before meals.
Та энэ захиаг ээждээ өгөөрэй.
Please give this letter to your mother.

This form is conventionally used in polite formulas (e.g., Сайхан амраарай 'rest well!', Сайн яваарай 'have a good trip').

For negation, битгий is used (e.g., Битгий бичээрэй!).

4. Admonition or Dubitative: -уузай (-үүзэй)

The suffix -уузай (-үүзэй) does not have a direct grammatical analog in English. It is used to express admonitions and precautionary guidelines. Although it is addressed to a second person (i.e. 'you'), it can express an admonition to that person to prevent something from happening. It is more common in the written language than the spoken.

Чи мартуузай.
Make sure you don't forget.
Тэр архи уугуузай!
Make sure he doesn't drink alcohol!

(The usage for precautionary guidelines is somewhat different from a direct imperative and I won't cover it here).

5. Appeals or Benedictive: -гтун (-гтүн)

There is a rare (mostly archaic) form using the suffix -гтун (-гтүн). It is used for general appeals and polite requests directed at one or more people. It is also used for addressing very important persons.

Мөнгөө банканд хадгалуулагтун.
Invest your money in a bank!
Та суугтун!
Please be seated.

In addition to these imperative forms, interrogative forms can also be used for making requests:

6. Polite requests: -хгүй юү?

The negative question pattern is used for making polite requests. Using -аад (-оод, -ээд, -өөд) өгөхгүй, where өгөх is the verb 'to give', can make the pattern even more polite.

Энэ дөрвөн үгийг тайлбарлахгүй юү?
Could you explain these four words please?
Энэ ширээг өргөөд өгөхгүй юү?
Could you lift this table up for me please?

7. Direct polite requests: -на уу (-нэ үү, -но уу, -нө үү)

The future form of the verb, -на (-нэ, -но, -нө) + interrogative уу / үү, can also be used to make direct polite requests (i.e., situated in the present, not in the future). It is commonly used in public signs or written notices.

Та орно уу.
Please come in.
Хаалгаа хаана уу.
Please close the door.
Хаалгаа хаана уу

The two following forms, which are the point of this post, are not listed in most grammar books that I have seen. The only reference I have seen that lists both is Mongolian Language for Intermediate Students by Bayarmaa Khalzaa.

2. -аадах (-оодох, -ээдэх, -өөдөх)

This form expresses impatience to have the action completed quickly, at times tinged with annoyance. Parents may use this form as an expression of impatience with slow or distracted children. (There are also first person and third person forms which we will not touch on here.)

Possible sentences with this form include:

Чи энэ хогийг цэвэрлээдэх.
You clean up this garbage real quick. (Bayarmaa)
Хурдан хоолоо идээдэх!
Hurry up and eat your food!

The following example comes from a story about a wandering monk trying to get a stingy rich man to give alms:

ᠨᠠᠳᠠ ᠢᠳᠡᠬᠦ ᠣᠣᠭᠣᠬᠣ ᠦᠭᠭᠦᠭᠡᠳᠡᠬᠡ!
Надад идэх уух өгөөдөх!
Give me something to eat and drink!

The monk's utterance shows impatience with the rich man's efforts to avoid giving alms as well as a measure of dislike.

Since it is not particularly polite, it is understandable that this form is not taught to learners of Mongolian. The reason it is not included in grammar books is less clear. It may be because it is mainly a spoken form and would not have been widely used in literary Mongolian.

3. -в аа (-в оо, -в ээ, -в өө)

The other neglected form is the negative imperative -в аа (-в оо, -в ээ, -в өө) form. This is used to warn against a certain action, often as an injunction to be careful not to do something. It can be used to both children and adults. It is used in the spoken language in both Mongolia itself (at least in UB) and in other dialects such as the Chahar dialect of Inner Mongolia. It can be regarded as a spoken equivalent to the written form -уузай (-үүзэй).

This form originated from the recent past tense suffix -в plus the particle -аа (-оо, -ээ, -өө). It is thus properly written in two parts but may also be treated as a single form, i.e. -ваа (-воо, -вээ, -вөө).

While absent from many grammars, this form is referred to in Juha A. Janhunen's Mongolian (2012) and in a paper on Negative imperative in modern Mongolian by Enkhjargal Dagvasumberel (2012), where it is treated as a 'negative imperative by sentence intonation' (өгүүлбэрийг аялгаар үгүйсгэн захирах). It is also found in Mongolian Language for Intermediate Students by Bayarmaa Khalzaa.


Don't slip over! (Be careful)
Байв аа.
You shouldn't go there / be there.
Удaв аа.
Don't be long.
Бичив ээ!
Don't write (said by superior or teacher)
Удахгүй хуралтай, хол яав аа.
We have a meeting soon, don't go far away.
Ширээгээ дэрлээд унтчихав аа.
Don't go to sleep with your head resting on the desk.
Be sure to tip the waitress. (Don't forget to tip the waitress).
Тэднийд очоод их чихэр идэв ээ!
Don't eat too many sweets when you're at their place.
Баав аа!
(To children) Don't do a poo!
Суув аа!
Don't sit down (seats are for adults).

The main reason for not including the above forms in most grammars would appear to be linguistic conservatism, partly due to an emphasis on the written language. It is to be hoped that grammarians will make greater attempts in future to embrace the vernacular language and make grammar more relevant to Mongolian as it is actually spoken.

My thanks to Арука багш and Болороо багш.