Lesson 32: The Simple Past Tense in Twi | Twam Kabea | Twi Grammar

This is the third lesson in the series on Twi verb tenses. Thus far, we have been introduced to the concept of Twi verb tenses and gone ahead to look at the simple present tense in Twi.

In today’s lesson, we are looking at the simple past tense in Twi. The simple past tense forms in Twi are varied depending on where and how they are used. By the end of this lesson, you should be familiar with all these forms, and be able to form them out of other Twi verbs.


The Simple Past Tense

The simple past tense form of a verb is used to describe things that have already happened, i.e. before the current time. So, if you need to talk about an action or event that took place a week, month, year, or even a second ago, what you need is the past tense form of the verb to be used. For example, “took” is the past tense form of the verb “take”.


The Simple Past Tense in Twi | Twam Kabea

As mentioned earlier, a Twi verb may assume different past tense forms depending, mostly, on where and how it is used. Like we mentioned with the Twi present tense, if the subject of the verb is a pronoun, we combine it and the verb into a single word in writing. For subject nouns, we separate them from the verbs.

Let’s look at the various past tense forms in Twi and how we come by them.

a. When a verb is followed by an object or adverb, we form its simple past tense by doubling its final letter. This is the case whether the verb end in a vowel or a consonant.

Some examples:

1. Kofi noaa borɔdeɛ (original verb: noa)

    Kofi cooked plantain

2. Akosua tɔnn ne ntoma no (original verb: tɔn)

    Akosua sold her cloth.

3. Mepraa dan no mu (original verb: pra)

    I swept the room.

4. Kofi didii nnora (original verb: didi)

    Kofi ate yesterday.

5. Afia nomm nsuo (original verb: nom)

    Afia drank water.

b. For a verb that ends in vowels, when it is neither followed by an object nor an adverb, we form its past tense simply by suffixing to it -iɛ or -eɛ. The choice between either of the suffixes (-iɛ or -eɛ) is determined by the vowels that are already present in the original verb, most especially the one that ends it. This is based on a phonological phenomenon known as vowel harmony. We will not get into the concept of vowel harmony here because the two suffixes sound similar anyway.

6. Ama kyiniiɛ (original verb: kyini)

    Ama roamed

7. Kofi teeɛ (original verb: te)

    Kofi heard

8. Wokyeaeɛ (original verb: kyea)

    You greeted.

9. suiɛ (original verb: su)

    We cried.

10. Akosua toeɛ (original verb: to)

      Akosua threw.

c. What if the verb ends in a consonant and is neither followed by an object nor adverb? We still suffix to that verb -iɛ or -eɛ. Before we do that, though, we need to introduce a vowel (-i or -e) to the end of the original verb. The choice between the two is ultimately informed by the vowels that are present in the original verb. From an easier perspective, we can safely say:

–> Go for -i if the vowel(s) in the original verb demands the -iɛ suffix

–> Go for -e if the vowel(s) in the original verb demands the -eɛ suffix

Let’s look at some examples.

11. Akosua nomeeɛ(original verb: nom)

     Akosua drank

12. Kanea no dumiiɛ(original verb: dum)

      The light went off.

13. Kofi tɔneeɛ(original verb: tɔn)

      Kofi sold

14. Asukuufoɔ no pɔneeɛ(original verb: pɔn)

     The students closed

15. Yaw twɛneeɛ(original verb: twɛn)

      Yaw waited.

d. Certain verbs come serialized, i.e. in pairs. For example “to twene (throw away)”, “sɔ hwɛ (test)”, “koto sa (bend down and dance)”, “soa kɔ (carry go/away)”, The past tense of such verbs are done on the second verb; the first verb in the series stay the same. So, we apply the appropriate past-tense formation process from the processes we’ve looked so far, to the second verb in the pair.

Before we look at some examples, be reminded that if the subject of the verb is a pronoun, we combine it with the first verb in the series into a single word. If the subject is a noun, we write it as a separate word.

16. Kofi to tweneeɛ (original verb: to twene)

      Kofi threw away

17. Mesɔ hwɛeɛ (original verb: sɔ hwɛ)

      I tested it

18. Ama koto saa Azonto (original verb: koto sa)

      Ama bent down (squatted) and danced Azonto

19. Ɔsoa kɔeɛ (original verb: soa kɔ)

      He/she carried away.

20. Apɔnkye no pu wesaeɛ (original verb: pu wesa)

      The goat regurgitated (and chewed).

 e. From our lesson on the simple present tense in Twi, we mentioned that Twi makes use of the original, infinitive form of verbs to describe present tense actions. So, to form a simple sentence in the present state, you only need a subject noun phrase or pronoun, a verb in its original form, and (or without) an object noun/pronoun. For example:

–> Ama nom nsuo.

      Ama drinks water.

–> Medua aburoo.

      I plant maize.

–> Wodidi.

      You eat.

–> Kofi kyerɛkyerɛni.

      Kofi is a teacher.

–> nim no.

      We know him/her.

We can change the above set of examples to convey past actions or events simply by starting the sentences with Na. When we start each of the sentences above with Na, we will be adding a “used to/used to be the case” meaning to them. So, the verbs will maintain their present tense forms, but we will be saying the actions, conditions and occurrences that each of the verbs conveys, used to be the case in the past. Let’s try.

21. Na Ama nom nsuo.

       Ama used to drink water.

22. Na medua aburoo.

       I used to plant maize.

23. Na wodidi.

       You used to eat.

24. Na Kofi kyerɛkyerɛni

       Kofi used to be a teacher.

25. Nanim no.

       We used to know him/her.


Important Note

“wɔ (to have)” is an irregular verb in Twi. So, apart from using it in its present form after “Na” to convey the “used to have” meaning, none of the past tense formation processes discussed above applies to it. You cannot say, for instance:

*** Kofi wɔɔ fie (to mean “Kofi had a house”) NOR

*** Kofi wɔeɛ (to mean “Kofi had”).

You may use:

–> Na Kofi fie (Kofi had a house/Kofi used to have a house) OR

–> Na Kofi (Kofi had/Kofi used to have).


We end here. Do go over the lesson and try to get each of the situations that demands the usage of the various past tense forms. You may contribute by leaving your comments in the comments section further below.

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