One of the hardest bits of Bulgarian grammar for me to wrap my mind around was the difference between the complete and incomplete aspects* of verbs. It’s not a distinction English makes (except in a few cases like “eat up” versus “eat”), native speakers don’t spend much time thinking about it, and the rules for transforming an incomplete verb (the way they appear in the dictionary) to a complete one are…inconsistent.
But, as with many productive grammatical features, complete/incomplete aspects make a lot more sense when we look at a new word.
Frendvam (френдвам) – To friend someone on a social networking site.
Okay, so frendvam is the incomplete aspect and the first conjugation. It means “I friend someone, either at this moment or in general.” In other words, it combines the English sentences “I friend someone” (in general) and “I am friending someone” (right now).
But what if you want to talk about the future? The Bulgarian equivalent of English “will” is shte, but if you say shte te frendvam, it doesn’t mean “I will friend you,” it means “I will be in the process of friending you, but I will be interrupted” or “I will often friend you.” If you want to say “I will friend you once, like BAM!” you have to use the completed form: shte te frendna.
Frendna (френдна) – to friend someone once, like BAM!
In the same way, if you want to talk about the past (using the suffix –h) you can’t just say frendvah, that means “I was friending you, when suddenly…” or “I often used to friend you.” If you want to just say “I friended you,” you have to use the completed form: frendnah te.
So the completed form is super important to talking about the past or future in Bulgarian, but you can’t use frendna in the present tense, because that wouldn’t make sense. How can an action be in the present tense and completed?
The only time you’ll see frendna in the present tense is in places where in English we’d use an infinitive. “I want to friend you” is iskam da ti frendna. This as opposed to “I want to be friending you” (iskam da ti frendvam), meaning I don’t care if I actually complete the action. That’s why Bulgarian-speakers often use the progressive strangely when speaking English (“This is Boris, you should be laughing when he is making jokes.”)
So what do you get when you put it all together?
VERB STEM (something I NEVER see in Bulgarian dictionaries or text books! Argh!)
Frend– to friend (if Bulgarian had such a thing as infinitives)
Shte frendna– I will friend
Shte frendvam-I will often friend/be friending
(da) Frendna-(to) friend
Frendvam-I friend/am friending
Frendvah-I often friended/was friending
PAST UNCERTAIN (or “inferential” often called “present perfect”, but it isn’t)
Frendnal sam-I have friended (as you can infer from the fact that you are now my friend)
Frendval sam-I have been friending (but I’m not done yet)
Ne frendvai!-Don’t friend someone!
(Yes, the complete aspect is the default for positive imperatives, and the incomplete for negative. There is probably some logic there)
ADJECTIVE (present active participle)
(impossible in the completed aspect)
Frendvasht (obekt)-A friending (object)
PASSIVE (past passive participle)
Frendnan (obekt)-A friended (object)
Frendvan-An object in the process of being friended (this form may be impossible)
NOUN (gerund or verbal noun)
Frendvane(to)-(the) idea of friending
(impossible in the incomplete aspect)
ADVERB (or adverbial participle)
(impossible in the complete aspect)
Frendvayki-Friending, I did something
Now can you figure out the forms for other new Bulgarian verbs?
Shervam (to share)
Baunsvam (to bounce—this one may just be used in my family)
*There isn’t even consensus on what they should be called in English. In Bulgarian, they are glagoli ot svarshen ili nesvarshen vid (literally “verbs of the complete or incomplete kind”), but are often translated as “finite” and “non-finite” or “perfective” or “imperfective,” which is easy to confuse for English perfect or imperfect mood.