Adventures in Colloquial Singaporean English (Singlish) – Verbs

Verbs. You know, those action words that bring life to sentences. Some languages conjugate by number, some by tense, some by aspect, mood, gender… yeah you get the point. Some don’t even conjugate it at all. This post brings you verbs in Singlish, and how they differ from Standard English.

One of the most prominent features of verbs in Singlish is the lack of any form of conjugation, be it tense or number. Let’s take a look at the following sentence:

(1) Yesterday he go to the market.

While it is ungrammatical in Standard English because the verb and tense do not agree, neither does the verb and subject if we leave out the tense agreement. However, this is quite commonly spoken in Singlish.

One possible reason for this is that Singlish is heavily influenced by Chinese and Malay (and a little by Tamil), and both languages do not have verbs that change according to tense and number (although Malay has a future tense marker “akan”), for example:

I speak – saya bercakap – 我说

You speak – awak bercakap – 你说

He speaks – dia bercakap – 他说

We (Inclusive) speak – kita bercakap – 我们说

He spoke – dia bercakap – 他说

As we notice, Chinese and Malay verbs do not conjugate by person, as we notice a lack of change in the verb with varying pronouns. Neither does it conjugate by tense either. This is one possible reason to the lack of subject-verb agreement and verb-tense agreement in Singlish.

Our next point takes us to the curious case of the Singlish verb “got”. Used in sentences to replace the verb to have and “there is/are”, this verb only has one form, specifically the past tense of the verb to get (definition: to acquire). An example would be

Got question?

Any questions? / Is there a question? / Do you have a question?

We also note the omission of the verb to be in many Singlish sentences. This draws influence from Chinese and Malay, both of which do not have a verb to be, leading to the omission of this verb in Colloquial Singaporean English.

These are the more prominent features of verbs in Singlish, and we’re just barely scraping the surface of this English-based creole. Future posts would cover Singlish particles, and how they modify the mood of almost anything. Stay tuned!

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