The Many Faces of ING


I keep being surprised (and slightly puzzled) that certain foreigners genuinely want to learn Romanian. Obviously it’s good to know how to ask for directions or count numbers but some people I meet want to take it to the next level and actually have a conversation. In my unofficial role as “Dat Engrish Speaker Who Also Speakee Romanian” I hereby present a little lesson on verbs.

In English, verbs generally take one of five forms.

Infinite – Ex: To drink
-S form – Ex: He drinks
-ING form – Ex: He is drinking
Past tense – Ex: He drank
Past participle – Ex: He had drunk

The problem arises in other languages because there are many more verb tenses and modalities and in English these five forms (which are just four for many verbs) are used for nearly all of them. Therefore it’s difficult to understand when to use which one in Romanian.

Today we’re going to concentrate on the -ING form and its uses in Romanian.

Present Tense

It’s a little odd but in English the simple present tense is never used. For example, the sentence I cook dinner is grammatically valid but sounds very awkward and would never be used. Instead, the -ING form is used to express the present tense. In Romanian, the present tense is always used.

I am cooking dinner – Eu gatesc cina (I cook dinner)
I am reading a book – Eu citesc o carte (I read a book)
I am leaving now – Eu plec acuma (I leave now)

Verbs as Nouns

In English, just about any verb can be transformed into a noun by using the -ING form. This is a little tricky because most native English speakers are unfamiliar with when these verbs are verbs and when they have become nouns.

I smoke cigarettes – smoking cigarettes is bad
I will walk in the park – walking in the park is fun
I eat a lot of citrus fruits – eating citrus fruits is a big part of my life

The easiest way to think of this is when (-ING form + verb = adjective) then the -ING form is a noun.

In Romanian, the noun form of the verb is expressed using the past participle form and quite often uses the definite article.

Eu fumez – I smoke
Ieri am fumat – Yesterday I had smoked
Fumatul este interzis – Smoking is forbidden

Eu gatesc – I cook
Ieri am gatit – Yesterday I had cooked
Un curs de gatit – A cooking class

Why does fumatul carry the definite article? Literally it means “The smoking” and the definite article (“the” in English or “ul” in the singular masculine in Romanian) because it is the “main” noun doing the action in the sentence. In curs de gatit the word “curs” (class) is the “main” noun and would take the article when necessary:

Cursul de gatit – The cooking class

An easy way to think of this is that if the noun begins a sentence, it always requires an article even in English it would seem a little awkward:

Plimbatul caiinelor este interzis – (The) walking (of the) dogs is forbidden

Continuous Action

Formally this is known as the “gerund” and has a strict but limited use in Romanian and other languages. This is when the action of one verb happens continuously throughout a span of time when (often another verb) an event happens. This is the “true gerund” and in other Romance languages it’s a little easier to parse out when to use this tense.

In Romanian it is rare and uses the “-ând” form of the verb.

Deschide – (It) opens
Deschizând – opening
Face – (It) does
Facând – doing

For some verbs it is -ind

Scrie – (It) writes
Scriind – writing

And there are some irregular verbs, the two most important to know of which are:

Avea – to have
Având – having
Fi – to be
Fiind – being

Now I will tell you this so save yourself a whole lot of trouble. The first is that this verb form in Romanian is about 1,000 times rarer than in English and generally speaking is not used when in English the -ING form would be used. Examples:

I was sleeping all day yesterday – Ieri am dormit toate ziua (Yesterday I slept all day)
When is the store opening? – Cand deschide magazinul? (When opens the store)

So when do you use it in Romanian? First, only use it when talking about people, not objects or animals or intangible things. Again, this form is used to express that one action is happening when another event occurs.

L-am gasit lucrând – I found him working (when I found him, he was working)

Iesind din cladire mi-am dat seama ca am uitat telefonul in birou – When leaving the building I realized that I had forgotten the (my) telephone in the office

Both of these sentences are correct but again the gerund is used very rarely in Romanian by native speakers and often another (simpler) verb tense is chosen. For example:

A fost la lucru cand l-am gasit – He was at work when I found him

Cand am iesit din cladire m-am dat seama ca am uitat telefonul in birou – When I left the building I realized that I had forgotten the (my) telephone in the office

It’s easy enough to read/hear the gerund in Romanian (-ând/-ind forms) and understand it but generally it’s easier to avoid constructing sentences with them until you’re really at a high level of fluency.

There are a couple of common phrases that use this verb form that appear quite frequently in Romanian speech and writing and you can confidently use these as long as you keep in mind that they are almost exclusively used when describing people or things having to do with people:

Având in vedere – Having (keeping) in mind – (Literally having in sight)
Fiind ca – Because (Literally being that)

There is another extremely rare form used in Romanian that I’m going to skip here entirely so as not to confuse you but is a kind of progressive subjunctive (maybe something is happening while something else is going on) and takes the form (o + fi + -ând/-ind) and I’m just mentioning it so that you realize this little “tutorial” is not exhaustive.

AND NOW YOU KNOW!

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11 Responses »

  1. The gerund can totally be used for animals and objects too.

    – Câinele s-a murdărit jucându-se prin gunoi. (gerund of a reflexive verb)
    – Măturând oraşul, tsunami-ul a făcut multe victime.

    There are a few things that are slightly awkward in your otherwise correct examples, but “fiind ca” is in fact a mistake. It’s actually spelled “fiindcă” when it means “because”.

    Sure, you may find “fiind ca” in some contexts as well, but it doesn’t mean “because”.

    – Fiind ca o mamă pentru el, mătuşa lui îl ajută când are probleme.

    This translates to “Being like a mother to him, his aunt helps him when he’s in trouble”.
    It actually sounds a bit awkward, but it’s correct Romanian and I couldn’t come up with a better example right now.

    Then there’s also “fiind că”, which is found mostly in the expression “dat fiind că”, which means “given that”. It is also found outside expressions in a more convoluted speech.

    -Nu am plecat, motivul fiind că am pierdut trenul.

    Translation: We/I didn’t leave, the reason [for this] being that we/I missed the train. You would only say this if you wanted to increase your word count for some reason, and it comes off as “limbă de lemn”, but it is gramatically correct.

    Well that was a long comment full of rather unimportant things! One can speak Romanian just fine without knowing all that, but I had fun. I always said Romanian is a great to have as a mother tongue. One of the reasons is that if you manage to properly learn its grammar, no other grammar can scare you anymore :)

    • Good observations!

      As for the ending of your comment: have you tried the grammar of Old Irish? It’s so darn complicated that even its specialists make use of books and dictionaries in order to put together the simplest of phrases. Granted, the use of suppletives in OI is intolerably huge and it wasn’t actually spoken at any given time, but hey, neither was Classical Latin.

      This was off-topic so take it lightly :)

      • Haha, I haven’t, it sounds like a blast. I’m only into learning living languages myself, but I respect those who find it in themselves to study something like Old Irish. It’s a different kettle of fish, and a far more difficult thing, I bet.

  2. “In Romanian, the noun form of the verb is expressed using the past participle form and quite often uses the definite article.”

    One correction: in your examples, it is not “past participle” but “supin mode”. They look alike but they are quite different. A participle is like an adjective (it’s a modifier). That means it has declension. Supin mode does not have declension and it is used with prepositions (it implies action / activity). Your example “Un curs de gatit” has a verb in the supin mode: “de gatit” (This is a course to show you how to cook.)

    In the other example, “Fumatul este interzis”, “fumatul” is a noun which has been formed from the supin mode of the verb “a fuma / to smoke”. It implies: ” A fuma este interzis / To smoke is forbidden.”
    In that case, a noun from a participle would look like this (which sounds a little awkward but it’s grammatically correct):”El fumeaza idei” (verb) / “Ideile lui sunt fumate” or “Ideile fumate ale lui sunt interzise” (participle) / “Fumatele sunt ale lui si sunt interzise” (noun from participle).

    Now, if you say that in the expression “Fumatul este interzis” the noun “fumatul” comes from a participle, that changes completely the meaning of the sentence, because it refers to SOMETHING / SOMEONE who has been smoked:”Ceva / cineva fumat este interzis.”

    In conclusion, “Fumatul este interzis” refers to an ACTION which has been forbidden, not to SOMEONE/SOMETHING which had been smoked and now it’s forbidden.

    The same with “Plimbatul cainilor este interzis”. The noun “plimbatul” refers to the ACTION of “a plimba” (to walk) the dogs. If you want that noun to come from a participle (e.g. “caini plimbati”), then your sentence should look like this: “Plimbatii (caini) sunt interzisi.”

    I realize that this is very picky grammar and I could go like this forever, but I consider that people who want to learn Romanian should have the right to get the correct information. Otherwise they would never understand why Romanian grammar looks so redundant compared to English.

    Note: by the way, all this process is called “grammatical change”; virtually any grammar value can be changed into a noun (and therefore it can use articles, definite or indefinite):

    e.g. – fete frumoase = frumoasele (adjective to noun with definite article); zece = un zece (numeral to noun with indefinite article); eu = eul (pronoun to noun with definite article); of = oful (interjection to noun with definite article) / un of (interjection to noun with indefinite article), etc.

    Hint: back transform any difficult expression and you will understand how it works.

    • Another hint that some might find useful:

      You will most likely use the Romanian “supin” to translate gerund expressions from English:
      1) to show the PURPOSE of an object:
      – washing machine = masina de spalat;
      – frying pan = tigaie de prajit;
      2) to translate a noun which comes from gerund (it usually implies an ACTION):
      – writing = scrisul (it refers to the ACTION of writing and not to a person who has been written on, in which case would require participle);
      – watching TV = privitul la TV;
      – running = alergatul;

      But you will use the Romanian “particple” to show the QUALITY of a noun:
      – the flying Dutchman (plural: flying Dutchmen) = olandezul zburator (plural: olandezii zburatori);
      – the laughing cow (plural: laughing cows) = vaca zburatoare (plural: vacile zburatoare);

    • Hi, What happen to you was rllaey fun and cool. If I’d known you were looking for an ONG in Romania (and if I would have read your blog then) I would have offered our organization’s help. It’s a Cultural local Organization named DTS Flow (in Drobeta Turnu Severin) and for our next project, in September, this year, we have a cultural experience exchange with Cyprus, Macedonia and Serbia, and us, and it’s all happening here, in Romania, Orsova (you’ve pass by on your way to Serbia for your holiday via train). We will talk about cultural differences, music, dance, traditions and anything we think is an issue with people and cultures all over the world. Your blog will help me create some debates about how others view us, but if u have anymore ideas that could help me I’ll be glad to write them down. Again, I like reading you, and I’m glad you are fond of Romania. I hope you will find someday a place that you would wish never to leave it behind, because that place will definitely be the best place in the world considering you have seen everything.

  3. Salut!
    Am observat că scrii cu “â” în unele locuri. Ca să nu se încurce lumea ai putea să adaugi și “ă” si celelalte litere speciale din alfabetul român(sau să scrii doar cu litere din alfabetul englezesc).
    Astfel câteva observații:
    Eu gatesc cina
    Eu gatesc – I cook
    Ieri am gatit – Yesterday I had cooked
    Un curs de gatit – A cooking class
    Cursul de gatit
    –> Eu gătesc cina (și toate celelalte: gătesc, am gătit, de gătit)
    Alte mici scăpări:
    Plimbatul caiinelor este interzis–>Plimbatul câinilor este interzis
    Facând–>Făcând
    De asemenea, la verbele la infinitiv se pune un “a” in față (la fel cum in engleza se pune acel “to”)
    Avea – to have –> A avea – to have
    Fi – to be –> A fi – to be
    Iar:
    Ieri am dormit toate ziua–>Ieri am dormit toată ziua
    Cand deschide magazinul –> Când deschide magazinul
    L-am gasit lucrând –-> L-am găsit …
    Iesind din cladire mi-am dat seama ca am uitat telefonul in birou–>Ieșind din clădire mi-am dat seama că am uitat telefonul in birou
    A fost la lucru cand l-am gasit –->A fost la lucru cand l-am găsit
    Cand am iesit din cladire m-am dat seama ca am uitat telefonul in birou –>Când am ieșit din clădire mi-am dat seama că (mi-)am uitat telefonul in birou
    Fiind ca–>Fiindcă
    Și “acuma” se zice mai mult pe la Cluj – unii ar zice că e mai corect “acum”.

    • Scuze că nu am văzut și partea bună. Străinii vor să învețe româna. Și tu vrei să îi inveți. Super! Poate vei posta în mod regulat câte o lecție de română.

  4. K.I.S.S.: Keep it simple, Sam! Don’t scare them off with all complexities.
    Most Romanians are so impressed to hear foreigners attempting to speak Romanian, that even “Buna ziua!” gets you bonus points. Never mind all the tenses.
    Thank you for all your work.

    • Why do you assume people only learn foreign languages to impress the locals? Some people actually want to read things or watch TV in Romanian, or talk to Romanians who don’t speak English, and so on. In those cases, you do need to learn most of the tenses.

      Also, a lot of Romanians (especially here in Unicorn City) are at least bilingual, so I don’t think “Buna ziua” alone gets you many bonus points anymore :)

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