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.
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
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!