Lesson Seven: Verbs and the Past Tense

Verbs and their past tense form are introduced in this lesson. A very useful characteristic of Mongolian verbs is that in their neutral, dictionary form they always end in the letter "x". This point is repeated several times in the lesson because it is extremely important to know that fact as you progress in the language. The reason is using this neutral form you can look up verbs in a dictionary to find their meaning. Mongolian verbs express tense using suffixes, and the past tense form is one of many suffixes a Mongolian speaker must know to communicate effectively. Being able to transform verbs with these suffixes into their dictionary forms and vise-versa is an essential skill in becoming proficient in the language.

The following video gives an introduction to verbs. Take special note of how verbs appear in their neutral, dictionary form and how transforming verbs to different tenses relies on being able to identify verb roots.

Introduction to Verbs

All verbs in their neutral, dictionary form end in "x." It is called the "dictionary form" because most dictionaries only include entries for verbs in this form. A Mongolian speaker needs to be able to recognize new verbs in other forms and put them in this dictionary form in order to look them up in the dictionary. The easiest way to do this is to find the verb root. The verb root is the part of the verb that is common to all forms of a verb, whether it be the past tense, the future tense, the perfect progressive tense, or any other tense. There are exceptions, but for the most part the following rules apply in parsing out verb roots.

Spelling Rules for Transforming Verb Roots to Their Dictionary Form
ConditionVerb RootDictionary Form
Add a single vowel and "x" following the rule of vowel harmony to verb roots that end in a consonant other than "ж", "ч", or "ш". яв
Add an "и" and "x" following to verb roots that end in the consonants "ж", "ч", or "ш". унш
Add a "х" to verb roots that end in double vowels or diphthongs. уу
Replace the "ь" with "и" and add a "х" to verb roots ending in "ь". ярь

Those rules will make more sense as you encounter different verb forms. It is not essential to memorize them now, but it is a good idea to keep yourself aware of them as you move forward.

The following video introduces the heart of this lesson, which is how to construct the past tense form of verbs.

Past Tense Verbs

The basic rules for constructing the past tense forms are reiterated in the table below.

Table of Past Tense Verb Forms
Statement Verb root + с(а)н Тэд 3 жилийн өмнө гэрлэсэн.
Yes/No Question Verb Root + с(а)н уу/үү? Тэд 3 жилийн өмнө гэрлэсэн үү?
Open-ended Question Verb Root + с(а)н бэ? Тэд хэзээ гэрлэсэн бэ?
Negative Statement Verb Root + (аа)гүй
Verb Root + г(аа)гүй
Verb Root ending in "ь" + и(а)гүй
Тэд 3 жилийн өмнө гэрлээгүй.

Here are some verbs in their dictionary, positive past tense, and negative past tense forms.

  1. явах · явсан · яваагүй
  2. идэх · идсэн · идээгүй
  3. бичих · бичсэн · бичээгүй
  4. унших · уншсан · уншаагүй
  5. уух · уусан · уугаагүй
  6. сонсох · сонссон · сонсоогүй
  7. суух · суусан · суугаагүй
  8. зурах · зурсан · зураагүй
  9. үзэх · үзсэн · үзээгүй
  10. өгөх · өгсөн · өгөөгүй
  11. авах · авсан · аваагүй
  12. хийх · хийсэн · хийгээгүй
  13. амрах · амарсан · амраагүй
  14. амьдрах · амьдарсан · амьдраагүй
  15. ярих · ярьсан · яриагүй
  16. тоглох · тоглосон · тоглоогүй
  17. эхлэх · эхэлсэн · эхлээгүй
  18. дуусах · дууссан · дуусаагүй
  19. ирэх · ирсэн · ирээгүй
  20. харах · харсан · хараагүй
  21. байх · байсан · байгаагүй

Note that verb roots that end in "ь" have that letter converted to "и" in the negative form. Again, it is not important to memorize every spelling rule at this point, and it is more important to just be aware there are exceptions as you encounter them. For example, another exception you may have noticed is that the verb "тоглох" is spelled "тоглосон" in its positive past tense form even though the spelling rules above might suggest a spelling like this "тоглсон". In other cases, the order of letters at the end of the verb roots change. For example the verb "амьдрах" becomes "амьдарсан" with the "а" and "р" switching positions. There are spelling consistencies with these types of verbs, so it is possible to further refine the rules above, but it is easier to learn the exceptions as you encounter them rather than getting bogged down in memorizing several more limited rules.

A final concept to cover in this lesson in order to really begin communicating in the past tense is temporal adverbs such as yesterday, last week, and last year. The following video introduces the concept.

Past Tense Adverbs

Here are some key words and phrase worth remembering:

өчигдөр · yesterday
уржигдар · day before yesterday
өнгөрсөн шөнө · last night
өнгөрсөн долоо хоног · last week
өнгөрсөн сар · last month
өнгөрсөн жил · last year
~ хоногийн өмнө · ~ days ago (ex. 5 хоногийн өмнө - 5 days ago)
~ сарын өмнө · ~ months ago (ex. 3 сарын өмнө - 3 months ago)
~ жилийн өмнө · ~ years ago (ex. 8 жилийн өмнө - 8 years ago)
сая · recently
саяхан · recently

Note the word "өнгөрсөн" is the past tense form of the verb "өнгөрөх" which means "to pass." So "өнгөрсөн жил", for example, literally translated means "the year which passed."

Using the past tense verbs and the temporal adverbs just introduced, we can now put together full sentences.

Би Америкаас ирсэн. · I came from America.
Тэр өчигдөр орой хоолоо идээгүй. · (S)he didn't eat her/his meal yesterday.
Бат бид хоёр өнгөрсөн сар хоёулаа хөл бөмбөг тоглосон. · Bat and I played soccer last month together.
Та 3 сарын өмнө Монгол руу явсан уу? · Did you go to Mongolian three months ago?
Энх юу авсан бэ? · What did Enkh buy?

There is a lot covered in this lesson, and it might seem a bit overwhelming. However, if you reexamine each part you'll see that much of the lesson builds off ideas already introduced in previous lessons. For example, Mongolian word order is Subject + Object + Verb. In this lesson, we introduced temperal adverbs, so the formula is slightly modified to Subject + Temperal Adverb + Object + Verb. This pattern is consistent, so it won't change when talking about other tenses like the present or future tense. Using the formula you can create new sentences as you learn new words and deconstruct sentences like the examples above as you encounter them. It is a lot to consider, but if you take the time to consider everything, later on it will become progressively easier to learn new tenses and new ways of communicating.

For now, the following exercises should provide some practice in reviewing the key elements of the lesson.

Exercise: Positive and Negative Past Tense
Instructions: Write the dictionary, past positive, and past negative form of each verb root.
RootDict.Past Pos.Past Neg.
яв _____ _____ _____
ид _____ _____ _____
бич _____ _____ _____
унш _____ _____ _____
уу _____ _____ _____
сонс _____ _____ _____
суу _____ _____ _____
зур _____ _____ _____
үз _____ _____ _____
өг _____ _____ _____
ав _____ _____ _____
хий _____ _____ _____
амар _____ _____ _____
амьдар _____ _____ _____
ярь _____ _____ _____
тогло _____ _____ _____
эхэл _____ _____ _____
дуус _____ _____ _____
ир _____ _____ _____
хар _____ _____ _____
бай _____ _____ _____
Click here for the answers...
Exercise: Past Positive to Past Negative
Instructions: For each sentence given, write it in negative form.

Example: Ах өчигдөр өдөржин гэртээ байсан.
а. Ах өчигдөр өдөржин гэртээ байгаагүй.

1. Бат 7 хоногийн өмнө хуримаа хийсэн.
а. __________________________.

2. Тэр хоёр бал сараа Италид өнгөрөөсөн.
а. __________________________.

3. Тэд нар өнөө өглөө кофе уусан.
а. __________________________.

4. Саран хуримын цагаан даашинз авсан.
а. __________________________.

5. Тэд гурван сарын өмнө салсан.
а. __________________________.

6. Дорж саяхан гэрлэсэн.
а. __________________________.

7. Оюун хүүтэй болсон.
а. __________________________.

8. Эгч хуримын бэлэг авсан.
а. __________________________.

Click here for the answers...
Exercise: Match the Past Tense Adverbs
Instructions: Match the Mongolian past tense adverbs with their English translations.
1. yesterday (h) a. өнгөрсөн жил
2. last month (_) b. найман хоногийн өмнө
3. last year (_) c. өнгөрсөн долоо хоног
4. two days ago (_) d. зургаан жилийн өмнө
5. last week (_) e. өнгөрсөн сар
6. yesterday morning (_) f. гурван сарын өмнө
7. the day before yesterday (_) g. хоёр хоногийн өмнө
8. three months ago (_) h. өчигдөр
9. six years ago (_) i. өчигдөр өглөө
10. eight days ago (_) j. уржигдар
Click here for the answers...
1. yesterday (h) a. өнгөрсөн жил
2. last month (e) b. найман хоногийн өмнө
3. last year (a) c. өнгөрсөн долоо хоног
4. two days ago (g) d. зургаан жилийн өмнө
5. last week (c) e. өнгөрсөн сар
6. yesterday morning (i) f. гурван сарын өмнө
7. the day before yesterday (j) g. хоёр хоногийн өмнө
8. three months ago (f) h. өчигдөр
9. six years ago (d) i. өчигдөр өглөө
10. eight days ago (b) j. уржигдар