The aspectual verb koo (LT koL ).

The aspectual verb koo is one of the most problematical of the Tamil aspectual markers, and needs to be examined from a number of viewpoints. It is derived from the lexical verb koL which means `hold, contain'. In LT lexical koL occurs usually with neuter subjects, i.e. sentences in which some thing holds or contains s.t., not some one. Lexical koo does occur as an AVP with verbs of motion /poo/ `go' and /vaa/ `come', and the combination koNDupoo and koNDuvaa mean `take (something)' (i.e. `hold and go') and `bring (s.t.)' (i.e. `hold and come') respectively. Since lexical koo is a class I verb, with present koreen (the o here and in the future may be more of a schwa), past kiTTeen, and future koveen, these are also the forms for aspectual koo. Its AVP is kiTTu.

Aspectual distinctions

The aspectual verb koo can provide a number of aspectual distinctions to a sentence. Traditionally (Arden 1942:236) it is referred to as a `reflexive' verb, but this is an oversimplification of its meaning or meanings. Some of the notions provided by aspectual koo are:

  1. Self-affective or self-benefactive action.

  2. Simultaneous action: one action occurring together with another action; sometimes these actions are wholly coterminous, but at other times it merely states that some portion of the time of the two actions overlapped.

  3. Completive aspect: indicates that an action is, has been, or will be definite and complete(d).

  4. Inchoative vs. Punctual. koo is used with a number of stative verbs to indicate that a state has begun or been entered into. This emphasizes the point of beginning, or the crossing of a threshold, rather than the duration of the state. With stative verbs that require the dative (e.g. teri `know', puri `understand', the addition of koo emphasizes the point of cognition or beginning to understand or know. Dative-stative verbs with koo affixed become nominative-subject action verbs.

  5. Lexicalization. Sometimes koo has only minimal lexical or aspectual value of its own, and is attached to verb stems which no longer occur alone as bare stems. As such, it serves as a way to "relexicalize" a verb that has lost the ability to occur alone; or, koo alone has lost its aspectual force, and has merged with the main verb.

  6. Purposeful vs. accidental. The action was purposeful and volitional; or, (paradoxically) the action was accidental. (I will deal with this paradox later.)

  1. Self-affective or self-benefactive action.

    Self-affective or self-benefactive action is an action or state that affects the subject of the sentence in some way, usually to h. benefit, but sometimes not in an clearly beneficial way. (This is what has been called `reflexive' by other grammarians, but is not an adequate description of many of its uses.) Sometimes the benefaction is clearly for someone else, as in (5) below. Beyond the benefaction, koo is essentially a completive aspect marker as well, since whatever else happens, the implication is that the action was definitely accomplished. That is, a sentence without koo such as kumaar veele teeDinaan, aanaa keDekkalle means that `Kumar looked for a job, but didn't find one.' But kumaar veele teetikkiTTaan means `Kumar looked for a job and found one' so cannot be followed by aanaa keDekkalle (`But didn't get one') without contradiction. This is an example of what H&T call cancellation of an implicature. The aspect marker koo now has conversational implicature of perfectiveness, and this perfectiveness can't be cancelled.


    1. payyan tanne aDiccu kiTTaan. `The boy hit himself.'

    2. raaman satte pooTTukko raan. `Raman dresses himself.

    3. naan paNatte eDuttukkiTTeen. `I took the money for myself.'

    4. niinga paattukkoonga ! `Watch out (for yourself)!'

    5. nii koRandengaLep paattukkaNum `You need to take care of (watch) the children.' (Without ko the meaning would be ' ... see the children')

    6. kumaar nallaa naDantukiTTaan `Kumar behaved (himself) well.'

    7. raamacaami muDiye veTTikkiTTaan `Ramasamy cut his (own) hair (on purpose).

    8. raamacaami kayye veTTikkiTTaan `Ramasamy cut his (own)hand (by accident).

    If the third example were lacking have aspectual koo, i.e. were simply naan paNatte eDutteen, the meaning would be `I took the money (but not for myself, i.e. I transported it somewhere for someone else.') The accidental and volitional meanings of koo are somewhat problematical, since the last two examples above can also be reversed, i.e., R. cut his hair by accident and R. cut his hand on purpose, but since this is not what one usually expects of people, the expected result is the preferred interpretation. One might find a parallel to this in the English `aspectual commentary' verbal expressions `manage to vb' and `go and vb', e.g. `Ramasamy managed to cut himself in the hand' and `Ramasamy went and cut himself in the hand'. In both of these the implication is that R. is not very competent or not very much in control of his life, whereas `R. managed to get his hair cut' implies that our incompetent R. finally did something positive in getting his hair cut. The decision as to whether an action was deliberate or accidental depends on how society evaluates the effect.

  2. Simultaneity.

    koo is often used as an AVP ( kiTTu ) attached to one or more non-finite verbs (AVP's) to indicate that those actions are simultaneous with (either completely, or just partly) another action. Often English `while' can be used to translate this. Sometimes simultaneity is explicitly emphasized by adding emphatic ee, as in (1) below. Examples:

    1. naan saappiTTukkiTTee vandeen. `I was eating while I came.'

    2. seruppe pooTTukkiTTu, kooyilukkuLLee poohakkuuDaadu. `Do not go into a temple while wearing shoes.'

    3. oru kolakkareyle oru puli kaNNe muuDikkiTTu okkaand-iruntadu. `(While) its eyes (were) closed, a tiger was lying by the side of a tank.'

    4. oru naaL oru vyaabaari oru kaaTTuvaRiyee muuTTeye eDuttukkiTTu poonaan. `One day a merchant was going along a forest path, (while) carrying a bundle.'

    Because of the multiple semantic interpretations of lexical and aspectual /koo, it is sometimes possible to interpret it in various ways. Sometimes `simultaneous' koo may be interpreted as `self- affective', i.e. in example 2 above, poottu-koo could also mean `having put on' rather than `while wearing', since poottu-koo does mean `wear' (this is one of those examples mentioned above where koo has become part of the stem of the lexical entry); The sentences in examples (1) and (4) could be either interpreted as the lexical verb kondupoo `take (s.t.)', as simultaneous koo `while taking, was carrying', or self-affective koo `was carrying along with him' (for his own benefit). In sentence (1) emphatic ee has been added to block this interpretation. But the ambiguity in such circumstances, if any, is usually trivial.

  3. Durative or Continuative Action.

    Durative or continuous action similar to the `progressive' construction verb+ing in English, is expressed in Tamil by combining koo in its AVP form kiTTu with the `stative' aspectual verb iru, i.e. kiTTiru, and affixing this to the AVP of a main verb: vandu + kiTTirundeen `I was com-ing.' The expression of durative/continuous action (a semantically separate kind of aspectual contrast) will be dealt with in more detail in a later lesson, but a few examples are given here.

    1. ellaarum peecikkiTTirundaanga `Everyone was talking.'

    2. raaman saappittukkiTTirukkraaru `Raman is eating.'

    3. kamalaa vanda poodu, naan paDiccukkiTTirundeen. `When Kamala arrived, I was reading.'

    4. koRande eeru maNikkuLLee tuungikkiTTirukkum. `By 7:00, the child will be sleeping.'

    5. engee pooykkiTTirukkriinga ? `Where are you going?'

  4. Inchoative and Punctual notions.

    Examples of contrast between verbs without koo and with koo are:

    adu enakku teriyum `I know that.'

    naan ade terinjukiTTeen `I realized (came to know; found out) that'

    avar solradu ungaLukkup puriyumaa? `Do you understand what he says?'

    avar solradu purinjukiTTiingalaa ?' `Did you (finally) understand what he is talking about? (Did the nickle finally drop? Do you get it?)

    okkaarunga `Please remain seated.'

    okkaandukoonga `Please be seated; please sit down' 'Have a seat' (Please enter the state of being seated.)

  5. Lexical problems.

    In modern Tamil, especially in Spoken, there are lexical verbs that no longer occur without an aspectual verb, i.e. they have been relexicalized with the aspectual verb incorporated, as it were, into the stem. Such verbs as kaa `wait' now occurs almost exclusively with (aspectual) koo or aspectual iru attached, i.e kaattukkoo or kaattiru. In such cases, the aspectual value of koo is weakened and the compound simply becomes the lexical form of the verb. Thus there can be a sort of `sliding scale' or continuum from lexical to grammatical, with some combinations of main verb and koo being primarily lexical, with very little aspectual `meaning', but at the other end of the scale the occurrence of koo will be minimally lexical but maximally aspectual.

    There is also the problem that the AVP of koo (in its LT form koNDu ) is utilized with verbs of motion, to produce the lexical verbs "take" and "bring" i.e. koNDupoo lit. 'hold and go' and koNDuvaa lit. hold and come (also phonologically reduced to koNDaa ). The older, LT form of the AVP is retained in these forms, which only mean 'take/bring a thing' (not a person). For bringing and taking people, other forms, kuuTTi-kiTTu poo and kuuTTi-kiTTu vaa (also phonologically reduced to kuuTTikTu poo and kuuTTikTu poo or even kuuTTiTTu poo/vaa in some dialects.) are used.

    Restriction is also the case with the verb kal `learn' which now occurs only with koo or iru attached: kattukoonga `(please) learn (it)'. But this contrasts with kal with iru attached: kattiru `be learning'; for some reason this combination can be sarcastic or ironic:

    Use of koo with some other verbs also contrasts with non-use in an almost purely lexical way: pooDu `put, drop' means `put on' but pooTTukkoo has the implicature of completing putting on, i.e. `wearing'.

    Proceed to Next section.

    Harold Schiffman
    Feb 8, 2005