Volume 37, No.4 - Winter 1991
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1990 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


The University of Rochester

1. Linguists noticed a long time ago an interesting and curious fact, a kind of discrepancy between the word-formation possibilities of the Lithuanian noun and verb systems. The word-formation possibilities of the Lithuanian nominal system are enormous: there are about 600 derivative suffixes, many prefixes, and there are at least fourteen ways of forming new compound nouns.1

On the other hand, the possibilities of word-formation of the Lithuanian verbal system are very much more limited, namely there are only twelve prefixes and seven suffixes. There is not a single compound verb in Lithuanian at all! Further-more, only the basic verbs of motion and concrete action can take all the 12 prefixes; some verbs take only one or two. And as to suffixes, only a certain number of nouns and adjectives lend themselves to be the base words from which one or more derivative verb can be formed.

2. We shall now list, alphabetically, the 12 verbal prefixes, illustrating them with derivative verbs, all made with the basic verb eiti 'to go.'

(1) ap- : apeiti 'to go (walk) around sm.; to avoid'
(2) at- : ateiti 'to come, to arrive (on foot)'
(3) į-: įeiti: 'to go into/in, to enter; to be part of'
(4) iš- : išeiti 'to go/walk out, to leave'
(5) nu-: nueiti 'to go/walk somewhere; reach'
(6) pa- : paeiti 'to walk a little; to be able to walk'
(7) par-: pareiti 'to come home; to return'
(8) per-: pereiti 'to cross (on foot); to walk through sm.'
(9) pra-: praeiti 'to pass; to walk by'
(10) pri-: prieiti 'to approach (on foot)'
(11) su- : sueiti 'to gather together'
(12) už- : užeiti 'to drop in/by; to go up'

NB. If the appropriate verb begins with a labial (p or b), then ap- becomes api- e.g., bėgti 'to run'; apibėgti 'to run around sm.' If the appropriate basic verb begins with a dental (t or d), then at- becomes ati-, e.g., daryti 'to make': atidaryti 'to open'.

Furthermore, many prefixed verbs have many meanings; we have given, here, only the very basic ones.

Some prefixes can be used only with the reflexive verb of the same base. E.g., melsti 'to beg' cannot be prefixed with pa-: in other words, there is no * pamelsti, but the reflexive, pasimelsti 'to pray for a short while' is frequently used.2

3. To further illustrate the usage of the prefixes, we shall now list the reflexive forms as well:



apimti 'to extend; to contain'

apsiimti 'to take upon one self'

atimti 'to take away; to remove'

atsiimti 'to take back; to retake'

įimti 'to take in (dress, etc.)'

įsiimti 'to get carried away in wrestling'

išimti 'to take out'

išsiimti 'to take out for one self'

nuimti 'to remove'

nusiimti 'to take down'

paimti 'to remove'

pasiimti 'to take along'

*parimti (not used)

*parsiimti (not used)

perimti 'to take over'

persiimti 'to get enthused about sm.'

praimti 'to start on sm.'

prasiimti 'to begin doing sm.'

priimti 'to accept; receive'

prisiimti 'to hoard'

suimti 'to arrest; to grab firmly'

susiimti 'to pull oneself together'

užimti 'to occupy '

užsiimti 'to be preoccupied with sm.'

As in so many other cases, quite often the meaning of the derived verb depends on the situation, on the contents of the entire sentence. A native speaker usually will always know which one to use; the learner has to consult some very extensive dictionaries, with many practical examples.

4. To illustrate the semantic range of all these twelve prefixes, let us mention a few facts. First of all, let's take the verb sukti 'to turn, to twist, to bend...' Here are the semantic ranges, or the varied meanings of this verb, as they are listed in the Academic Dictionary of Lithuanian:3

sukti (and suktis)

38 meanings

(1) apsukti (apsisukti)

23 meanings

(2) atsukti (atsisukti)

17 meanings

(3) įsukti (įsisukti)

21 meanings

(4) išsukti (išsisukti)

28 meanings

(5) nusukti (nusisukti)

20 meanings

(6) parsukti (parsisukti)

3 meanings

(7) pasukti (pasisukti)

22 meanings

(8) persukti (persisukti)

10 meanings

(9) prasukti (prasisukti)

16 meanings

(10) prisukti (prisisukti)

27 meanings

(11) susukti (susisukti)

39 meanings

(12) užsukti (užsisukti)

30 meanings

All told 294 meanings

In itself, there is nothing strange that this one verb can have so many meanings — almost 300. What is surprising is that one derived verb, susukti/susisukti, has more meanings (39) than the basic verb sukti/suktis (38).

To be very frank, I really doubt that any normal Lithuanian native speaker, in his entire life, will use all those nearly 300 meanings. However, every native speaker of Lithuanian will understand every one of the almost 300 meanings.

5. Most of these 12 prefixes, even today in Modern Standard Lithuanian, derive originally from prepositions. Some are exactly the same in their prepositional usage or "roles." Such are the following: į 'in, into'; 'out (of); from'; per 'through, via'; su 'with, together with', 'behind, for (the sake of)'. A few have been reduced phonetically from former prepositions, such as the prefix ap- which comes from an earlier preposition apie 'around'; nu- comes from the preposition nuo 'from'; pri- comes from the preposition prie 'at, near, by'. One can guess that, originally, when prefixed to the base verb, this new prefixed verb may have had only one concrete meaning, but in the course of time, new and various meanings developed.

To illustrate this widely used development, let us take the prefix už- (preposition 'behind, for...'). Verbs prefixed with už- may have the following main meanings:

(1) The direction of the action behind something: užkišti 'to stick behind sm.'; užlįsti 'to creep behind sm.'
(2) The direction of the action on top of something: užlipti 'to climb up; to climb to the top'.
(3) A short appearance with a twist: užeiti 'to drop by/in': užvažiuoti 'to stop in (per vehicle)'.
(4) Making some hurdles, removing gaps: uždaryti 'to close'; užkalti 'to nail down'.
(5) An action occurring after another action; or an action occurring before another action: (before): užgerti 'to drink to someone's health; to drink a toast': (after): užsigarduoti 'to eat something tasty after the main meal'.
(6) Some damage, some spoiling: užšerti 'to feed too much'; užduoti 'to hit (someone) slightly'.
(7) Deterioration, killing, abolishment: užmušti 'to kill'; užtrypti 'to stamp down; to kill by dancing on top of someone...'
(8) An a priori action: užpirkti 'to order something to buy; to put down a deposit'; užsakyti 'to order; to subscribe'.
(9) An action which brings in some profit, remuneration, wages: uždirbti 'to earn'; užverpti 'to earn sm. by spinning'.
(10) A border/limit; dividing something užbrėžti 'to draw a line': užpjauti 'to make a measured cut'.
(11) A diminutive action: užkąsti 'to have a snack'; užgaišti 'to tarry'.
(12) (With reflexive verbs). An action lasting too long: užsibūti to overstay'; užsižiūrėti 'to stare at something'.
(13) The beginning of an action: uždainuoti 'to start a song; to begin to sing'; uždegti 'to light (a fire, etc.). (14) An action of very short duration: užrikti 'to scream suddenly; to burst out screaming'; uždiegti 'to hit (of pain)'.
(15) The end (conclusion) of an action: užgyti 'to heal over'; užaugti 'to grow up'.
(16) All kinds of special (individual) meanings: užgauti 'to hurt; to insult'; užtekti 'to suffice'; užtikti 'to come upon (un-expectedly)'; etc.

What makes it particularly difficult for a non-native learner of Lithuanian to master all this great variety of possibilities, is, for example, the fact that the very same suffix, as we've seen, may mean just the opposite things. Take, once more,: uždainuoti means 'to begin to sing', but užaugti means 'to finish growing up'... While a native speaker would very rarely hesitate in selecting, as it were, the most appropriate prefixed verb, a non-native learner has to consider so many things at the same time: the verb, the prefix, the possible meaning, the contents, the mood, and the code of the whole expression.4

6. As we have mentioned earlier, there are some verbs in Lithuanian which "shun", as it were, almost all of these 12 prefixes. The most "notorious" among these verbs is the verb girdėti 'to hear'. In standard literary Lithuanian, the only possible prefix, but also doubtful, is prigirdėti, but it is primarily used in its negative form: neprigirdėti 'to be hard of hearing.' Generally speaking, most of the verbs of senses take very few prefixes.

The reason why girdėti 'to hear; to be able to hear' is so "poor" in prefixation, or at least one of the reasons, is the fact that there is an inchoative verb išgirsti 'to catch the sound of' and užgirsti 'to be able to hear', which are related to girdėti. The interesting thing is the fact that there is no such (base) verb as *girsti... (It is also an interesting problem, but we shall restrain ourselves from discussing it here; we may come back to that in some other discussion).

7. Now, we shall turn our attention to the seven suffixes of the Lithuanian verbal system. Compared to the functional load of the 12 prefixes, the 7 suffixes play a much smaller role in the formation of new derivative verbs in Lithuanian. In the first place, the suffixes are used much less frequently, and, secondly, with some basic nouns and adjectives, not a single derivative can be made.

The seven suffixes are:

(1) -(i)auti:

tarnas 'servant':

tarnauti 'to serve'

(2) -enti:

gyvas '(a)live':

gyventi 'to live'

(3) -ėti:

kalba 'language':

kalbėti 'to speak'

(4) -inti:

geras 'good':

gerinti 'to better, make better, to improve'

(5) -yti:

taupus 'thrifty':

taupyti 'to save (money)'

(6) -(i)oti:

galva 'head':

galvoti 'to think'

(7) -(i)uoti:

daina 'song':

dainuoti 'to sing'

NB. Strictly speaking, since the -ti (an old dative) is the normal infinitive ending, then the real suffixes (or suffixal morphemes) are only: -(i)au-, -en-, -ė-, -in-, -y-, (i)o, (i)uo-, but from the practical point of view, we shall use the suffixes together with the infinitive ending, thus: -(i)auti, -enti, _ėti, -inti, -yti, -(i)oti, and -(i)uoti.

It is generally assumed that a principle of semantic need is at work here: whenever a new verb is really needed, one is derived from the existing lexical stock, mainly from a noun or an adjective. In order to illustrate this principle of semantic need, we shall take some ten basic nouns—parts of the human body, and we shall see what verbs, if any, can be derived from them:

(1) galva 'head':

galvoti 'to think'

(2) nosis 'nose':


(3) ausis 'ear':


(4) burna 'mouth'

burnoti 'to talk foully'

(5) kaklas 'neck':


(6) krūtinė 'chest':


(7) pilvas 'stomach':


(8) ranka 'hand':

rankioti 'to pick up, to gather'

(9) koja 'leg':


(10) pėda 'foot':

pėdinti 'to walk slowly'

As we've just seen, from these 10 basic nouns, parts of the human body, only four derivative verbs can be made. On the other hand, if one takes some basic adjectives as the base, very often two verbs can be derived: usually one intransitive, and one transitive. Some examples:

geras 'good': gerėti 'to improve' (intransitive) - gerinti 'to improve' (transitive)
blogas 'bad': blogėti 'to get worse' (intransitive) - bloginti 'to make worse' (tr.)
stiprus 'strong': stiprėti 'to strengthen' (intr.) - stiprinti 'to strengthen' (tr.)
garsus 'famous': garsėti 'to become famous' - garsinti 'to make famous'...

In other words, here, apparently, our principle of semantic need is really working: new verbs are produced whenever the real need is felt (by the native speakers). If there is no need, no derivation takes place. Theoretically, one could attempt to use all seven suffixes with all Lithuanian nouns and with all adjectives as well5, but practically this process is very selective.

Let us now take one very simple example: take the noun daina 'song' and see how many of the seven suffixes can daina. accept. We can, of course, already tell in advance that only dainuoti 'to sing' is derived (with the suffix -uoti), but we shall try anyhow, like so:

(1) -(i)auti: *dainauti (possible meaning: 'to collect songs'?)
(2) -enti: *dainenti (? 'make sm. into a song'?)
(3) -ėti: *dainėti (?'to turn into a song'?)
(4) -inti-: *daininti (?'make sm. similar to a song'?)
(5) -yti: *dainyti (???)
(6) (i)oti: *dainioti (? 'to approach a song'?)
(7) -uoti: dainuoti 'to sing'

In other words, a native speaker will always know — whether we call this knowledge his linguistic competence, or deep structure, or tribal memory, or acquired ability - it does not matter on practical grounds: no Lithuanian in his right mind will ever use the first six *suggestions, but only #7: DAINUOTI.6

8. There are also the so-called diminutive suffixes: -inėti and -elėti/elti. To this, we should also add the rather rare suffix -ioti. The suffixes -ioti and -inėti are peculiar in the sense that they derive new verbs, from other verbs. This, of course, is done very selectively, and there are practically no rules for this.

We shall give here several examples of such derivatives from other more basic, shorter verbs:

(1) bėgti 'to run': bėgioti 'to run back and forth': bėginėti 'to run back and forth frequently; for short distance; to scurry around.'
(2) vežti 'to transport/per vehicle': vežioti 'to bring back and forth per vehicle: vežinėti 'to take back and forth/per vehicle'
(3) šokti 'to jump; to dance'; šokčioti 'to jump up and down': šokinėti 'to jump around'
(4) nešti 'to carry': nešioti 'to wear': nešinėti 'to bring back and forth'
(5) plaukti 'to swim': plaukioti 'to swim back and forth': plaukinėti 'to tarry around swimming'
(6) lipti 'to climb': laipioti 'to climb up and down': lipinėti 'to keep climbing all over'

NB. 1. These are, primarily, verbs of motion and/or action, usually meaning 'to do something from one place to another.'
2. With šokti 'to jump, to dance,' there is also šokuoti 'to jump (of horses).'
3. In some of these verbs, there is also an ablaut (apophony, vowel gradation...) change in the root, cf. lipti: laipioti... But we shall not go into this also very interesting problem.

The second "series" of these diminutive suffixes is -elėti/-elti. With these, one can derive new verbs, in the main, from ištiktukai "interjections":

(1) pokšt 'bang': pokštelėti/pokštelti 'to go bang'
(2) pliaukšt 'splash': pliaukštelėti/pliaukštelti 'to splash'
(3) triokšt 'crash': triokštelėti/triokštelti 'to go crash'
(4) bumpt 'bump': bumptelėti/bumptelti 'to go bump'...

NB. Only interjections expressing some kind of natural sounds are used here, although once in a while one encounters something like trukt 'pull': truktelėti/truktelti 'to jerk (suddenly).'

9. In this, our last chapter, we shall talk about the 12/7 — about the 12 prefixes as they "interact," as it were, with the 7 suffixes.

Once a derivation by one of the 7 suffixes has taken place, some (newly) derived verbs can be prefixed as well, like so: I. daina 'song': dainuoti 'to sing.' Now, dainuoti may occur with all the 12 prefixes:

(1) ap-: apdainuoti 'to celebrate in song/poetry'
(2) at(i)-: atidainuoti 'to arrive (on foot) singing'
(3) į-: įdainuoti 'to record (a song)'
(4) iš-: išdainuoti 'to be able to sing; to finish all the songs'
(5) nu-: nudainuoti 'to move to the distance while singing'
(6) pa-: padainuoti 'to sing (for a short while); to render a song'
(7) par-: pardainuoti 'to come home singing'
(8) per-: perdainuoti 'to repeat some song/singing'
(9) pra-: pradainuoti 'to spend time singing'
(10) pri-: pridainuoti 'to have one's fill of singing'
(11) su-: sudainuoti 'to sing along; to harmonize; to sing together'
(12) už: uždainuoti 'to start singing'


(1) apdainuoti: Maironis save lyrikoje apdainavo Lietuvos gamtą.
'Maironis celebrated the beauty of nature in Lithuania in his poetry.'
(2) atidainuoti: Jau Pelekonių jaunimas atidainuoja.
'The youth of Pelekonys (village) are coming singing.'
(3) įdainuoti: Mūsų choras įdainavo lietuviškų dainų plokštelę.
'Our choir recorded a record of Lithuanian songs.'
(4) išdainuoti: Jis man visas savo dainas išdainavo.
'He sang me all of his songs.'
(5) nudainuoti: Jie taip ir nuėjo ir nudainavo — vis tolyn ir tolyn...
'That's the way they departed singing-farther and farther away...'
(6) padainuoti: Padainuok man tą linksmą dainą!
'Sing that joyful song for me.'
(7) pardainuoti: Jie panemunėmis pardainavo namo.
'They came home along the valley of Nemunas, singing.'
(8) perdainuoti: Mūsų choras norėjo prieš koncertą visas dainas dar kartą perdainuoti.
'Our choir wanted to sing through all the songs (once more) before the concert.'
(9) pradainuoti: Mes visą tą naktį taip ir pradainavome. '
'Well, we just sang through the whole night.'
(10) pridainuoti: Kiek jis man tų senų dainų pridainavo!
'So many old songs he sang for me!'
(11) sudainuoti: Mes visi atsistojome ir sudainavome jam "Ilgiausių metų!"
'We all rose and sang "Happy Birthday" for him.'
(12) uždainuoti: Visa minia staiga uždainavo naują laisvės dainą.
'The whole crowd suddenly started to sing the new song of freedom.'

Of course, these examples, with dainuoti + 12 prefixes, should not give one the idea that every derived verb (i.e., by suffix...) can take all 12 prefixes. Some accept only a few, depending on our Law of semantic need...e.g., most of the verbs derived from the basic adjectives with the suffixes -ėti and/or -inti will take very few prefixes, mostly only the prefix pa- which, in most cases, does not give the derived verb a new meaning. Let us take again the adjective geras 'good'; from it, as we've seen above, we can derive the verbs: gerėti 'to improve' (intransitive) and gerinti 'to improve' (transitive). With these two verbs, only pa- can be used: i.e., pagerėti 'to improve (slightly)' (intransitive) and pagerinti 'to improve (slightly)' (transitive).

10. Conclusions
1. The Lithuanian verb has a very simple word-formation/ derivational system: only 12 prefixes and 7 suffixes.
2. With most of the verbs of motion and/or concrete action, almost all 12 prefixes can be used.
3. With many of the basic verbs of perception, only a very few prefixes can be used.
4. Suffixes (one or more of the 7) are used to derive the so-called denominative verbs from some base nouns and adjectives. From many nouns, and from some adjectives, it is not possible to derive a single verb.
5. A few denominal verbs of motion and/or concrete action may take all the 12 prefixes.
6. Many prefixed verbs have many primary and secondary meanings; metaphorical meanings as well.
7. A PRINCIPLE OF SEMANTIC NEED seems to operate throughout all this system: a verb is derived—via a suffix and/or prefix, if there is a semantic need.
8. A native speaker — even the illiterate one — has a good command of these processes. He seldom makes a selection mistake, unless as a joke...
9. For a non-native speaker, there is practically no easy way to completely acquire this competence: he/she has to think all the time, and consider so many factors: the verbs, the derivational process, the situation, the mood, the implications, the contents of the phrase, the sentence and the text...
10. To the fullest, all these "problems" are "listed" or can be found in the first 14 volumes of the huge Academic Dictionary of Lithuanian = Lietuvių kalbos žodynas, Vilnius, 1941—: A-šliaužioti.. The Dictionary of Contemporary Lithuanian (Dabartinės lietuvių kalbos žodynas, Vilnius, 1972) is a good solid one-volume dictionary which lists most of the verbs mentioned in this paper, and, of course, thousands of similar cases. A new edition of this very much needed dictionary is supposed to come out shortly, we hope.

1 For a lengthy survey of these problems, cf. Antanas Klimas, "Word-Formation in Lithuanian," in: Flexion und Wortbildung, Wiesbaden, 1975, pp. 130-147.
2 For a short discussion of the Lithuanian reflexive verbs, cf. Antanas Klimas, "Some Remarks on the Reflexive Verbs of Lithuanian". Lituanus. Vol. 31 (1985), No. 2, pp. 63-72.
3 The Academic Dictionary of Lithuanian = Lietuvių kalbos žodynas, Vilnius, since 1941. Fourteen large volumes have been published: A - šliaužioti. sukti is listed in Volume XIV, Vilnius, 1988, pp. 83-125 ( = 42 pages!).
4 Even with the best dictionaries, this is not easy since, in some cases, this depends on the mood of the speaker. Of course, all languages have similar complicated problems, cf. for example, all the possibilities of the English verb 'to get', or 'to kill'...
5 Nominal=nouns, adjectives, numerals, even some participles. Mainly, nouns (substantives) and adjectives serve as a derivational base, but, once in a while, a numeral may be used. E.g., vienas 'one': vienyti 'to unite'. etc.
6 Of course, there is nothing surprising in this: it may be one of the so-called linguistic universals. All languages have such constraints in their word-formation systems, most probably inherent in the Principle of Semantic Need.