Lesson 14: Negatives

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I am not playing, you are not playing (Negatives)

So far you have learned how to say positive sentences (like ‘I am happy’ or ‘You go to school,’) but not negative sentences (like ‘I am not happy,’ ‘You don’t go to school’).

– To make a negative sentence add the word ‘jab,’ which means ‘not,’ ‘don’t,’ or ‘doesn’t.’ Although this word is always spelled ‘jab,’ it is usually pronounced ‘jeb.’  It goes right before the adjective, verb, or noun. For example:

Positive Sentence Meaning Negative Sentence Meaning
Iṃōṇōṇō I am happy Ijab ṃōṇōṇō I am not happy
Imeḷeḷe I understand Ijab meḷeḷe I don’t understand
Ekōṇaan He likes Ejab kōṇaan He doesn’t like
Kwōj rūkaki You are a teacher Kwōj jab rūkaki You are not a teacher
Raar iukkure They played Raar jab iukkure They didn’t play

There are a few exceptions to this:

1. If the sentence is of the type ‘ña rūkaki’ (‘I am a teacher’) or ‘kwe rijikuuḷ’ (‘You are a student’),  (that is, if it has an emphatic pronoun and then a noun), then you add ‘ej jab’ before the emphatic pronoun to make the negative.  You do not add ‘jab’ after the emphatic pronoun.  For instance:

Correct: Ej jab ña rūkaki       = Incorrect: Ña jab rūkaki it-PRES/not/me/teacher  = I am not a teacher
Correct: Ej jab kwe rijikuuḷ    = Incorrect: Kwe jab rijikuuḷ it-PRES/not/you/student  = You are not a student

2. In the future tense, you do not put ‘jab’ after the future marker ‘naaj’ to say ‘will not.’  Instead you replace the ‘naaj’ with ‘ban,’ which means ‘will not’ or ‘will not be’:

Positive sentence Meaning Negative sentence Meaning
inaaj I will iban I will not
kwōnaaj You (singular) will koban[3] You (singular) will not
enaaj He, She, or It will eban He, She, or It will not
jenaaj We(inclusive) will jeban We(inclusive) will not
kōminaaj We(exclusive) will kōm ban We(exclusive) will not
koṃinaaj You(plural) will koṃ ban You(plural) will not
rōnaaj They will rōban They will not

Vocabulary

jipañ to help
aelōñ atoll, single island (not part of an atoll), country
baḷuun (from English ‘baloon’) airplane
aiboojoj beautiful (of things only, not people)
eṃ house, building
iien time, time of, time for, chance, chance for Ex. Iien jikuuḷ = Time for school
alwōj look at, watch
rainin today
ilju tomorrow, the future
inne yesterday

Language Tip

Nouns that can also be verbs

In Marshallese many nouns are also used as verbs.  For instance, ‘jikuuḷ’ means ‘school’ but also ‘go to school, attend class.’  Pay attention to both ways that the word can be used, and you will quickly increase the number of ideas that you can express.  If you want to know about more nouns that can be used as verbs, see Lesson 48.

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 13: The emphatic pronouns

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

Me, you, him, her (again?) (The emphatic pronouns)

In previous lessons you learned about subject pronouns (which are like ‘I, you, he, she’ in English) and object pronouns (which are like ‘me, you, him, her’ in English).  Unfortunately, Marshallese has yet a third set of pronouns, which does not have a close equivalent in English.  These are called the ‘emphatic’ pronouns.  The good news is that most of them are identical to the object pronouns, so there are only a few new ones to memorize.  Here are the pronouns first, and then you will learn what they are used for:

Me ña
You (singular) kwe
Him, Her, or It e
Us (inclusive) kōj
Us (exclusive) kōm (in the Eastern dialect: kōmmem)
You (plural) koṃ (in the Eastern dialect: kōmi)
Them er

These pronouns are used in the following ways:

1. Outside of a sentence

If you are referring to someone outside of a sentence, you use the emphatic pronouns. For instance, in English if you say ‘Who wants ice cream?’ you would respond ‘Me!’ rather than ‘I!’  In Marshallese, you would respond ‘ña!’, not ‘i’ or ‘eō.’

2. After anything other than a verb

After a word like ‘to’ (‘ñan’), ‘from’ (‘jān’) ‘what about’ (‘ak’), ‘and’ (‘im’) and anything else other than a verb, use an emphatic pronoun.  For instance, say ‘ak kwe?’ (‘how about you?’) not ‘ak eok?’  Say ‘ñan kwe’ (‘to you’) not ‘ñan kwō.’

3. Before a subject pronoun, to add a little more emphasis

If the emphatic pronoun is different than the subject pronoun (ña, kwe, kōj, and er) than you can put it in front of the subject pronoun, no matter if it’s in the present, past, or future tense.  This adds a little emphasis but doesn’t change the meaning in any important way.  For instance:

ña iṃōṇōṇō                   is the same as         iṃōṇōṇō

ña ij iukkure                  is the same as         ij iukkure

kwe kwaar nañinmej     is the same as         kwaar nañinmej

kōj jenaaj eọñōd           is the same as         jenaaj eọñōd

er remaro                      is the same as        remaro

Adding the emphatic pronoun before the subject pronoun is always optional, but is very common with ‘ña,’ for instance in ‘ña iṃōṇōṇō’ or ‘ña ij iukkure.’

4.  Directly before a noun, to make a sentences like ‘I am a NOUN’

In Lesson 7 you learned that you can use the present tense to make sentences like ‘I am a teacher’ (‘ij rūkaki’) or ‘You are a student’ (‘kwōj rijikuuḷ’).  The emphatic pronouns provide another common way to say this kind of sentence.  Just put the emphatic pronoun directly before a noun, and you get sentences like ‘I am a teacher.’  For instance:

Ña rūkaki      = me/teacher                  = I am a teacher
Kwe riṃajeḷ   = you(singular)/Marshallese person    = You are a Marshallese person
Kōj rijikuuḷ     = us/student                     = We are students
Koṃ ripālle   = you(plural)/American = You are Americans
Er rūkaki       = them/teacher                = They are teachers

Vocabulary

kain (from English) kind (in the sense of ‘type,’ not ‘nice’), kind of Ex. Juon kain ek = A kind of fish Ex. Aolep kain = All kinds/All kinds of things
āinwōt like (as in ‘it is like an apple’), similar to Ex. Pako rej āinwōt ek = Sharks are like fish
aolep iien always Ex. Aolep iien kwōj jikuuḷ = You always come to school
wiik (from English) week
allōñ month, moon
iiō (from English) year
lale look, look at, watch
letok give to me/us Ex. Letok juon ni = Give me a coconut
lewōj give to you
leḷọk give to him/her/it/them

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 12: Object pronouns

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

Me, you, him, her (Object pronouns)

In English, we use different pronouns before verbs than after verbs.  For instance, you say ‘I like Alfred’ but you don’t say ‘Alfred likes I.’  Instead you say ‘Alfred likes me.’  The first kind of pronoun (‘I,’ ‘you,’ ‘he,’ ‘she,’ etc.) is called a ‘subject’ pronoun and the second kind (‘me,’ ‘you,’ ‘him,’ ‘her,’ etc.) is called an ‘object’ pronoun.  In Marshallese it works exactly the same way.  You already know the subject pronouns from Lesson 5.  This lesson introduces the object pronouns.  Here they are:

Object Pronouns

Me [1]
You (singular) eok[2]
Him, Her, or It e (after some verbs, it is i instead)
Us (inclusive) kōj
Us (exclusive) kōm (in the Eastern dialect: kōmmem)
You (plural) koṃ (in the Eastern dialect: kōmi)
Them er (when referring to humans) i (when referring to non-humans)

Some things to notice:

1.  Like in the subject pronouns, you have to distinguish between ‘you’ referring to one person (singular) and ‘you’ referring to more than one person (plural), and also between ‘us’ including the person you are talking to (inclusive) and ‘us’ not including the person you are talking to (exclusive).

2.  Unlike with the subject pronouns, you have to distinguish between ‘them’ when referring to human beings and ‘them’ when not referring to human beings.  For instance, if you say ‘I brought them’ referring to some children, you would say ‘Iaar bōktok er,’ but if you are referring to some fish, you would say ‘Iaar bōktoki.’

3.  You may be puzzled by the fact that ‘him/her/it’ can be both ‘e’ and ‘i.’  For now, don’t worry about why this is, or what the correct form is after different verbs.  Just use ‘e’ always for ‘him/her/it.’  As you listen to the language more you will start to notice when ‘e’ and ‘i’ are used.  If you want to know now, you can look ahead at Lessons 88-89.  Also, if you notice that verbs seem to change forms sometimes, you can look at the same lessons to find out why.  Otherwise, don’t worry about these fine points for the time being.

– Here are some examples of how to use the object pronouns:

Ij iọkwe eok          = (not Ij iọkwe kwō) I(subject)-PRES/love/you(object) = I love you
Kwōj iọkwe eō      = (not Kwōj iọkwe i) you(subject)-PRES/love/me(object) = You love me
Raar kōṃṃane    = they(subject)-PAST/do-it(object) = They did it
Redike kōj            = (not Redike je) they(subject)-hate/us(object) = They hate us

Vocabulary

kajin language, language of, dialect, dialect of
kajin pālle or pālle or Iñlij English language
kajin ṃajeḷ or ṃajeḷ Marshallese language
katak or ekkatak learn, study
katakin teach
tutu wet, get wet, take a shower, take a bath
tutu iar go swimming in the lagood, take a bath in the lagoon
tutu lik go swimming on the ocean side of an island, take a bath on the ocean side of an island
ṃōttan jidik soon, in a little bit
raij (from English) rice

Language Tip

What then? Where then?  Who then?

The word ‘ak’ can mean ‘but,’ ‘or,’ and ‘what about.’  However it also has one other extremely useful and common meaning.  This other meaning is used after someone says a negative statement like ‘I didn’t cook today.’  Then you can say ‘ak?’  to mean ‘so what did you do? ‘given that you didn’t cook today, what did you do today?’  In the same way, if you say ‘I’m not going to my house,’ and the person responds ‘ak?’, that means ‘where then?’ ‘where are you going?’ ‘given that you’re not going to your house, where are you going?’

Pronunciation Practice

When ‘i’ sounds like ‘y’

You may have noticed that Marshallese ‘i’ is sometimes pronounced like the English ‘i’ in ‘bit’ but is also sometimes like English ‘y’ in ‘yes.’  Marshallese ‘i’ sounds like English ‘y’ when it is between two vowels, or when it is before a vowel and at the beginning of the word.  Here are some common words where ‘i’ is pronounced like English ‘y’:

iaar ‘I-PAST’ ioon ‘on’ ioḷap ‘middle’
iar ‘lagoon’ iu ‘coconut seedling’ iien ‘time’
iaraj ‘taro’ iukkure ‘play’ iiep ‘basket’
ial ‘road’ iọkwe ‘love’ iioon ‘meet’

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 11: Location

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I am in Majuro, you are in Ebeye (Location)

In the previous lessons you learned that you do not need any extra word for ‘be,’ ‘am,’ ‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘was,’ or ‘were.’  To say ‘I am happy’ you just say ‘I happy.’  To say ‘I will be a teacher’ you just say ‘I will teacher.’  But there is one important exception to this.  When you are talking about where something is located, like in the sentences ‘He is in the church,’ or ‘You will be in the school’ you must add a special word in place of the English ‘to be.’  This word is ‘pād’ and it means ‘to be located.’  Thus, in order to say ‘He is in the church’ you must say ‘He is located in the church.’  The word ‘pād’ always goes after the present, past, or future tense marker.  Here are some examples:

Ij pād ilo Majuro       = (not Ij ilo Majuro) I-PRESENT/located/in/Majuro                      = I am in Majuro
Kwaar pād ilo          = Amedka     you(singular)-PAST/located/in /America      = You were in America
Jackson enaaj pād  = ioon Ujae Jackson/he,she,it-FUTURE/located /on/Ujae = Jackson will be on Ujae
Reitōn pād ioon Lae= They-NEAR FUTURE/located/on/Lae         = They are going to be on Lae

– In the present tense, ‘pād’ can also be put directly after the subject pronoun, like an adjective.  Thus, both of the following are correct and have the same meaning:

Kwōj pād ilo Majuro   = you(singular)-PRESENT/located/in/Majuro = You are in Majuro
Kwōpād ilo Majuro     = you(singular)-located/in/Majuro                    = You are in Majuro

Vocabulary

kiki sleep, asleep, to live (in a certain place)
kilep big, fat
dik small, young
ñe if, when (as in ‘I will be sad when I leave,’ not for asking questions like ‘When are you leaving?’)
jidik a little, a little bit
bōb pandanus, pandanus tree
aikuj need
aikuj in need to, have to, should
armej person, people
bōktok bring

Language Tip

But

The word ‘ak’ can mean ‘but’ in two senses.  The first sense is ‘however,’ as in ‘I went to the airport, but the plane didn’t come.’  When you don’t want this meaning to get confused with the ‘or’ meaning of ‘ak,’ say ‘bōtab’ (‘however, but’) instead of ‘ak.’  The second sense of ‘but’ is ‘but rather.’  For instance, to say ‘it’s not a shark, but rather a fish’ or ‘it’s not a shark, it’s a fish,’ say ‘Ej jab pako ak ek’ (‘It’s not shark but rather fish’).

Pronunciation Practice

ñ

‘ñ’ is a hard letter for many English speakers to pronounce.  However, it is very important to learn to pronounce it because some very common words, such as ‘ña’ (‘me’), ‘ñan’ (‘to’), ‘ñe,’ (‘when, if’) and ‘ñak’ (‘don’t know’) use it.  The good news is that we have the same sound in English: it is the ‘ng’ of ‘sing.’  (Although we spell it with two letters in English, it is really only one sound.)  What makes it hard for English speakers is that in English we only have this sound at the end of syllables, whereas in Marshallese it can appear at the beginning of syllables as well.  For instance, we have the word ‘sing’ in English, but we would never have the word ‘ngis.’  So the challenge is to learn to pronounce this English sound at the beginning of syllables, like in ‘ña’ or ‘ñan.’

First try pronouncing ‘ñ’ at the end of syllable, as in ‘jañ’ (‘cry’) or ‘elōñ’ (‘there are’).  Remember that this is just like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing.’  Once you are comfortable with this, try it in the middle of a word, such as ‘ṃōñā’ (‘eat’) or ‘iññā’ (‘yes’).  The first one should be pronounced like ‘mung-ay’ and the second like ‘ing-ay.’  Now get rid of the sounds before the ‘ñ’ and just say ‘ñe’ (‘if’) and ‘ña’ (‘me’).

If this doesn’t work, try repeating English ‘ing’ over and over into each ‘ing’ blends with the next one.  Now stop and hold the ‘ng’ sound for a while without saying the ‘i’ sound.  This is the ‘ñ’ of Marshallese, and if you just put a vowel after it, you have ‘ña’ or ‘ñe.’

If you still can’t get it, repeat English ‘ing’ over and over again and notice what your mouth is doing when you say the ‘ng.’  The back of your tongue is going up to the top of your mouth at the back.  It is blocking the air coming out of your throat, and letting the air only escape through your nose.  Consciously make your tongue do this in order to master the ‘ñ’ sound.

Here are some words to practice on:

ñan ‘to’ ṃōñā ‘eat’ jañin ‘not yet’ boñ ‘night’
ñe ‘if, when’ nañinmej ‘sick’ iññā ‘yes’ allōñ ‘month’
ñāāt ‘when?’ joñoul ‘ten’ maroñ ‘can’ jipañ ‘help’
ñak ‘don’t know’ roñoul ‘twenty’ jibboñ ‘morning’ aelōñ ‘atoll’

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 10: Near future tense

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I am about to go, you are about to go (Near future tense)

The last lesson introduced the future tense.  There is also another way to make the future tense, with a slightly different meaning.  Instead of adding ‘naaj’ (or ‘nāj’ or ‘nij’), add ‘itōn.’  This is usually used for the near future, and could be translated in English as ‘about to,’ ‘intend to,’ or ‘going to.’ Here is how this marker is combined with the subject pronouns:

i        +  itōn    = itōn            = I-NEAR FUTURE            
kwō  +  itōn    = kwōton      = you(singular)-NEAR FUTURE
e       +  itōn    = eitōn          = he,she,it-NEAR FUTURE      
je      +  itōn    = jeitōn         = we(inclusive)-NEAR FUTURE
kōm  +  itōn    = kōmitōn     = we(exclusive)-NEAR FUTURE
koṃ  +  itōn    = koṃitōn     = you(plural)-NEAR FUTURE      
re      + itōn     = reitōn         = they-NEAR FUTURE                 

This is usually used only with verbs.  For example:

Itōn iukkure       = I-NEAR FUTURE/play                      = I am going to play or I am about to play
Kwōton idaak    = you(singular)-NEAR FUTURE/drink = You are going to drink or You are about to drink
Eitōn eọñōd       = he,she,it-NEAR FUTURE/fish           = He, She, or It is going to fish  or He, She, or It is about to fish
Jeitōn jerbal       = we(inclusive)NEAR FUTURE/work = We are going to work or We are about to work
Kōmitōn ṃōñā   = we(exclusive)-NEAR FUTURE/eat     = We are going to eat or We are about to eat
Koṃitōn eọñōd  = you(plural)-NEAR FUTURE/fish        = You guys are going to fish or You guys are about to fish
Reitōn jerbal      = they-NEAR FUTURE/work                 = They are going to work or They are about to work

– You can also put ‘itōn’ after the past tense marker to get sentences like ‘I was going to leave’ or ‘You were about to eat.’  For instance:

Kwaar itōn ṃōñā  = you(singular)-PAST/NEAR FUTURE/eat = You were going to eat or You were about to eat
Raar itōn jerbal     = they-PAST/NEAR FUTURE/work = They were going to work or They were about to work

Vocabulary

brother (from English) brother
sister (from English) sister
raan day
jibboñ morning Ex. Ejibboñ kiiō  = It is morning now
raelep noon, afternoon Ex. Eraelep kiiō = It is the afternoon now
jota evening, yesterday evening Ex. Ejota kiiō = It is the evening now
boñ night, last night Ex. Eboñ kiiō = It is night now
ṃōñā in jibboñ breakfast, eat breakfast
ṃōñā in raelep lunch, eat lunch
ṃōñā in jota dinner, eat dinner
ek fish (noun)

Language Tip

Or

‘Or’ in English is usually translated into Marshallese is ‘ak.’  However, you should be careful when using it.  It only means ‘or’ when you are asking questions, such as ‘Kwaar jerbal ak iukkure’ (‘Did you work or did you play?’).  (You can also use ‘ke’ in place of ‘ak’ to mean the same thing.)  But if you are making a statement like ‘I will eat rice or breadfruit,’ meaning that one or the other is a possibility, use ‘ñe ej jab’ (‘if it’s not’) instead of ‘ak.’  For instance, say ‘Inaaj ṃōñā raij, ñe ej jab, mā.’ Also, if you are saying ‘or’ in the sense of ‘nor,’ as in ‘I don’t want to rest or sleep,’ then you should say ‘jab’ (‘not’) instead.  Otherwise it will come out sounding like ‘I don’t want to rest, but rather sleep.


[1] Remember from Lesson 5 that ‘re’ (‘they’) is sometimes ‘rō’ instead.  ‘Rōnaaj’ is an example of a word where this change happens.

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 9: The future tense

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I will run, you will run (The future tense)

The last two lessons introduced two markers that can be added to the subject pronouns in order to make the present tense (‘j’) and the past tense (‘ar’ or ‘kar’).  This lesson introduces the marker for the future tense.  This marker is usually written as ‘naaj,’ but much more often pronounced ‘nāj’ or ‘nij.’  In this book it will be written as ‘naaj’ since this is the normal spelling, but bear in mind that it is usually pronounced differently.  Here are the subject pronouns in the future tense:

i        +  naaj    = inaaj           = I-FUTURE TENSE            
kwō  +  naaj    = kwōnaaj     = you(singular)-FUTURE TENSE
e       +  naaj    = enaaj          = he,she,it-FUTURE TENSE        
je      +  naaj    = jenaaj         = we(inclusive)-FUTURE TENSE  
kōm  +  naaj    = kōminaaj    = we(exclusive)-FUTURE TENSE
koṃ  +  naaj    = koṃinaaj    = you(plural)-FUTURE TENSE      
re      + naaj     = rōnaaj[1]       = they-FUTURE TENSE                 

As with the past tense, after these pronouns in the future tense you can put any adjective, verb, or noun.  For example:

Inaaj būroṃōj        = I-FUTURE/sad                          = I will be sad or I am going to be sad
Kwōnaaj ṃōñā      = you(singular)-FUTURE/eat      = You will eat or You are going to eat or You will be eating
Enaaj rijikuuḷ          = he,she,it-FUTURE/student       = He, She, or It will be a student or He, She, or It is going to be a student
Jenaaj kwōle          = we(inclusive)FUTURE/hungry = We will be hungry or We are going to be hungry
Kōminaaj iukkure   = we(exclusive)-FUTURE/play   = We will play or We are going to play or We will be playing
Koṃinaaj rūkaki      = you(plural)-FUTURE/teacher   = You guys will be teachers or You guys are going to be teachers
Rōnaaj ṃōṇōṇō      = they-FUTURE/happy                = They will be happy or They are going to be happy

Note the following:

1. Just as Marshallese makes no distinction between ‘I eat’ vs. ‘I am eating,’ it also makes no distinction between ‘I will eat’ vs. ‘I am going to eat’ vs. ‘I will be eating.’  Use the future tense ‘naaj’ for all of these.

2. Just like with ‘am,’ ‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘was,’ and ‘were,’ you do not need to add any extra word for ‘be.’  For instance ‘inaaj ṃōñā’ means ‘I will eat’ and ‘inaaj ṃōṇōṇō’ means ‘I will be happy.’  In Marshallese you simply say ‘I will happy’ to mean ‘I will be happy’ or ‘I will teacher’ to mean ‘I will be a teacher.’

3. As you can see from this lesson and the lessons on the present and past tenses, verbs in Marshallese do not conjugate.  There is nothing in Marshallese equivalent to the –ing or –ed endings in English, or the conjugations in Spanish or French.  The verbs stay the same for past, present, and future.  The only thing that changes is the pronouns when you add the past, present, or future marker.  In a sense, what you are doing is conjugating the pronouns instead of the verbs.

– As in the present and past tense, if you have a subject that is not a pronoun (for example ‘Stevenson is going to play’ or ‘Jela and Jose will be sad’) then you use ‘enaaj’ if the subject is singular and ‘rōnaaj’ if it is plural:

Stevenson enaaj iukkure  = Stevenson/he,she,it-FUTURE/play                = Stevenson is going to play
Jela im Jose                     = rōnaaj būroṃōj Jela/and/Jose/they-FUTURE/sad    = Jela and Jose will be sad

Vocabulary

jerbal work (in both the sense of ‘do work’ and ‘function’), job Ex. Ij jerbal = I am working Ex. Ej jab jerbal = It doesn’t work
eọñōd to fish, to go fishing
ṃaṃa (from English) mom, mother
baba (from English) dad, father
jokwe to live (as in, to live in a certain place) Ex. Ij jokwe ilo Ujae  = I live on Ujae
mour to live (as in, to be alive), life, alive, cured Ex. Emour  = It is alive
kōrā woman
eṃṃaan (E: ṃōṃaan) man
leddik girl
ḷaddik boy
ajri child, kid, toddler

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 8: The Past Tense

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I ate, you ate (The past tense)

In the last lesson you learned that you can put the marker ‘j’ onto subject pronouns to make the present tense for verbs and nouns.  In this lesson you will learn another marker that you can put onto the subject pronouns, this one for the past tense.  This marker is ‘ar.’  When you put it on the subject pronouns, it comes out as follows:

i + ar =iaar =I-PAST TENSE            
kwō +  ar =kwaar =you(singular)-PAST TENSE
e + ar =eaar = (usually pronounced ‘aar’)he,she,it-PAST TENSE    
je + ar =jaar =we(inclusive)-PAST TENSE
kōm + ar =kōmar =we(exclusive)-PAST TENSE
koṃ + ar =koṃar =you(plural)-PAST TENSE
re + ar =raar  =they-PAST TENSE

(Note that a few changes take place when you add the ‘ar’ marker; for instance re + ar ends up as ‘raar,’ not ‘rear’)

After these you can put any adjective, verb, or noun.  For example:

Iaar ṃōṇōṇō        = I-PAST/happy                  = I was happy
Kwaar ṃōñā        = you(singular)-PAST/eat        = You were eating or You ate
Eaar jaje              = he,she,it-PAST/don’t know  = He, She, or It didn’t know
Jaar rijikuuḷ          = we(inclusive)-PAST/student = We were students
Kōmar rūkaki       = we(exclusive)-PAST/teacher = We were teachers
Koṃar būroṃōj   = you(plural)-PAST/sad = You guys were sad
Raar maroñ         = they-PAST/can             = They could

There are a few things to notice:

1. Marshallese makes no distinction between ‘I ate’ vs. ‘I was eating,’ ‘You ate’ vs. ‘You were eating,’ etc.

2. Just like with ‘am’, ‘is’, or ‘are,’ you don’t need any extra word for ‘was’ and ‘were.’

3. Unlike in the present tense, there is no distinction between adjectives and verbs.  Any adjective and any verb (even those few verbs mentioned in Lesson 6 that work like adjectives) can go after the past tense form of the pronoun.

– Like in the previous lessons, if you have a subject that is not a pronoun (for instance ‘Bobson was drinking’ or ‘Roselinta and Jania were happy’) then you use ‘eaar’ if the subject is singular and ‘raar’ if it is plural.  For example:

Bobson eaar idaak       = Bobson/he,she,it-PAST/drink                             = Bobson was drinking
Roselinta im Jania        = raar ṃōṇōṇō                Roselinta/and/Jania/they-PAST/happy = Roselinta and Jania were happy

– There is another way to make the past tense which has the same meaning.  It is rarely heard in the Western atolls (the Ralik chain) of the Marshall Islands, but more common in the Eastern atolls (the Ratak chain).  This is one of many small differences between these two major dialects of Marshallese.  In this way of forming the past tense, the marker ‘kar’ is added to the pronoun instead of ‘ar’:

i        +  kar   = ikar          = I-PAST TENSE            
kwō  +  kar   = kwōkar    = you(singular)-PAST TENSE
e       +  kar   = ekar         = he,she,it-PAST TENSE        
je      +  kar   = jekar        = we(inclusive)-PAST TENSE  
kōm  +  kar   = kōmikar   = we(exclusive)-PAST TENSE
koṃ  +  kar   = koṃikar   = you(plural)-PAST TENSE      
re      + kar   = rekar        = they-PAST TENSE                 

Vocabulary

iukkure (E: kukure) to play, game
ilo in, at
in of
ioon on, on top of
aebōj drinking water
āne island, islet, land
iar lagoon, at the lagoon, lagoon beach, at the lagoon beach
lik ocean side of an island, at the ocean side of an island, beach on the ocean side, at the beach on the ocean side
bwebwenato talk, have a conversation, chat
bōk take, get, receive, minus (in arithmetic)

Pronunciation Practice

Extra vowels

You may have already noticed that some words seem to have an extra vowel sound that the spelling doesn’t show.  For instance, ‘ajri’ (‘child’) is pronounced ‘ajōri,’ ‘jerbal’ (‘work’) is pronounced ‘jerōbal,’ and ‘lemñoul’ (‘fifty’) is pronounced ‘lemōñoul.’  As you can see from these examples, an extra ‘ō’ (pronounced like the ‘oo’ in ‘book’) is inserted between two adjacent consonants, which breaks it up and makes it easier to pronounce.  This happens between any two adjacent consonants, even if they are between words; for instance ‘etal ñan’ (‘go to’) is pronounced ‘etalōñan.’  The only time this doesn’t happen is when the two adjacent consonants are the same consonant or very similar to each other.  For instance, you do not put an extra vowel between the two ṃ’s in ‘eṃṃan’ because they are the same letter.  You also don’t put an extra vowel between nt, ṃb, mp, ñk, bw, ṃw, kw (and a few others) because the two sounds are pronounced in the same part of the mouth and thus are easy to pronounce together.

Here are some words with vowels inserted.  Have a Marshallese person say them and notice where the extra vowels are:

Amedka ‘America’ kōnke ‘because’ roñjake ‘listen’ tipñōl ‘canoe’
armej ‘person’ ḷōmṇak ‘think’ ṃokta ‘before’ etke ‘why?’
bōktok ‘bring’ oktak ‘different’ kōrkōr ‘canoe’ karjin ‘kerosene’

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 7: The present tense

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I am running, you are running (The present tense)

You learned in the last lesson that the subject pronouns can be used with adjectives and a few verbs.  In this section you will learn to use the subject pronouns with all kinds of verbs, and also with nouns.

In order to do this, you need to put a little marker on the end of the pronoun.  This marker is ‘j’ (on a few pronouns it comes out as ‘ij’) and it means ‘present tense.’  When you add this to the subject pronouns, it comes out as follows:

i        +  j   = ij           = I-PRESENT TENSE            
kwō  +  j    = kwōj     = you(singular)-PRESENT TENSE
e       +  j   = ej          = he,she,it-PRESENT TENSE        
je      +  j   = jej         = we(inclusive)-PRESENT TENSE  
kōm  +  j   = kōmij   = we(exclusive)-PRESENT TENSE
koṃ  +  j   = koṃij    = you(plural)-PRESENT TENSE      
re      +  j   = rej        = they-PRESENT TENSE                 

After these you can put any verb (except the ones listed in the last lesson, which work like adjectives) or any noun.  Unlike Spanish or French, you do not conjugate the verb.  For example:

Ij ṃōñā             = I-PRESENT/eat                         = I am eating or I eat
Kwōj idaak        = you(singular)-PRESENT/drink = You are drinking or You dirnk
Ej ṃōñā            = he,she,it-PRESENT/eat             = He, She, or It is eating or He, She, or It eats
Jej idaak           = we(inclusive)-PRESENT/drink  = We are drinking or We drink
Kōmij riṃajeḷ     = we(exclusive)-PRESENT/ Marshallese person                    = We are Marshallese people
Koṃij rūkaki      = you(plural)-PRESENT/teacher  = You guys are teachers
Rej rijikuuḷ         = they-PRESENT/student              = They are students

There are a few things to notice here:

1. Marshallese makes no distinction between ‘I eat’ vs. ‘I am eating,’ ‘You eat’ vs. ‘You are eating.’  For both you use the subject pronoun with the present tense marker.

2. Just like with adjectives in the last lesson, you don’t need any word for ‘am’, ‘is’, or ‘are.’

– Like with adjectives, if you have a subject that is not a pronoun (for instance ‘Jolina is eating’ or ‘Ronald and Junior are students’) then you use ‘ej’ if the subject is singular and ‘rej’ if it is plural.

Jolina ej ṃōñā       = Jolina/he,she,it-PRESENT/eat                                    = Jolina is eating
Ronald im Junior   = rej rijikuuḷ            Ronald/and/Junior/they-PRESENT/students = Ronald and Junior are students

There is only one important exception to this.  If the subject of the sentence is the word for ‘name,’ then you use the word ‘in’ (which usually means ‘of’) instead of ‘ej’:

Correct:    Eta in Alfred = name-my/of/Alfred = My name is Alfred

Incorrect:  Eta ej Alfred

Vocabulary

ṃōj finished, done Ex. Eṃōj = It’s finished
ba say, tell
kōṃṃan do, make, fix
ewōr or elōñ there is, there are
ejjeḷọk there is none, there are none, there is no ___, there are no ___, none, nothing, nobody
jikuuḷ (from English) school, go to school (either as a student or a teacher), attend class
ṃōn jikuuḷ school building          
breadfruit, breadfruit tree
ni coconut, coconut tree
men thing

Language Tip

More tips on how to use the Marshallese-English Dictionary

– Looking up Marshallese words can be difficult

When you hear a word and want to look it up in the dictionary, it may be very hard to find because it is so difficult to hear all of the sounds correctly.  If you don’t find the word on your first try, try looking it up with ḷ’s instead of l’s, ṃ’s instead of m’s, ṇ’s instead of n’s, b’s instead of p’s, d’s instead of r’s, ū’s instead of ō’s, and so forth.  If that doesn’t work, try doubling some of the letters (for instance, look up ‘jōōt’ instead of ‘jōt’).  Also, if there is a double consonant near the beginning of the word, look it up starting with the double consonant (for instance, look up ‘eṃṃan’ as ‘ṃṃan’).  If you want to know why these words are listed this way, and what is really going on with them, look at Lesson 82.

– You can safely ignore the phonetic transcription of Marshallese words

Next to each Marshallese word you will see a phonetic transcription.  (For instance, ‘iọkwe’ is transcribed as ‘yi’yaqey.’)  This shows the real underlying sounds of the word.  However, it is extremely difficult to pronounce a word based on the phonetic transcription, and much easier to just use the normal spelling, which looks very close to how it is pronounced.  So unless you happen to have an advanced degree in linguistics, it’s best to just ignore the phonetic transcription.

– Some words are never used by themselves

You will notice that some Marshallese words are listed with a ‘–’ at the end.  This indicates that the word is not complete by itself, but rather is a stem that needs some other word attached to the end of it.  If the dictionary says ‘with directionals,’ then attach one of the words listed in Lesson 41 to mean ‘to me,’ ‘to you,’ etc.  If the dictionary shows the ‘–’ but doesn’t say ‘with directionals,’ then attach the endings listed in Lessons 66-71 to mean ‘my,’ ‘your’, etc.

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 6: Verbs that work like adjectives

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I know, you know (Verbs that work like adjectives)

In the last lesson you learned that you can put adjectives after subject pronouns to get sentences like ‘I am thirsty,’ ‘you are hungry,’ etc.  You can also do the same thing to a few verbs, but not all verbs.  The most common of these special verbs are as follows:

Adjective-like Verbs

jeḷā  know, know how to
jaje don’t know, don’t know how to
ñak don’t know, don’t know how to
maroñ can, may, might
ban cannot, will not
meḷeḷe understand
kōṇaan like, want
dike hate
ṃakoko refuse, unwilling
meḷọkḷọk forget

– You can make sentences with these verbs (but not most other verbs) in exactly the same way as you use adjectives.  For instance:

i        + meḷeḷe   = imeḷeḷe         = I-understand                     = I understand
kwō  + jaje        = kwōjaje         = you(singular)-don’t know = You don’t know
e       + ñak       = eñak             = he,she,it-don’t know        = He, She, or It doesn’t know
je      + maroñ   = jemaroñ        = we(inclusive)-can           = We can
kōm  + ban        = kōm ban       = we(exclusive)/cannot        = We cannot
koṃ  + kōṇaan  = koṃ kōṇaan = you(plural)/like   = You guys like
re      + dike       = redike           = they-hate                     = They hate

Vocabulary

etal go
itok (E: wātok) come
ṃōñā eat, food
idaak drink, take (as in swallow [a pill, etc.])
rūkaki teacher, minister, priest
rijikuuḷ student
Amedka America, the United States
ṃajeḷ The Marshall Islands, the Marshallese language
ripālle American person/people
riṃajeḷ Marshallese person/people

Language Tip

How to use the Marshallese-English Dictionary

The Marshallese-English Dictionary by Abo, Bender, Capelle, and deBrum is a very good additional resource for learning the language.  However, there are some things that are useful to know before using it:

– Make sure you find the right Marshallese word

When looking up an English word in the English-Marshallese section of the dictionary, you will often find several Marshallese words listed.  Usually only one of these words is in common use, or the words have very different meanings that only happen to translate to the same word in English.  For this reason, always look up all of the words back in the Marshallese-English part of the dictionary.  This way you can see other meanings of each word, example sentences, and so forth that will tell you which Marshallese word is the real equivalent of the English word that you looked up.

– Watch out for rare and archaic words

The dictionary marks some words as ‘archaic,’ meaning that they were used historically in the Marshall Islands but are now very uncommon.  Always look to see if a word is marked this way, and if it is, don’t try to use it in normal conversation.  The dictionary also lists many words that are very formal, specialized or uncommon for some other reason.  These are not marked as such, so it is best to ask someone who speaks Marshallese whether people actually use the word.

– Use a person rather than the dictionary when you can

For all the reasons listed above, it is better to ask a person who speaks both English and Marshallese how to say something than it is to look it up in the dictionary.  A person will give you only words that people actually use, and can give you examples.  If you know someone who grew up speaking both Marshallese and English, that is ideal.

In the next lesson there are more tips for using the dictionary.

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 5: Marshallese Subject Pronouns

This post is based on Practical Marshallese by Peter Rudiak-Gould, a freely distributed, full-length textbook for learning the native language of the Marshall Islands. It has been used since 2004 as the official language manual for all volunteers in the WorldTeach Marshall Islands program, and it has formed the basis of language classes for Americans at Kwajalein Atoll. The 102 short lessons describe the grammar of the language in practical and familiar terms, and a glossary presents 1500 useful words.

I am happy, you are happy (Subject pronouns)

In Marshallese there is a set of pronouns that is very much like ‘I,’ ‘you,’ ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘it,’ ‘we,’ and ‘they’ in English.  These are called the ‘subject pronouns.’  In this lesson and future ones, you will learn how to use these words to make many kinds of sentences.  Here they are:

MarshalleseEnglish
i I
kwō or ko You (when talking to one person only)
e He, She, or It
je We (including the person being spoken to)
kōm We (not including the person being spoken to)
koṃ You (when talking to more than one person)
re or They

As you look at the chart you will notice some important differences from English:

1. Marshallese makes no distinction between ‘he’, ‘she,’ and ‘it’; ‘e’ can mean any of these.

2. Marshallese makes a distinction between ‘you’ referring to only one person (kwō or ko) and ‘you’ referring to more than one person (koṃ).  In English, ‘you’ can be used for any number of people, but in Marshallese you must always make the distinction between you-singular and you-plural.

3. Marshallese makes a distinction between ‘we’ when it includes the person being spoken to (je) and ‘we’ when it does not include the person being spoken to (kōm).  The former is called ‘inclusive we’ and the latter is called ‘exclusive we.’  For instance, if you say ‘You and I are going to the lagoon,’ you would use ‘je,’ but if you ‘My friend and I are going to the lagoon,’ you would use ‘kōm’.

4. Two of the pronouns (‘you-singular’ and ‘they’) have two different forms.  The form that is used depends on what sounds are in the word that follows.  Don’t worry about knowing which form to use.  For now, just use the first form (‘kwō’ for ‘you-singular’ and ‘re’ for ‘they’) but be aware that they can sometimes be a bit different.

– You can use the subject pronouns to make sentences like ‘I am happy,’ ‘you are sad,’ etc.  To make a sentence like this, just put the pronoun before any adjective.  For instance:

i + maro =imaro =I-thirsty= I am thirsty
kwō  + maro =kwōmaro =you(singular)-thirsty= You are thirsty
e + maro =emaro =he,she,it-thirsty= He, She, or It is thirsty
je + maro =jemaro =we(inclusive)-thirsty= We are thirsty
kōm + maro=kōm maro   = we(exclusive)/thirsty= We are thirsty
koṃ  + maro  = koṃ maro = you(plural)/thirsty= You guys are thirsty
re + maro =remaro =they-thirsty= They are thirst

(Notice that you don’t need any word for ‘am’, ‘is’, or ‘are’!)

– If the subject of the sentence is something other than a pronoun (for instance, a sentence like ‘Nick is thirsty’ or ‘Brad and Kenzie are thirsty’), just use ‘e’ if the subject is singular and ‘re’ if it is plural.  For example:

Nick emaro =Nick/he,she,it-thirsty= Nick is thirsty
Brad im Kenzie remaro =Brad/and/Kenzie/they-thirsty= Brad and Kenzie are thirsty

– If the subject is not a pronoun and is singular, like in ‘Nick is thirsty’, you can also put the subject after the adjective instead of before:

Emaro Nick =
or
Nick emaro =
he,she,it-thirsty/Nick
Nick/he,she,it-thirsty
= Nick is thirsty

Vocabulary

jeḷāknow, know how to, find out
Ex. Ijeḷā = I know Ex. Ijab lukkuun jeḷā = I don’t really know/I’m not sure
jaje
or
ñak
not know, not know how to
kōṇaanwant, like, do often
maroñcan, may, might, possible
bancannot, will not, impossible
meḷeḷeunderstand, disentangled, meaning, information
Ex. Meḷeḷe in ‘ḷaddik’, ‘boy’ = ‘Ḷaddik’ means ‘boy’
Ex. Ta meḷeḷe in ‘laddik’? = What does ‘ḷaddik’ mean?
dikehate
ṃakoko (in)unwilling (to), refuse (to), really not want (to)
meḷọkḷọkforget

Language Tip

Getting people’s attention

To get someone’s attention in English we say ‘Hey Joe!’ or ‘Hey Stephanie!’.  To do the same in Marshallese you put an ‘e’ or ‘a’ at the end of the name, for instance ‘Joe e!’ or ‘Joe a’.  The proper response when someone says this to you is ‘e!’  If the person is far away, then put ‘o’ instead of ‘e’ at the end of their name, and respond ‘o!’ 

For example:

Person getting Patrick’s attention: Patrick e!

Patrick’s response: E!

Person getting Patrick’s attention, far away: Patrick o!

Patrick’s response: O!

Practical Marshallese