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:

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 =
Nick emaro =
= Nick is thirsty


jeḷāknow, know how to, find out
Ex. Ijeḷā = I know Ex. Ijab lukkuun jeḷā = I don’t really know/I’m not sure
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?
ṃakoko (in)unwilling (to), refuse (to), really not want (to)

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

Published by Marco Mora-Huizar

I am a Spanish and Marshallese translator. Iaar katak Kajin Majol ilo Enid, Oklahoma.

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