Lesson 21: Definite and Indefinite Articles, and Plurals

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.

One boy, two boys, the boy, the boys (‘a,’ ‘the,’ and plurals)

– In Marshallese the word for ‘a’ or ‘an’ is the same as ‘one’: juon. (Remember that it is usually pronounced ‘juōn,’ although it is not spelled this way.)  Like in English it goes before the noun:

juon ni   = one coconut or a coconut

– Unlike in English, if you have more than one of the noun (a plural noun), the noun stays the same.  You do not add ‘s’ or anything else to make it a plural:

juon ni    = one coconut or a coconut
ruo ni     = two coconuts
jilu ni      = three coconuts
etc.  

– However, with the word for ‘the,’ you must use a different word if the noun is singular than if it is plural (like in Spanish and French).  If the noun is plural, you also must use a different word if the noun refers to a human than if it refers to a non-human.  Also, you must put the word for ‘the’ after the noun.  Here are the three words for ‘the’:

‘The’

eo        the (singular)
ro       the (plural, for humans only)
ko      the (plural, for non-humans only)

For example:

rūkaki eo                      = the teacher
rūkaki ro (not rūkaki ko)  = the teachers
ni eo                             = the coconut
ni ko (not ni ro)               = the coconuts

The words for ‘this,’ ‘that,’ ‘these,’ and ‘those’ also work this way.  You will learn them in Lessons 58-59.

– If you have an adjective with the noun, you must put it after the noun (like Spanish or French) but usually before the word for ‘the’:

juon ni nana  = a bad coconut
ni nana eo     = the bad coconut
ajri nana ro    = the bad children
ni nana ko     = the bad coconuts

– Some adjectives change when they are placed with a noun.  For instance ‘dik’ (‘small’) becomes ‘jidikdik’ for singulars and ‘jiddik’ for plurals, and ‘kilep’ (‘big’) becomes ‘kileplep’ for singulars and ‘killep’ for plurals.  If you want to know about more words that do this, see Lesson 98.

Vocabulary

pinjeḷ pencil
joḷọk throw away, take off (an article of clothing), quit, get rid of, break up with, get divorced from, spend, waste Ex. Joḷọk ek eo = Throw away the fish Ex. Joḷọk iien = Waste time Ex. Joḷọk keroro! = Quit talking/Be quiet!
kappok or pukot look for, search for
jāān (from English) cent, money
mej die, dead
pād wōt stay
taktō (from English) doctor, see a doctor Ex. Iaar taktō inne = I went to the doctor yesterday
peḷḷọk open, unlocked
kapeḷḷọk to open
ti tea
ruṃwij late, slow

Language Tip

Gestures

Marshallese is not all verbal.  Look for and imitate these common Marshallese gestures, which are very different than what English speakers use:

‘Yes’ – eyebrows raised, head may be tilted slightly up

(Not a nod of the head like in English)

‘No’- frown, lips sticking out a bit, sometimes a slight shake of the head

(Not just a shake the head like in English)

‘I don’t know’ – sides of the mouth pulled out and back to form a grimace

(Not a shrug of the shoulders like in English)

‘Come here’ – one hand extended forward with the palm down, then brought down and towards the body quickly

(Not one hand held out palm up, and fingers drawn towards the body, like in English)

‘It was this big’ – right hand is held up, then the side of the left hand is put somewhere along the right hand or arm to indicate how big or long something is, measured from the tip of the right hand fingers to wherever the left hand is.

(Not both hands held up in front of the body, with the distance between them indicating the size, like in English)


[1] The ‘e’ is pronounced here like a ‘y,’ and the ‘ō’ is like the oo in ‘book’

[2] Often spelled ‘yok’ or ‘yuk’ according to the old spelling system

[3] Remember from Lesson 5 that ‘kwō’ (‘you’) is sometimes ‘ko’ instead.  ‘Koban’ is an example of this.

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 20: More about wh-questions

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.

Where are you?  Where is it? (More about wh-questions)

This lesson introduces a few more ways to ask wh-questions in Marshallese.

– If you want to ask where something or someone is, remember that you must use ‘pād’ which means ‘to be located.’  For instance:

Kwōpād ia?         = you-located/where?            = Where are you?
Susan epād ia?   = Susan/she-located/where? = Where is Susan?

– There is another way to ask where something is other than with ‘ia.’  You can use the following words, which always go at the beginning of the sentence:

More Question Words

ewi where is it/she/he?   or     where is ______?
erri where are they?       or     where are______?

For example:

Ewi?                = Where is it?  or  Where is she?  or  Where is he?
Ewi Ronald?   = Where is Ronald?
Erri?                = Where are they?
Erri ni?            = Where are the coconuts?

– If you want to say ‘who is NAME?’ or ‘what is NOUN?’, you can say the following:

Even More Question Words

ta in _____? what is ____?
wōn in _____? who is ____?

For example:

Ta in ‘bwiro’?                      = What’s ‘bwiro’?
Wōn in Kessai Note?         = Who’s Kessai Note?
Ijeḷā ta in bwiro                   = I know what bwiro is
Ijaje wōn in Kessai Note     = I don’t know who Kessai Note is

This is one of a few strange cases where ‘in’ can mean ‘is.’

Vocabulary

ṃokta before (when by itself, not before a noun or verb), first Ex. Iaar ba ṃokta = I said before
Anij God
bao bird, chicken
bao in mejatoto bird (specifically)
bao in laḷ chicken (specifically)
bwebwe crazy, stupid
iññā or iiūñ yes (alternate forms of ‘aet’)
jijet sit, sit down
ki key
ḷak lock, to lock, locked

Language Tip

What did you say?

When you don’t understand what someone said or couldn’t hear, you can say ‘ta?’ (‘what?’) with a rising, questioning intonation, just like in English.  However, you can also say ‘e!’ with a falling, non-questioning intonation.  If you just listen to its intonation, this phrase sounds like it would mean ‘Yes, I understand,’ but it really means ‘What did you say?  Could you repeat that?’

Pronunciation Practice

‘o’ and ‘u’

‘o’ and ‘u’ are similar to the ‘o’ in English ‘tone’ and the ‘u’ in English ‘tune.’  However, they are a little different and it is worthwhile to try to pronounce them more accurately.  If you speak Spanish with a good accent, then use Spanish ‘o’ and ‘u’ for these sounds, and you will be much closer to the correct Marshallese pronunciation than English ‘tone’ and ‘tune.’

If you don’t speak Spanish, try the following: say English ‘tone’ over and over and pay attention to how you are saying the ‘o’ sound.  Notice how you start out saying one vowel sound and then turn it into another, and also how your lips start out normal and then start to pucker.  Now say English ‘tune’ over and over and pay attention to the ‘u.’  Again, you are starting out with one sound and moving to another, and the lips are puckered for only some of that time.

In Marshallese ‘o’ and ‘u’ are not this complicated.  Hold the position for ‘o’ (in ‘tone’) and ‘u’ (in ‘tune’), without moving your tongue around.  Find a steady, pure tone, and keep your lips puckered (rounded) the whole time.  (This lip rounding is exactly like the lip rounding of ‘ọ.’)  These are the ‘o’ and ‘u’ of Marshallese.

Practice on these words:

lo           ‘see’ lukkuun ‘very’
ioon          ‘on’ tutu ‘wet’
to                ‘long time’ kuuj ‘cat’
boñ             ‘night’ ruuṃ ‘room’
ok ‘net’ juuj ‘shoe’

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 19: Wh-questions

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.

Where are you going? What are you doing? (Wh-questions)

The last lesson dealt with yes-no questions.  In this lesson you will learn how to say questions with question words like ‘who,’ ‘what,’ and ‘where.’  These are called wh-questions because they have a question word that usually starts with ‘wh.’

– Wh-questions work differently in Marshallese than in English.  In English we normally put the question word at the beginning of the sentence.  For instance, we say ‘What are you eating?’ but we don’t usually say ‘You are eating what?’  But in Marshallese the opposite is true.  Question words usually go somewhere other than the beginning of the sentence.  For example:

How you say it in English How you would say it in Marshallese
What are you eating? You are eating what?
Who is she talking to? She is talking to who?
When are you going to Majuro? You are going when to Majuro? or You are going to Majuro when?
Where are they going? They are going to where?

Here are the most common question words:

Basic Question Words

ta what? or do what?
et do what?
ia where?
ñāāt when?
wōn who?
etke why?
jete how many?

(‘How’ and ‘how much’ work a little differently.  See Lesson 38)

All of these words normally go somewhere other than the beginning of the sentence, except for ‘etke’ (‘why’) which always goes at the beginning like in English.  Here are some examples:

Kwōj ṃōñā ta?                = you-PRES/eat/what?           = What are you eating?
Kwōj ta?                          = you-PRES/do what?            = What are you doing?
Kwōj et?                          = they-PRES/do what?           = What are you doing?
Kwōj etal ñan ia?            = you-PRES/go/to/where?      = Where are you going?
Rōnaaj eọñōd ñāāt?       = they-FUTURE/fish/when?  = When are they going to fish?
Raar jokwe ippān wōn?  = they-PAST/live/with/who?  = Who did they live with?
Kwaar idaak jete ni?       = you-PAST/drink            /how many/coconuts = How many coconuts did you drink?
Etke ebūroṃōj?              = why?/she-sad                       = Why is she sad?

Notice that in order to say ‘What are you doing?’ you use the word ‘et’ (‘do what?’) or ‘ta’ (‘what?’ or ‘do what?’).  You say ‘Kwōj et?’ or ‘Kwōj ta?’ (‘You do what?’ = ‘What are you doing?’).

Dialogue

A: Kwōj itok jān ia? A: Where are you from?
B: Ij itok jān Amedka. B: I’m from the United States.
A: Kwe ke PeaceCorps? A: Are you a PeaceCorps volunteer?
B: Jaab, ej jab ña PeaceCorps. B: No, I’m not a PeaceCorps vounteer
A: Ak? A: What then?
B: Ña WorldTeach.  Kwōjeḷā ke kajjien WorldTeach? B: I’m a WorldTeach volunteer.  Do you know what WorldTeach is?
A: Iñak. A: I don’t know.
B: Ekwe, WorldTeach ej āinwōt PeaceCorps, ak WorldTeach rej jerbal iuṃwin juon wōt iiō. B: Well, WorldTeach is like PeaceCorps, but WorldTeach volunteers work for only one year.
A: O.  Kwōnaaj et ilo Ṃajeḷ? A: Oh.  What are you going to do in the Marshall Islands?
B: Inaaj jerbal ilo Aelōñḷapḷap.  Inaaj rūkaki in kajin pālle. B: I’m going to work on Ailinglaplap.  I’m going to be an English teacher.
A: Kwōnaaj jokwe ippān wōn? A: Who are you going to live with?
B: Inaaj jokwe ippān juon baamḷe in ṃajeḷ. B: I’m going to live with a Marshallese family.
A: Kwōj etal ñāāt? A: When are you going?
B: Juje. B: Tuesday.
A: Wow!  Jeraaṃṃan ñan kwe. A: Wow!  Good luck to you.

Vocabulary

jaṃbo take a walk, stroll around, wander around aimlessly, go on a trip, trip, travel, voyage, journey
ṃool true, sure, tell the truth Ex. Eṃool = It is true Ex. Kwōj ṃool ke? = Are you sure?/Really? Ex. Ña ij ṃool = I’m sure/I’m telling the truth Ex. Kwōj ṃool = You’re telling the truth/You’re right (Note: to say ‘I’m not sure’ say ‘Ijab lukkuun jeḷā,’ not ‘Ijab ṃool’)
riab false, lie Ex. Eriab = It is false Ex. Ej riab = He is lying Ex. Ña ij riab = I’m lying/Just kidding Ex. Ña ij jab riab = I’m not lying/I’m not kidding/I’m serious
nōṃba (from English) number
piik (from English) pig
tiṃa (from English ‘steamer’) ship (noun)
tọọl (from English) towel
taḷa (from English) dollar
wōt rain, to rain Ex. Ewōt = It is raining
rọọl to leave (in the sense of ‘go away’, not in the sense of ‘leave something somewhere’) Ex. Raar rọọl inne = They left yesterday

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 18: Can you?, Yes I can, No I can’t

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.

Can you?, Yes I can, No I can’t

The word for ‘can’ or ‘be able’ in Marshallese is ‘maroñ.’  It goes right after the subject pronoun, like a few other verbs:

Imaroñ      (not Ij maroñ)    = I-can = I can
Remaroñ  (not Rej maroñ)  = they-can = They can

–  To say ‘cannot’ you can say ‘jab maroñ,’ ‘maroñ jab,’ or ‘ban.’  For example:

ijab maroñ = imaroñ jab = iban = I cannot

Notice that this ‘ban’ is the same as the ‘ban’ that means ‘will not.’  Thus, a sentence like ‘iban’ is ambiguous: it could mean either ‘I cannot’ or ‘I will not.’  If you want to make sure that it is understood as ‘cannot,’ then use ‘jab maroñ’ or ‘maroñ jab’ instead of ‘ban’

– ‘Maroñ’ can also mean ‘possible,’ and ‘ban’ can mean ‘impossible.’  This leads to two common phrases (the first is especially common):

Emaroñ = it-possible = It’s possible or Maybe
Eban     = it-impossible = It’s impossible or No way!

(‘Bōlen’ is also used to mean ‘maybe’)

– If you want to make a question like ‘Can you ___?,’ ‘Can I ___?’, just add ‘ke’ after ‘maroñ’:

Kwōmaroñ ke jerbal?  = you-can/?/work = Can you work?
Imaroñ ke iukkure?     = I-can/?/play = Can I play?

– ‘Maroñ’ can also mean ‘may, might.’  For instance:

Imaroñ rọọl ilju             = I-may/leave/tomorrow = I might leave tomorrow
Remaroñ eọñōd rainin = they-may/fish/today = They may go fishing today

– If you mean ‘can’ in the sense of ‘know how to,’ or ‘cannot’ in the sense of ‘don’t know how to,’ then using ‘jeḷā’ or ‘jaje/ñak’ is better than ‘maroñ’ and ‘ban’ (remember the previous lesson):

Kwōjeḷā ke aō?  = you-know/?/swim = Can you swim?
Ijeḷā aō               = I-know/swim = I can swim
Ijaje aō               = I-don’t know/swim = I can’t swim

– Sometimes ‘jeḷā’ is used for ‘can’ and ‘jaje/ñak’ is used for ‘cannot’ in ways that we would never use ‘know’ and ‘don’t know’ in English:

Iaar jaje kiki   = I-PAST/don’t know/sleep = I couldn’t sleep

Vocabulary

al sing, song Ex. Al juon al = Sing a song
keroro be noisy, chatter, talk noisily Ex. Jab keroro! = Be quiet!
likūt put
mat full (of food after eating) Ex. Kwomat ke? = Are you full?
oṇān or wōṇān price, price of, salary, salary of Ex. Jete wōṇān? = How much does it cost? Ex. Jete wōṇān rūkaki? = How much do teachers get paid?
peba paper, card
wa boat, canoe, any vehicle
wōt only, just, still Ex. Juon wōt = Only one Ex. Rej ṃōñā wōt = They are still eating
ekwe okay then, well then, well, then
ibwij high tide Ex. Eibwij = It is high tide
pāāt low tide, shallow Ex. Epāāt = It is low tide

Language Tip

Ekwe

‘Ekwe’ is a very useful word which is close to ‘well then,’ ‘okay,’ or ‘okay then’ in English.  If someone tells you to do something, and you want to indicate that you will do it, say ‘ekwe’ (‘okay’).  If you are about to go away, and want to indicate that the conversation is coming to a close, say ‘ekwe’ (‘well then’).  Often Marshallese people will leave after just saying ‘ekwe,’ without saying ‘goodbye’ or ‘see you later.’  If you are indicating that something has been agreed upon, decided, and understood, you can say ‘ekwe eṃṃan’ (‘all right then’).

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 17: Do you know?, Yes I know, No I don’t know

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.

Do you know?, Yes I know, No I don’t know

This lesson will introduce you to the word ‘know’ in Marshallese and its many other uses.

– The word for ‘know’ in Marshallese is ‘jeḷā.’  To say ‘don’t know,’ you can say ‘jab jeḷā’ or ‘jaje’ or ñak.’  Remember from Lesson 6 that these words go right after the subject pronoun, like an adjective:

Kwōjeḷā ke? you-know/? Do you know?
Ijeḷā I-know I know
Ijab jeḷā I-not/know I don’t know
Ijaje I-don’t know I don’t know
Iñak I-don’t know I don’t know

– ‘Jeḷā’ can also mean ‘know how to’ or ‘be good at,’ and ‘jab jeḷā/jaje/ñak’ can mean ‘don’t know how to’ or ‘not be good at.’  There is also a word ‘ṃōkade’ which means ‘to be really good at’:

Kwōjeḷā ke eọñōd? = Do you know how to fish? or Are you any good at fishing?
Ijeḷā eọñōd = I know how to fish or I am good at fishing
Ijeḷā eọñōd jidik = I know how to fish a little or I am okay at fishing
Ilukkuun jeḷā eọñōd = I really know how to fish or I am really good at fishing
Iṃōkade eọñōd = I am really good at fishing
Ijab jeḷā eọñōd = I don’t know how to fish or I am bad at fishing
Ijab lukkuun jeḷā eọñōd = I don’t really know how to fish or I’m not very good at fishing
Ijaje/iñak eọñōd = I don’t know how to fish or I am bad at fishing
Ilukkuun jaje/ñak eọñōd = I really don’t know how to fish or I am really bad at fishing

– If you use these same phrases with the name of a language, then ‘jeḷā’ means ‘speak’ and ‘jaje/ñak’ means ‘not speak’:

Kwōjeḷā ke kajin ṃajeḷ? = you-know/?/language of/Marshall = Do you speak Marshallese?
Ijeḷā kajin ṃajeḷ              = I-know/language of/Marshall = I speak Marshallese
Ilukkuun jeḷā kajin ṃajeḷ = I-really/know/language of/Marshall = I speak Marshallese really well
Ijaje kajin ṃajeḷ              = I-don’t know/language of./Marshall = I don’t speak Marshallese

– If you want to say ‘I know [Name of a Person]’ in the sense of ‘I am acquainted with,’ then you must add ‘kajjien’ before the name of the person:

Kwōjeḷā ke kajjien Lauren? (not Kwōjeḷā ke Lauren?) you-know/?/identity of/Lauren = Do you know Lauren?
Ijeḷā kajjien Lauren              (not Ijeḷā Lauren) I-know/identity of/Lauren = I know Lauren
Ijaje/iñak kajjien Lauren      (not Ijaje/Iñak Lauren) I-don’t know/identity of/Lauren = I don’t know Lauren

Dialogues

A: Kwōjeḷā ke eọñōd? A: Do you know how to fish?
B: Iñak.  Ak kwe? B: I don’t know how.  What about you?
A: Ilukkuun ṃōkade eọñōd. A: I’m really good at fishing.
B: Kwōṃōkade kōnke kwe riṃajeḷ.  Aolep eṃṃaan in ṃajeḷ rōjeḷā. B: You’re really good because you’re Marshallese.  Every Marshallese man knows how.
A: Aet.  Ak kwe, kwōñak kōnke kwe ripālle.  Ripālle relukkuun jaje eọñōd. A: Yes.  And you don’t know how because you’re an American.  Americans are terrible at fishing.
B: Aet, ak ña inaaj ekkatak.  Ṃōttan jidik ilukkuun naaj jeḷā. B: Yes, but I’m going to learn.  Soon I’ll be really good.

 

A: Kwōjeḷā ke kajin ṃajeḷ? A: Do you speak Marshallese?
B: Jidik.  Kwōjeḷā ke kajin pālle? B: A little.  Do you speak English?
A: Ijab lukkuun jeḷā. A: I don’t speak it very well.
B: Ekwe, ña inaaj katakin eok kajin pālle im kwe kwōnaaj katakin eō kajin ṃajeḷ.  Eṃṃan ke? B: Okay, I’ll teach you English and you’ll teach me Marshallese.  Okay?
A: Eṃṃan.  Ṃōttan jidik ña inaaj jeḷā kajin pālle āinwōt ripālle, im kwe kwōnaaj jeḷā kajin ṃajeḷ āinwōt riṃajeḷ. A: Good.  Soon I’ll speak English like an American, and you’ll speak Marshallese like a Marshallese person.
B: Elukkuun eṃṃan. B: Great.

Vocabulary

etan name of, its/his/her name, ‘um…’ (when you’re pausing to think of something while speaking) Ex. Ijaje etan = I don’t know his/her/its name Ex. Etan ‘coconut’ ilo ṃajeḷ? = How do you say ‘coconut’ in Marshallese?
bōlen maybe, possibly, probably
baamḷe (from English) family
bok (from English) book
bwil hot, get burned
ṃōḷo cold (of things only) Ex. Eṃōḷo rainin = It’s cold today
piọ cold (of humans only) Ex. Ipiọ = I’m cold
jeje write
riit (from English) read
swim

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 16: Yes/No questions

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.

Are you eating?  Are you happy? (Yes/No questions)

In the previous lessons you learned how to make statements in the present, past, future tenses.  Now you will learn how to make questions like ‘Are you a teacher?’ ‘Did you eat?’ and so forth.  We call these ‘Yes-No’ questions because they can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ unlike questions such as ‘Where are you going?’  In Lesson 19 you will learn about the latter type of question (with question words like ‘who,’ what,’ and ‘where’) but in this lesson we will focus on yes-no question.

– To make a yes-no question, you add a special word ‘ke’ to the sentence.  The placement of this word is somewhat variable.  Here are some examples:

Statement Meaning Yes-No Question Meaning
Kwōj ṃōñā You are eating. Kwōj ke ṃōñā? or Kwōj ṃōñā ke? Are you eating?
Kwaar ṃōñā You ate. Kwaar ke ṃōñā? or Kwaar ṃōñā ke? Did you eat?
Kwaar kwōle You were hungry Kwaar ke kwōle? or Kwaar kwōle ke? Were you hungry?
Kwōnaaj ṃōñā You will eat Kwōnaaj ke ṃōñā? or Kwōnaaj ṃōñā ke? Will you eat?
Kwōnaaj kwōle You will be hungry Kwōnaaj ke kwōle? or Kwōnaaj kwōle ke? Will you be hungry?
Kwōmaro You are thirsty Kwōmaro ke? Are you thirsty?
Kwōjeḷā You know Kwōjeḷā ke? Do you know?
Kwe rūkaki You are a teacher Kwe ke rūkaki? or Kwe rūkaki ke? Are you a teacher?

As you can see, you can put ‘ke’ before or after the verb, adjective, or noun.  The only time you can’t put ‘ke’ before the verb or adjective is if it is fused to the subject pronoun.  For instance you can’t put ‘ke’ before ‘jeḷā’ in ‘kwōjeḷā’ or before ‘maro’ in ‘kwōmaro’ because these words are fused onto the pronouns.  The important thing to know for now is that you add ‘ke’ to make yes-no questions; as you listen to the language you will get a better feel for where it is usually placed in the sentence.

– If you put ‘ke’ at the end of a sentence, with a rising, ‘questioning’ intonation, it means ‘right?’ or ‘isn’t that true?’  For example:

            Rej eọñōd ke? =  Are they fishing?

            but

            Rej eọñōd, ke? = They are fishing, right? or They are fishing, aren’t they?

Also, if you put ‘ke’ between two nouns or adjectives or verbs, it means ‘or’ (‘ak’ is also used to mean ‘or’):

            Eṃṃaan ke kōrā? = Man or woman?

            Jerbal ke kiki?       = Working or sleeping?

Dialogue

A: Iọkwe in jota.  Ej et mour? A: Good evening.  How are you doing?
B: Elukkuun nana. B: Really bad.
A: Kobūroṃōj ke? A: Are you sad?
B: Ijab. B: No, I’m not.
A: Ak? A: What then?
B: Ilukkuun nañinmej B: I’m really sick.
A: Kwaar ke taktō? A: Did you see a doctor?
B: Iaar jab.  B: No, I didn’t
A: Kwōtōn taktō kiiō ke? A: Are you going to see a doctor now?
B: Ij ḷōmṇak in etal ilju. B: I’m planning to go tomorrow
A: Kwōj aikuj in koṃṃane rainin.  Ñe kwōj jab, koban maroñ kiki. A: You should do it today.  If you don’t, you won’t be able to sleep.
B: Ekwe.  Ña itōn etal kiiō. B: Okay.  I’m going to go now.

Vocabulary

naan word
oktak (jān) different (from), unusual
roñ hear, understand what somebody says Ex. Ij jab roñ = I can’t hear/I don’t understand what you’re saying
roñjake listen, listen to
wia buy
wia kake sell
kōjerbal use, employ
aebōj laḷ well (in the ground for drinking water)
aebōj jimeeṇ cistern (for catching and storing rain water for drinking)
baantuun water catchment (for catching and storing rain water for drinking)
ippān with

Language Tip

Question intonation

Marshallese people use different intonation when asking questions than English speakers.  When asking a question with ‘ke,’ often the tone of voice gets lower before the ‘ke,’ and then goes up at the ‘ke.’  When the person asking the question is pretty sure that the answer is yes, often the ‘ke’ is left out, and the tone of voice starts high and falls down.  Listening for and imitating these intonations will help you sound more Marshallese.

Practical Marshallese

Lesson 15: Wrapping up pronouns and tenses

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.

Lesson 15: Wrapping up pronouns and tenses

In the last ten lessons you have learned the present, past, and future tenses and three sets of pronouns.  This section reviews this material.  (‘E’ stands for ‘Eastern dialect’ when there is a different form in this dialect.)

All the pronouns

  Subject Object Emphatic
Me i ña
You (singular) kwō orko eok kwe
Him/Her/It e e ori e
Us(inclusive) je kōj kōj
Us(exclusive) kōm kōm   (E: kōmmem) kōm   (E: kōmmem)
You(plural) koṃ koṃ   (E: kōmi) koṃ   (E: kōmi)
Them re or er       (non-human: i) er

When to use each set of pronouns

Subject – Before an adjective (or one of a few special verbs) in the present tense – Before the marker for present, past, or future tense
Object – After a verb (as in ‘Alfred likes me’)
Emphatic – Outside of a sentence – After anything other than a verb (like ‘to,’ ‘from,’ ‘and,’ ‘what about’) – Directly before a subject pronoun (to add a little emphasis) – Directly before a noun (to make a sentence like ‘I am a teacher’)

All the tenses (positive forms)

  Present Past Past (alternate form) Future
Me ij iaar ikar inaaj
You (sing.) kwōj kwaar kwōkar kwōnaaj
Him/Her/It ej eaar ekar enaaj
Us(incl.) jej jaar jekar jenaaj
Us(excl.) kōmij kōmar kōmikar kōminaaj
You(plural) koṃij koṃar koṃikar koṃinaaj
Them rej raar rekar rōnaaj

All the tenses (negative forms)

  Present Past Past (alternate form) Future
Me ij jab iaar jab ikar jab iban
You (sing.) kwōj jab kwaar jab kwōkar jab koban
Him/Her/It ej jab eaar jab ekar jab eban
Us(incl.) jej jab jaar jab jekar jab jeban
Us(excl.) kōmij jab kōmar jab kōmikar jab kōm ban
You(plural) koṃij jab koṃar jab koṃikar jab koṃ ban
Them rej raar jab rekar jab rōban

Also remember:

1. Before an adjective (or the verbs ‘jeḷā,’ ‘jaje,’ ‘ñak,’ ‘meḷeḷe,’ ‘maroñ’ and a few others) in the present tense, you use a subject pronoun by itself. (‘Ikwōle,’ not ‘Ij kwōle’; ‘Ejeḷā’ not ‘Ej jeḷā’)

2. If you are talking about where someone or something is located, add ‘pād’ (‘to be located’).  (‘Ij pād ilo Majuro,’ not ‘Ij ilo Majuro’)

3. When the emphatic pronoun is different from the subject pronoun, you can put the emphatic pronoun right before the subject pronoun.  (‘Ña ij iukkure’ is the same as ‘Ij iukkure’)

Congratulations!  Now you can say anything in the past, present and future.

Vocabulary

lọjet ocean (in a general sense, including both the lagoon and the open ocean)
jouj nice, friendly
kōnke because
kajjitōk ask, question Ex. Kajjitōk ippān Alfred = Ask Alfred
kilaj class, grade (as in ‘first grade,’ ‘second grade,’ not as in ‘A/B/C/D/F’)
kilaj juon/kilaj ruo /kilaj jilu/etc. first grade/second grade/third grade/etc.
ḷōmṇak think (in both the sense of ‘think about something’ and ‘be of the opinion’) Ex. Ij ḷōmṇak = I am thinking Ex. Ij ḷōmṇak inaaj etal = I think I will go
ḷōmṇak in plan to Ex. Ij ḷōmṇak in eọñōd rainin = I am planning to go fishing today
metak to hurt (as in ‘my leg hurts,’ not as in ‘don’t hurt me’) Ex. Emetak = It hurts
ṃanit custom, culture, tradition, manner

Practical Marshallese

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