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


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.


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

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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