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 have one, I have two, I have many

In the last two lessons you learned how to say ‘I have a ___,’ ‘you have a ___.’  In this lesson you will learn how to say ‘I have one ___,’ ‘I have two ___,’ ‘I have many ___.’

– In order to say ‘I have many___,’ ‘I have few___,’ ‘I have some ___,’ etc., use the words for ‘there are many,’ ‘there are few,’ ‘there are some’ that you learned in Lesson 26.  For instance, instead of saying ‘I have many ___,’ say ‘there are many my ___.’  For example:

Ebooḷ aō sister                 = there are many/my/sister = I have many sisters
Eiiet aō brother                = there are few/my/brother = I have few brothers
Ewōr jet aṃ sister            = there are/some/your/sister = You have a few sisters
Ebwe an Rostiana pinjeḷ  = there are enough/’s/Rostiana/pencil = Rostiana has enough pencils
Emaat ad pinjeḷ                = there are no more/our/pencil = We have no more pencils or We are out of pencils

– There is another way to say ‘I have many ___.’  Instead of saying ‘there is many my ___’ (‘ebooḷ aō ___’), you can just say ‘many my ___’ (‘bwijin aō ___’).  For instance:

Bwijin aō pinjeḷ     = many/my/pencil =  I have many pencils
Bwijin aṃ brother = many/your/brother =  You have many brothers

– To say ‘I have one ___,’ ‘I have two ____,’ etc., you can say ‘there is one my ____’ (‘ewōr juon aō ___’) or just say ‘one my ___’ (‘juon aō ___’):

Ewōr ruo aō sister       = or Ruo aō sister           = there are/two/my/sister two/my/sister =  I have two sisters
Ewōr joñoul aṃ pinjeḷ  = or Joñoul aṃ pinjeḷ      = there are/ten/your/pencil ten/your/pencil =  You have ten pencils

– To say any of these phrases in the past or future, add ‘kar’ or ‘naaj’:

Enaaj booḷ aō sister = it-FUTURE/there are many/my/pencil = I will have many sisters
Ekar jabwe ad jāān  = it-PAST/there is not enough/our/money = We didn’t have enough money
Naaj ruo aṃ brother = FUTURE/two/your/brother = You will have two brothers
Kar bwijin aō pinjeḷ   = PAST/many/my/pencil = I had many pencils


kweilọk meeting, to have a meeting, to attend a meeting
libbukwe shell (as in, the shells you find on the beach, not the shell of an egg)
ruuḷ (from English) rule
nabōj outside
nabōjin outside of
ettōñ (E: tōtōñ) laugh, smile
rup break, broken
tūṃ to break, broken (of long, thin objects like string, grass, etc.)
tebōḷ (from English) table, desk
tōñal sweet
turọñ spearfish, go spearfishing

Language Tip

Things they just don’t say, and things they love to say

Learning how to express ideas in Marshallese is just one part of learning the language.  Another important part is learning which ideas to express.  Anything in English can be translated into Marshallese and vice-versa, but that doesn’t mean that people say the same things in both languages.  For instance, if someone is telling you something in English, you would commonly say ‘that’s interesting.’  In Marshallese, even though there is a word for ‘interesting’ (‘kāitoktok-limo’), you would rarely say ‘that’s interesting.’  Instead you might say ‘ooo’ (‘oh’).  In the same way, in Marshallese if something has not been successful yet, you will often say ‘mōttan jidik’ (‘soon’).  In English, even though we have the word ‘soon,’ we would rarely say it in this context.  So, instead of looking for exact Marshallese equivalents of common English phrases (or vice-versa), listen to what Marshallese people commonly say in different situations, and imitate them.  You will sound much more Marshallese if you do this.

For example, here are some very common English phrases that could be said in Marshallese, but rarely are.  You should avoid trying to say these in Marshallese, even if we would say them in English:

Nice to meet you That makes sense Probably not I wonder if…
That’s interesting That doesn’t make sense I think so  
That’s strange Probably I don’t think so  

And here are some very common Marshallese phrases that could be said in English, but rarely are.  You should say these often, even if we wouldn’t say them in English:

Eṃṃan ‘good,’ ‘fine,’ ‘okay then,’ ‘good idea,’ ‘I approve’
Enana ‘bad,’ ‘I don’t like it,’ ‘that’s a bad idea,’ ‘I don’t approve of it’
Eṃōj ‘it’s finished,’ ‘I already did it,’ ‘stop!’ ‘that’s enough’
Ejañin alikkar ‘it’s not clear yet, we haven’t decided yet, I don’t know yet’
Ṃōttan jidik ‘soon, almost, you’ve almost got it’

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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