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.

To me, to you (Directionals)

– To say ‘to me,’ ‘to you,’ etc. in Marshallese, you can sometimes just say ‘ñan ña,’ ‘ñan kwe,’ etc. like in English.  However, you can also use the following words:


tok to me/us (towards where I am or where we are)
wōj or waj to you (towards where you are)
ḷọk to him/her/it/them (away from where you are and where I am)

These can be put after most verbs involving the movement of something from one place to another.  For example:

aō     = swim aōwōj= swim to you or swim to where you are
aōtok = swim to me/us or swim to here aōḷọk = swim to him/her/it/them or swim away

– There are some verbs that always have one of these words attached to them.  They cannot exist without them.  Here are some of these verbs:

i- go rei- look at jilkin- send
le- give lo- visit eḷ- pay attention to, take seriously
kā- fly, jump jo- throw po- to arrive in a boat

For example:

letok  = give-to me,us = give to me/us reiwōj    = look at-to you = look at you
lewōj = give-to you = give to you lotok      = visit-to me,us = visit me/us
leḷọk  = give-away = give to him/her/it/them joḷọk      = throw-away = throw away
kātok = fly-to me,us = fly to here jilkinwōj = send-to you = send to you
kāḷọk = fly-away = fly away eḷtok      = pay att.-to me = pay att. to me

– Sometimes when you put these directionals onto a word, we would use a different word in English.  For example:

i- go bōk take
itok go to me/us = come bōktok take to me/us = bring
iwōj go to you = come with you bōkwōj take to you = bring to you
iḷọk[1] go to anywhere other than me or you = go or go away bōkḷọk take to anywhere other than me or you = take to him/her/it/them
delọñ enter rọọl leave
delọñtok enter to me/us = come in rọọltok leave to here => return (to here)
delọñwōj enter to you = come in to where you are rọọlwōj leave to where you are = return (to where you are)
delọñḷọk enter to anywhere other than me or you = go in rọọlḷọk leave to there = return (to there)

– If you put ‘ḷọk’ at the end of other verbs, it means ‘hurry up and’:

ṃōñā ḷọk = hurry up and eat
itok ḷọk    = hurry up and come

– There are directionals other than ‘tok,’ ‘wōj,’ and ‘ḷọk.’  There are ones meaning ‘forward,’ ‘backward,’ ‘to the lagoon,’ ‘to the ocean,’ and so forth.  These are in Lesson 100.


men in le- (with -tok, -wōj, and -ḷọk) gift, present Ex. Juon men in lewōj = A gift for you
kimej palm frond
bọọk (from English) box
bwilōñ or ilbōk surprised, amazed
kekōb dipper
ḷāibrāre (from English) library
ṃaiḷ (from English) mile
pātōre battery
waj (from English) wristwatch
wōnṃaanḷọk to go forward, to go on, to continue
epaak (ñan) near (to), close (to)

Pronunciation Practice – ‘p’

In the last Pronunciation Practice you learned that Marshallese ‘t’ sounds like English ‘d’ when it is sandwiched between two vowels.  A very similar thing happens with Marshallese ‘p.’  Have a Marshallese person say the following word: ‘pepe.’  The first ‘p’ sounds like an English ‘p,’ but the second one sounds more like English ‘b.’  Normally, Marshallese ‘p’ sounds like English ‘p,’ but if it is sandwiched directly between two vowels, it sounds like English ‘b.’

Here are some words to practice on:

Sounds like English ‘p’   Sounds like English ‘b’  
pepe ‘decide’ pepe ‘decide’
pād ‘located’ ripālle ‘American’
ippān ‘with’ tōpar ‘get to a place’
kappok ‘look for’ tipi ‘television’
kilep ‘big’ wōpij ‘office’

[1] The word ‘etal’ (‘go’) is more commonly used for the same meaning.

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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