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 in Majuro, you are in Ebeye (Location)

In the previous lessons you learned that you do not need any extra word for ‘be,’ ‘am,’ ‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘was,’ or ‘were.’  To say ‘I am happy’ you just say ‘I happy.’  To say ‘I will be a teacher’ you just say ‘I will teacher.’  But there is one important exception to this.  When you are talking about where something is located, like in the sentences ‘He is in the church,’ or ‘You will be in the school’ you must add a special word in place of the English ‘to be.’  This word is ‘pād’ and it means ‘to be located.’  Thus, in order to say ‘He is in the church’ you must say ‘He is located in the church.’  The word ‘pād’ always goes after the present, past, or future tense marker.  Here are some examples:

Ij pād ilo Majuro       = (not Ij ilo Majuro) I-PRESENT/located/in/Majuro                      = I am in Majuro
Kwaar pād ilo          = Amedka     you(singular)-PAST/located/in /America      = You were in America
Jackson enaaj pād  = ioon Ujae Jackson/he,she,it-FUTURE/located /on/Ujae = Jackson will be on Ujae
Reitōn pād ioon Lae= They-NEAR FUTURE/located/on/Lae         = They are going to be on Lae

– In the present tense, ‘pād’ can also be put directly after the subject pronoun, like an adjective.  Thus, both of the following are correct and have the same meaning:

Kwōj pād ilo Majuro   = you(singular)-PRESENT/located/in/Majuro = You are in Majuro
Kwōpād ilo Majuro     = you(singular)-located/in/Majuro                    = You are in Majuro


kiki sleep, asleep, to live (in a certain place)
kilep big, fat
dik small, young
ñe if, when (as in ‘I will be sad when I leave,’ not for asking questions like ‘When are you leaving?’)
jidik a little, a little bit
bōb pandanus, pandanus tree
aikuj need
aikuj in need to, have to, should
armej person, people
bōktok bring

Language Tip


The word ‘ak’ can mean ‘but’ in two senses.  The first sense is ‘however,’ as in ‘I went to the airport, but the plane didn’t come.’  When you don’t want this meaning to get confused with the ‘or’ meaning of ‘ak,’ say ‘bōtab’ (‘however, but’) instead of ‘ak.’  The second sense of ‘but’ is ‘but rather.’  For instance, to say ‘it’s not a shark, but rather a fish’ or ‘it’s not a shark, it’s a fish,’ say ‘Ej jab pako ak ek’ (‘It’s not shark but rather fish’).

Pronunciation Practice


‘ñ’ is a hard letter for many English speakers to pronounce.  However, it is very important to learn to pronounce it because some very common words, such as ‘ña’ (‘me’), ‘ñan’ (‘to’), ‘ñe,’ (‘when, if’) and ‘ñak’ (‘don’t know’) use it.  The good news is that we have the same sound in English: it is the ‘ng’ of ‘sing.’  (Although we spell it with two letters in English, it is really only one sound.)  What makes it hard for English speakers is that in English we only have this sound at the end of syllables, whereas in Marshallese it can appear at the beginning of syllables as well.  For instance, we have the word ‘sing’ in English, but we would never have the word ‘ngis.’  So the challenge is to learn to pronounce this English sound at the beginning of syllables, like in ‘ña’ or ‘ñan.’

First try pronouncing ‘ñ’ at the end of syllable, as in ‘jañ’ (‘cry’) or ‘elōñ’ (‘there are’).  Remember that this is just like the ‘ng’ in ‘sing.’  Once you are comfortable with this, try it in the middle of a word, such as ‘ṃōñā’ (‘eat’) or ‘iññā’ (‘yes’).  The first one should be pronounced like ‘mung-ay’ and the second like ‘ing-ay.’  Now get rid of the sounds before the ‘ñ’ and just say ‘ñe’ (‘if’) and ‘ña’ (‘me’).

If this doesn’t work, try repeating English ‘ing’ over and over into each ‘ing’ blends with the next one.  Now stop and hold the ‘ng’ sound for a while without saying the ‘i’ sound.  This is the ‘ñ’ of Marshallese, and if you just put a vowel after it, you have ‘ña’ or ‘ñe.’

If you still can’t get it, repeat English ‘ing’ over and over again and notice what your mouth is doing when you say the ‘ng.’  The back of your tongue is going up to the top of your mouth at the back.  It is blocking the air coming out of your throat, and letting the air only escape through your nose.  Consciously make your tongue do this in order to master the ‘ñ’ sound.

Here are some words to practice on:

ñan ‘to’ ṃōñā ‘eat’ jañin ‘not yet’ boñ ‘night’
ñe ‘if, when’ nañinmej ‘sick’ iññā ‘yes’ allōñ ‘month’
ñāāt ‘when?’ joñoul ‘ten’ maroñ ‘can’ jipañ ‘help’
ñak ‘don’t know’ roñoul ‘twenty’ jibboñ ‘morning’ aelōñ ‘atoll’

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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