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 about to go, you are about to go (Near future tense)

The last lesson introduced the future tense.  There is also another way to make the future tense, with a slightly different meaning.  Instead of adding ‘naaj’ (or ‘nāj’ or ‘nij’), add ‘itōn.’  This is usually used for the near future, and could be translated in English as ‘about to,’ ‘intend to,’ or ‘going to.’ Here is how this marker is combined with the subject pronouns:

i        +  itōn    = itōn            = I-NEAR FUTURE            
kwō  +  itōn    = kwōton      = you(singular)-NEAR FUTURE
e       +  itōn    = eitōn          = he,she,it-NEAR FUTURE      
je      +  itōn    = jeitōn         = we(inclusive)-NEAR FUTURE
kōm  +  itōn    = kōmitōn     = we(exclusive)-NEAR FUTURE
koṃ  +  itōn    = koṃitōn     = you(plural)-NEAR FUTURE      
re      + itōn     = reitōn         = they-NEAR FUTURE                 

This is usually used only with verbs.  For example:

Itōn iukkure       = I-NEAR FUTURE/play                      = I am going to play or I am about to play
Kwōton idaak    = you(singular)-NEAR FUTURE/drink = You are going to drink or You are about to drink
Eitōn eọñōd       = he,she,it-NEAR FUTURE/fish           = He, She, or It is going to fish  or He, She, or It is about to fish
Jeitōn jerbal       = we(inclusive)NEAR FUTURE/work = We are going to work or We are about to work
Kōmitōn ṃōñā   = we(exclusive)-NEAR FUTURE/eat     = We are going to eat or We are about to eat
Koṃitōn eọñōd  = you(plural)-NEAR FUTURE/fish        = You guys are going to fish or You guys are about to fish
Reitōn jerbal      = they-NEAR FUTURE/work                 = They are going to work or They are about to work

– You can also put ‘itōn’ after the past tense marker to get sentences like ‘I was going to leave’ or ‘You were about to eat.’  For instance:

Kwaar itōn ṃōñā  = you(singular)-PAST/NEAR FUTURE/eat = You were going to eat or You were about to eat
Raar itōn jerbal     = they-PAST/NEAR FUTURE/work = They were going to work or They were about to work


brother (from English) brother
sister (from English) sister
raan day
jibboñ morning Ex. Ejibboñ kiiō  = It is morning now
raelep noon, afternoon Ex. Eraelep kiiō = It is the afternoon now
jota evening, yesterday evening Ex. Ejota kiiō = It is the evening now
boñ night, last night Ex. Eboñ kiiō = It is night now
ṃōñā in jibboñ breakfast, eat breakfast
ṃōñā in raelep lunch, eat lunch
ṃōñā in jota dinner, eat dinner
ek fish (noun)

Language Tip


‘Or’ in English is usually translated into Marshallese is ‘ak.’  However, you should be careful when using it.  It only means ‘or’ when you are asking questions, such as ‘Kwaar jerbal ak iukkure’ (‘Did you work or did you play?’).  (You can also use ‘ke’ in place of ‘ak’ to mean the same thing.)  But if you are making a statement like ‘I will eat rice or breadfruit,’ meaning that one or the other is a possibility, use ‘ñe ej jab’ (‘if it’s not’) instead of ‘ak.’  For instance, say ‘Inaaj ṃōñā raij, ñe ej jab, mā.’ Also, if you are saying ‘or’ in the sense of ‘nor,’ as in ‘I don’t want to rest or sleep,’ then you should say ‘jab’ (‘not’) instead.  Otherwise it will come out sounding like ‘I don’t want to rest, but rather sleep.

[1] Remember from Lesson 5 that ‘re’ (‘they’) is sometimes ‘rō’ instead.  ‘Rōnaaj’ is an example of a word where this change happens.

Practical Marshallese

Published by Marco Mora-Huizar

I am a Spanish and Marshallese translator. Iaar katak Kajin Majol ilo Enid, Oklahoma.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply