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 not playing, you are not playing (Negatives)

So far you have learned how to say positive sentences (like ‘I am happy’ or ‘You go to school,’) but not negative sentences (like ‘I am not happy,’ ‘You don’t go to school’).

– To make a negative sentence add the word ‘jab,’ which means ‘not,’ ‘don’t,’ or ‘doesn’t.’ Although this word is always spelled ‘jab,’ it is usually pronounced ‘jeb.’  It goes right before the adjective, verb, or noun. For example:

Positive Sentence Meaning Negative Sentence Meaning
Iṃōṇōṇō I am happy Ijab ṃōṇōṇō I am not happy
Imeḷeḷe I understand Ijab meḷeḷe I don’t understand
Ekōṇaan He likes Ejab kōṇaan He doesn’t like
Kwōj rūkaki You are a teacher Kwōj jab rūkaki You are not a teacher
Raar iukkure They played Raar jab iukkure They didn’t play

There are a few exceptions to this:

1. If the sentence is of the type ‘ña rūkaki’ (‘I am a teacher’) or ‘kwe rijikuuḷ’ (‘You are a student’),  (that is, if it has an emphatic pronoun and then a noun), then you add ‘ej jab’ before the emphatic pronoun to make the negative.  You do not add ‘jab’ after the emphatic pronoun.  For instance:

Correct: Ej jab ña rūkaki       = Incorrect: Ña jab rūkaki it-PRES/not/me/teacher  = I am not a teacher
Correct: Ej jab kwe rijikuuḷ    = Incorrect: Kwe jab rijikuuḷ it-PRES/not/you/student  = You are not a student

2. In the future tense, you do not put ‘jab’ after the future marker ‘naaj’ to say ‘will not.’  Instead you replace the ‘naaj’ with ‘ban,’ which means ‘will not’ or ‘will not be’:

Positive sentence Meaning Negative sentence Meaning
inaaj I will iban I will not
kwōnaaj You (singular) will koban[3] You (singular) will not
enaaj He, She, or It will eban He, She, or It will not
jenaaj We(inclusive) will jeban We(inclusive) will not
kōminaaj We(exclusive) will kōm ban We(exclusive) will not
koṃinaaj You(plural) will koṃ ban You(plural) will not
rōnaaj They will rōban They will not


jipañ to help
aelōñ atoll, single island (not part of an atoll), country
baḷuun (from English ‘baloon’) airplane
aiboojoj beautiful (of things only, not people)
eṃ house, building
iien time, time of, time for, chance, chance for Ex. Iien jikuuḷ = Time for school
alwōj look at, watch
rainin today
ilju tomorrow, the future
inne yesterday

Language Tip

Nouns that can also be verbs

In Marshallese many nouns are also used as verbs.  For instance, ‘jikuuḷ’ means ‘school’ but also ‘go to school, attend class.’  Pay attention to both ways that the word can be used, and you will quickly increase the number of ideas that you can express.  If you want to know about more nouns that can be used as verbs, see Lesson 48.

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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