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.

Me, you, him, her (Object pronouns)

In English, we use different pronouns before verbs than after verbs.  For instance, you say ‘I like Alfred’ but you don’t say ‘Alfred likes I.’  Instead you say ‘Alfred likes me.’  The first kind of pronoun (‘I,’ ‘you,’ ‘he,’ ‘she,’ etc.) is called a ‘subject’ pronoun and the second kind (‘me,’ ‘you,’ ‘him,’ ‘her,’ etc.) is called an ‘object’ pronoun.  In Marshallese it works exactly the same way.  You already know the subject pronouns from Lesson 5.  This lesson introduces the object pronouns.  Here they are:

Object Pronouns

Me [1]
You (singular) eok[2]
Him, Her, or It e (after some verbs, it is i instead)
Us (inclusive) kōj
Us (exclusive) kōm (in the Eastern dialect: kōmmem)
You (plural) koṃ (in the Eastern dialect: kōmi)
Them er (when referring to humans) i (when referring to non-humans)

Some things to notice:

1.  Like in the subject pronouns, you have to distinguish between ‘you’ referring to one person (singular) and ‘you’ referring to more than one person (plural), and also between ‘us’ including the person you are talking to (inclusive) and ‘us’ not including the person you are talking to (exclusive).

2.  Unlike with the subject pronouns, you have to distinguish between ‘them’ when referring to human beings and ‘them’ when not referring to human beings.  For instance, if you say ‘I brought them’ referring to some children, you would say ‘Iaar bōktok er,’ but if you are referring to some fish, you would say ‘Iaar bōktoki.’

3.  You may be puzzled by the fact that ‘him/her/it’ can be both ‘e’ and ‘i.’  For now, don’t worry about why this is, or what the correct form is after different verbs.  Just use ‘e’ always for ‘him/her/it.’  As you listen to the language more you will start to notice when ‘e’ and ‘i’ are used.  If you want to know now, you can look ahead at Lessons 88-89.  Also, if you notice that verbs seem to change forms sometimes, you can look at the same lessons to find out why.  Otherwise, don’t worry about these fine points for the time being.

– Here are some examples of how to use the object pronouns:

Ij iọkwe eok          = (not Ij iọkwe kwō) I(subject)-PRES/love/you(object) = I love you
Kwōj iọkwe eō      = (not Kwōj iọkwe i) you(subject)-PRES/love/me(object) = You love me
Raar kōṃṃane    = they(subject)-PAST/do-it(object) = They did it
Redike kōj            = (not Redike je) they(subject)-hate/us(object) = They hate us


kajin language, language of, dialect, dialect of
kajin pālle or pālle or Iñlij English language
kajin ṃajeḷ or ṃajeḷ Marshallese language
katak or ekkatak learn, study
katakin teach
tutu wet, get wet, take a shower, take a bath
tutu iar go swimming in the lagood, take a bath in the lagoon
tutu lik go swimming on the ocean side of an island, take a bath on the ocean side of an island
ṃōttan jidik soon, in a little bit
raij (from English) rice

Language Tip

What then? Where then?  Who then?

The word ‘ak’ can mean ‘but,’ ‘or,’ and ‘what about.’  However it also has one other extremely useful and common meaning.  This other meaning is used after someone says a negative statement like ‘I didn’t cook today.’  Then you can say ‘ak?’  to mean ‘so what did you do? ‘given that you didn’t cook today, what did you do today?’  In the same way, if you say ‘I’m not going to my house,’ and the person responds ‘ak?’, that means ‘where then?’ ‘where are you going?’ ‘given that you’re not going to your house, where are you going?’

Pronunciation Practice

When ‘i’ sounds like ‘y’

You may have noticed that Marshallese ‘i’ is sometimes pronounced like the English ‘i’ in ‘bit’ but is also sometimes like English ‘y’ in ‘yes.’  Marshallese ‘i’ sounds like English ‘y’ when it is between two vowels, or when it is before a vowel and at the beginning of the word.  Here are some common words where ‘i’ is pronounced like English ‘y’:

iaar ‘I-PAST’ ioon ‘on’ ioḷap ‘middle’
iar ‘lagoon’ iu ‘coconut seedling’ iien ‘time’
iaraj ‘taro’ iukkure ‘play’ iiep ‘basket’
ial ‘road’ iọkwe ‘love’ iioon ‘meet’

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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