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 happy, you are happy (Subject pronouns)
In Marshallese there is a set of pronouns that is very much like ‘I,’ ‘you,’ ‘he,’ ‘she,’ ‘it,’ ‘we,’ and ‘they’ in English. These are called the ‘subject pronouns.’ In this lesson and future ones, you will learn how to use these words to make many kinds of sentences. Here they are:
|kwō or ko||You (when talking to one person only)|
|e||He, She, or It|
|je||We (including the person being spoken to)|
|kōm||We (not including the person being spoken to)|
|koṃ||You (when talking to more than one person)|
|re or rō||They|
As you look at the chart you will notice some important differences from English:
1. Marshallese makes no distinction between ‘he’, ‘she,’ and ‘it’; ‘e’ can mean any of these.
2. Marshallese makes a distinction between ‘you’ referring to only one person (kwō or ko) and ‘you’ referring to more than one person (koṃ). In English, ‘you’ can be used for any number of people, but in Marshallese you must always make the distinction between you-singular and you-plural.
3. Marshallese makes a distinction between ‘we’ when it includes the person being spoken to (je) and ‘we’ when it does not include the person being spoken to (kōm). The former is called ‘inclusive we’ and the latter is called ‘exclusive we.’ For instance, if you say ‘You and I are going to the lagoon,’ you would use ‘je,’ but if you ‘My friend and I are going to the lagoon,’ you would use ‘kōm’.
4. Two of the pronouns (‘you-singular’ and ‘they’) have two different forms. The form that is used depends on what sounds are in the word that follows. Don’t worry about knowing which form to use. For now, just use the first form (‘kwō’ for ‘you-singular’ and ‘re’ for ‘they’) but be aware that they can sometimes be a bit different.
– You can use the subject pronouns to make sentences like ‘I am happy,’ ‘you are sad,’ etc. To make a sentence like this, just put the pronoun before any adjective. For instance:
|i + maro =||imaro =||I-thirsty||= I am thirsty|
|kwō + maro =||kwōmaro =||you(singular)-thirsty||= You are thirsty|
|e + maro =||emaro =||he,she,it-thirsty||= He, She, or It is thirsty|
|je + maro =||jemaro =||we(inclusive)-thirsty||= We are thirsty|
|kōm + maro=||kōm maro =||we(exclusive)/thirsty||= We are thirsty|
|koṃ + maro =||koṃ maro =||you(plural)/thirsty||= You guys are thirsty|
|re + maro =||remaro =||they-thirsty||= They are thirst|
(Notice that you don’t need any word for ‘am’, ‘is’, or ‘are’!)
– If the subject of the sentence is something other than a pronoun (for instance, a sentence like ‘Nick is thirsty’ or ‘Brad and Kenzie are thirsty’), just use ‘e’ if the subject is singular and ‘re’ if it is plural. For example:
|Nick emaro =||Nick/he,she,it-thirsty||= Nick is thirsty|
|Brad im Kenzie remaro =||Brad/and/Kenzie/they-thirsty||= Brad and Kenzie are thirsty|
– If the subject is not a pronoun and is singular, like in ‘Nick is thirsty’, you can also put the subject after the adjective instead of before:
|Emaro Nick = |
Nick emaro =
|= Nick is thirsty|
|jeḷā||know, know how to, find out|
Ex. Ijeḷā = I know Ex. Ijab lukkuun jeḷā = I don’t really know/I’m not sure
|not know, not know how to|
|kōṇaan||want, like, do often|
|maroñ||can, may, might, possible|
|ban||cannot, will not, impossible|
|meḷeḷe||understand, disentangled, meaning, information|
Ex. Meḷeḷe in ‘ḷaddik’, ‘boy’ = ‘Ḷaddik’ means ‘boy’
Ex. Ta meḷeḷe in ‘laddik’? = What does ‘ḷaddik’ mean?
|ṃakoko (in)||unwilling (to), refuse (to), really not want (to)|
Getting people’s attention
To get someone’s attention in English we say ‘Hey Joe!’ or ‘Hey Stephanie!’. To do the same in Marshallese you put an ‘e’ or ‘a’ at the end of the name, for instance ‘Joe e!’ or ‘Joe a’. The proper response when someone says this to you is ‘e!’ If the person is far away, then put ‘o’ instead of ‘e’ at the end of their name, and respond ‘o!’
Person getting Patrick’s attention: Patrick e!
Patrick’s response: E!
Person getting Patrick’s attention, far away: Patrick o!
Patrick’s response: O!
- Glossary of Useful Words from Practical Marshallese
- Lesson 1: The letters and sounds of Marshallese
- Lesson 2: Beginning Marshallese Phrases
- Lesson 3: Numbers, time, age, and price
- Lesson 4: Marshallese Words from English
- Lesson 5: Marshallese Subject Pronouns
- Lesson 6: Verbs that work like adjectives
- Lesson 7: The present tense
- Lesson 8: The Past Tense
- Lesson 9: The future tense
- Lesson 10: Near future tense
- Lesson 11: Location
- Lesson 12: Object pronouns
- Lesson 13: The emphatic pronouns
- Lesson 14: Negatives
- Lesson 15: Wrapping up pronouns and tenses
- Lesson 16: Yes/No questions
- Lesson 17: Do you know?, Yes I know, No I don’t know
- Lesson 18: Can you?, Yes I can, No I can’t
- Lesson 19: Wh-questions
- Lesson 20: More about wh-questions
- Lesson 21: Definite and Indefinite Articles, and Plurals
- Lesson 22: Possessives
- Lesson 23: House of, time of, place of
- Lesson 24: With
- Lesson 25: I like, I don’t like
- Lesson 26: There is, there are, there are many
- Lesson 27: I have, you have, I don’t have, you don’t have
- Lesson 28: I have a pencil with me
- Lesson 29: I have one, I have two, I have many
- Lesson 30: Do you have?
- Lesson 31: Not yet and never
- Lesson 32: Perfect Past
- Lesson 33: Negative Perfect Past
- Lesson 34: Perfect Past Questions
- Lesson 35: Adverbs
- Lesson 36: Comparatives in Marshallese
- Lesson 37: After, before
- Lesson 38: More about questions
- Lesson 39: Which fish, what kind of fish, you and who else?
- Lesson 40: Conditionals in Marshallese
- Lesson 41: Directionals
- Practical Marshallese