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 (again?) (The emphatic pronouns)

In previous lessons you learned about subject pronouns (which are like ‘I, you, he, she’ in English) and object pronouns (which are like ‘me, you, him, her’ in English).  Unfortunately, Marshallese has yet a third set of pronouns, which does not have a close equivalent in English.  These are called the ‘emphatic’ pronouns.  The good news is that most of them are identical to the object pronouns, so there are only a few new ones to memorize.  Here are the pronouns first, and then you will learn what they are used for:

Me ña
You (singular) kwe
Him, Her, or It e
Us (inclusive) kōj
Us (exclusive) kōm (in the Eastern dialect: kōmmem)
You (plural) koṃ (in the Eastern dialect: kōmi)
Them er

These pronouns are used in the following ways:

1. Outside of a sentence

If you are referring to someone outside of a sentence, you use the emphatic pronouns. For instance, in English if you say ‘Who wants ice cream?’ you would respond ‘Me!’ rather than ‘I!’  In Marshallese, you would respond ‘ña!’, not ‘i’ or ‘eō.’

2. After anything other than a verb

After a word like ‘to’ (‘ñan’), ‘from’ (‘jān’) ‘what about’ (‘ak’), ‘and’ (‘im’) and anything else other than a verb, use an emphatic pronoun.  For instance, say ‘ak kwe?’ (‘how about you?’) not ‘ak eok?’  Say ‘ñan kwe’ (‘to you’) not ‘ñan kwō.’

3. Before a subject pronoun, to add a little more emphasis

If the emphatic pronoun is different than the subject pronoun (ña, kwe, kōj, and er) than you can put it in front of the subject pronoun, no matter if it’s in the present, past, or future tense.  This adds a little emphasis but doesn’t change the meaning in any important way.  For instance:

ña iṃōṇōṇō                   is the same as         iṃōṇōṇō

ña ij iukkure                  is the same as         ij iukkure

kwe kwaar nañinmej     is the same as         kwaar nañinmej

kōj jenaaj eọñōd           is the same as         jenaaj eọñōd

er remaro                      is the same as        remaro

Adding the emphatic pronoun before the subject pronoun is always optional, but is very common with ‘ña,’ for instance in ‘ña iṃōṇōṇō’ or ‘ña ij iukkure.’

4.  Directly before a noun, to make a sentences like ‘I am a NOUN’

In Lesson 7 you learned that you can use the present tense to make sentences like ‘I am a teacher’ (‘ij rūkaki’) or ‘You are a student’ (‘kwōj rijikuuḷ’).  The emphatic pronouns provide another common way to say this kind of sentence.  Just put the emphatic pronoun directly before a noun, and you get sentences like ‘I am a teacher.’  For instance:

Ña rūkaki      = me/teacher                  = I am a teacher
Kwe riṃajeḷ   = you(singular)/Marshallese person    = You are a Marshallese person
Kōj rijikuuḷ     = us/student                     = We are students
Koṃ ripālle   = you(plural)/American = You are Americans
Er rūkaki       = them/teacher                = They are teachers


kain (from English) kind (in the sense of ‘type,’ not ‘nice’), kind of Ex. Juon kain ek = A kind of fish Ex. Aolep kain = All kinds/All kinds of things
āinwōt like (as in ‘it is like an apple’), similar to Ex. Pako rej āinwōt ek = Sharks are like fish
aolep iien always Ex. Aolep iien kwōj jikuuḷ = You always come to school
wiik (from English) week
allōñ month, moon
iiō (from English) year
lale look, look at, watch
letok give to me/us Ex. Letok juon ni = Give me a coconut
lewōj give to you
leḷọk give to him/her/it/them

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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