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 will run, you will run (The future tense)

The last two lessons introduced two markers that can be added to the subject pronouns in order to make the present tense (‘j’) and the past tense (‘ar’ or ‘kar’).  This lesson introduces the marker for the future tense.  This marker is usually written as ‘naaj,’ but much more often pronounced ‘nāj’ or ‘nij.’  In this book it will be written as ‘naaj’ since this is the normal spelling, but bear in mind that it is usually pronounced differently.  Here are the subject pronouns in the future tense:

i        +  naaj    = inaaj           = I-FUTURE TENSE            
kwō  +  naaj    = kwōnaaj     = you(singular)-FUTURE TENSE
e       +  naaj    = enaaj          = he,she,it-FUTURE TENSE        
je      +  naaj    = jenaaj         = we(inclusive)-FUTURE TENSE  
kōm  +  naaj    = kōminaaj    = we(exclusive)-FUTURE TENSE
koṃ  +  naaj    = koṃinaaj    = you(plural)-FUTURE TENSE      
re      + naaj     = rōnaaj[1]       = they-FUTURE TENSE                 

As with the past tense, after these pronouns in the future tense you can put any adjective, verb, or noun.  For example:

Inaaj būroṃōj        = I-FUTURE/sad                          = I will be sad or I am going to be sad
Kwōnaaj ṃōñā      = you(singular)-FUTURE/eat      = You will eat or You are going to eat or You will be eating
Enaaj rijikuuḷ          = he,she,it-FUTURE/student       = He, She, or It will be a student or He, She, or It is going to be a student
Jenaaj kwōle          = we(inclusive)FUTURE/hungry = We will be hungry or We are going to be hungry
Kōminaaj iukkure   = we(exclusive)-FUTURE/play   = We will play or We are going to play or We will be playing
Koṃinaaj rūkaki      = you(plural)-FUTURE/teacher   = You guys will be teachers or You guys are going to be teachers
Rōnaaj ṃōṇōṇō      = they-FUTURE/happy                = They will be happy or They are going to be happy

Note the following:

1. Just as Marshallese makes no distinction between ‘I eat’ vs. ‘I am eating,’ it also makes no distinction between ‘I will eat’ vs. ‘I am going to eat’ vs. ‘I will be eating.’  Use the future tense ‘naaj’ for all of these.

2. Just like with ‘am,’ ‘is,’ ‘are,’ ‘was,’ and ‘were,’ you do not need to add any extra word for ‘be.’  For instance ‘inaaj ṃōñā’ means ‘I will eat’ and ‘inaaj ṃōṇōṇō’ means ‘I will be happy.’  In Marshallese you simply say ‘I will happy’ to mean ‘I will be happy’ or ‘I will teacher’ to mean ‘I will be a teacher.’

3. As you can see from this lesson and the lessons on the present and past tenses, verbs in Marshallese do not conjugate.  There is nothing in Marshallese equivalent to the –ing or –ed endings in English, or the conjugations in Spanish or French.  The verbs stay the same for past, present, and future.  The only thing that changes is the pronouns when you add the past, present, or future marker.  In a sense, what you are doing is conjugating the pronouns instead of the verbs.

– As in the present and past tense, if you have a subject that is not a pronoun (for example ‘Stevenson is going to play’ or ‘Jela and Jose will be sad’) then you use ‘enaaj’ if the subject is singular and ‘rōnaaj’ if it is plural:

Stevenson enaaj iukkure  = Stevenson/he,she,it-FUTURE/play                = Stevenson is going to play
Jela im Jose                     = rōnaaj būroṃōj Jela/and/Jose/they-FUTURE/sad    = Jela and Jose will be sad


jerbal work (in both the sense of ‘do work’ and ‘function’), job Ex. Ij jerbal = I am working Ex. Ej jab jerbal = It doesn’t work
eọñōd to fish, to go fishing
ṃaṃa (from English) mom, mother
baba (from English) dad, father
jokwe to live (as in, to live in a certain place) Ex. Ij jokwe ilo Ujae  = I live on Ujae
mour to live (as in, to be alive), life, alive, cured Ex. Emour  = It is alive
kōrā woman
eṃṃaan (E: ṃōṃaan) man
leddik girl
ḷaddik boy
ajri child, kid, toddler

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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