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 know, you know (Verbs that work like adjectives)

In the last lesson you learned that you can put adjectives after subject pronouns to get sentences like ‘I am thirsty,’ ‘you are hungry,’ etc.  You can also do the same thing to a few verbs, but not all verbs.  The most common of these special verbs are as follows:

Adjective-like Verbs

jeḷā  know, know how to
jaje don’t know, don’t know how to
ñak don’t know, don’t know how to
maroñ can, may, might
ban cannot, will not
meḷeḷe understand
kōṇaan like, want
dike hate
ṃakoko refuse, unwilling
meḷọkḷọk forget

– You can make sentences with these verbs (but not most other verbs) in exactly the same way as you use adjectives.  For instance:

i        + meḷeḷe   = imeḷeḷe         = I-understand                     = I understand
kwō  + jaje        = kwōjaje         = you(singular)-don’t know = You don’t know
e       + ñak       = eñak             = he,she,it-don’t know        = He, She, or It doesn’t know
je      + maroñ   = jemaroñ        = we(inclusive)-can           = We can
kōm  + ban        = kōm ban       = we(exclusive)/cannot        = We cannot
koṃ  + kōṇaan  = koṃ kōṇaan = you(plural)/like   = You guys like
re      + dike       = redike           = they-hate                     = They hate


etal go
itok (E: wātok) come
ṃōñā eat, food
idaak drink, take (as in swallow [a pill, etc.])
rūkaki teacher, minister, priest
rijikuuḷ student
Amedka America, the United States
ṃajeḷ The Marshall Islands, the Marshallese language
ripālle American person/people
riṃajeḷ Marshallese person/people

Language Tip

How to use the Marshallese-English Dictionary

The Marshallese-English Dictionary by Abo, Bender, Capelle, and deBrum is a very good additional resource for learning the language.  However, there are some things that are useful to know before using it:

– Make sure you find the right Marshallese word

When looking up an English word in the English-Marshallese section of the dictionary, you will often find several Marshallese words listed.  Usually only one of these words is in common use, or the words have very different meanings that only happen to translate to the same word in English.  For this reason, always look up all of the words back in the Marshallese-English part of the dictionary.  This way you can see other meanings of each word, example sentences, and so forth that will tell you which Marshallese word is the real equivalent of the English word that you looked up.

– Watch out for rare and archaic words

The dictionary marks some words as ‘archaic,’ meaning that they were used historically in the Marshall Islands but are now very uncommon.  Always look to see if a word is marked this way, and if it is, don’t try to use it in normal conversation.  The dictionary also lists many words that are very formal, specialized or uncommon for some other reason.  These are not marked as such, so it is best to ask someone who speaks Marshallese whether people actually use the word.

– Use a person rather than the dictionary when you can

For all the reasons listed above, it is better to ask a person who speaks both English and Marshallese how to say something than it is to look it up in the dictionary.  A person will give you only words that people actually use, and can give you examples.  If you know someone who grew up speaking both Marshallese and English, that is ideal.

In the next lesson there are more tips for using the dictionary.

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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