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.

With me, with you

– The word in Marshallese for ‘with’ is ‘ippān.’  However, it changes when you say ‘with me,’ ‘with you,’ etc.:


ippa with me
ippaṃ with you (singular)
ippān with him or with her or with it
ippān Dan with Dan
ippān Greg im Brian with Greg and Brian
ippād with us (inclusive)
ippām with us (exclusive)
ippāmi with you (plural)
ippāer with them

(You might notice that these words bare a resemblance to ‘my,’ ‘your,’ etc. in the last lesson.  This is not a coincidence.  If you want to know why see Lessons 66-71).

– If you want to say ‘with’ in the sense of ‘using,’ like in the sentence ‘I hit the nail with the hammer’ (as opposed to the sense of ‘accompanied by,’ like in the sentence ‘I went to the lagoon with you’), then use ‘kōn’ for ‘with’ andkake’ for ‘with it.’  For example:

Iaar jeje kōn pinjeḷ eo   = (not Iaar jeje ippān pinjeḷ eo) I-PAST/write/with/pencil/the = I wrote with the pencil
Iaar jeje kake                = (not Iaar jeje ippān) I-PAST/write/with it              = I wrote with it


ṃōkaj or eṃṃōkaj (E: ṃōkaj or ṃōṃkaj) fast, on time, early  
ṃōkaj ñan iien on time, on time to ___ Ex. Ṃōkaj ñan iien jikuuḷ = On time to school
nuknuk clothes
ruuṃ (from English) room, space
peen (from English) pen
pen hard (in both the physical sense and the sense of ‘difficult’)
pidodo easy, soft
pilawā (from English) flour, bread
pinjeḷ (from English) pencil
teeñki flashlight
wūnto (from English) window

Pronunciation Practice

The two ō’s

The letter ‘ō’ in Marshallese actually stands for two different sounds.  To hear the difference between these sounds, have a Marshallese person say these two words:

wōn ‘turtle’ wōn ‘who?’

Notice that the first ‘ō’ sounds close to the ‘oo’ in ‘book,’ but the second ‘ō’ sounds like the ‘u’ in ‘buck.’  In the Marshallese-English Dictionary, the first sound is indicated in the phonetic transcription of a word by an ‘e’ with a hook under it, and the second sound is indicated by an ‘e’ with no hook.  Here are some common words with ‘ō’ sorted by which sound it stands for:

Book   Buck   Book   Buck  
wōn ‘turtle’ wōn ‘who’ ṃōḷo ‘cold’ kiiō ‘now’
wōt ‘rain’ wōt ‘only’ kōto ‘wind’ kōṇaan ‘want’
ṃōj ‘finished’ elōñ ‘there is’ aebōj ‘water’ bōk ‘take’
bōd ‘wrong’ ewōr ‘there is’     ṃōṇōṇō ‘happy’
kōn ‘about’ ṃōñā ‘eat’     eọñōd ‘to fish’
kōnke ‘because’ kōṃṃan ‘do’     ḷōmṇak ‘think’
kwōle ‘hungry’ kōrā ‘woman’        

Practical Marshallese

Published by Marco Mora-Huizar

I am a Spanish and Marshallese translator. Iaar katak Kajin Majol ilo Enid, Oklahoma.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply