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Naʼvi verbs are conjugated for tense but not for person. That is, they record distinctions like "I am, I was, I would", but not like "I am, we are, s/he is". Conjugation relies exclusively on infixes, which are like suffixes but go inside the verb. "Hunt", for example, is táron, but "hunted" is toláron, with the infix ‹ol›.[note 1]


There are two positions for infixes: between the consonant and vowel of the first syllable, and between the consonant and vowel of the final syllable.[note 2] For example, the phonetically simple verb káme "see into, understand", and the more complicated steftxaw "examine", take the first and second position infixes ‹ol› and ‹uy› as follows:[note 3]

Root position 1 position 2 positions 1 and 2
Form káme koláme kámuye kolámuye
Parsed k‹ol›ame kam‹uy›e k‹ol›am‹uy›e
Form steftxáw stoleftxáw steftxuyáw stoleftxuyáw
Parsed st‹ol›eftxaw steftx‹uy›aw st‹ol›eftx‹uy›aw

Note that the infix comes directly before the vowel, and so after any consonant cluster like the st and ftx in ste-ftxaw. The infix also occurs before whatever functions as the vowel, including ll and rr. For example, the ‹ol› inflection of fŕrfen "visit" is folŕrfen.

In monosyllabic words like lu "be", si "do", new "want", and tspang "kill", however, all infixes appear in that one syllable, retaining their relative order:

Root position 1 position 2 positions 1 and 2
Form néw noléw nuyéw noluyéw
Parsed n‹ol›ew n‹uy›ew n‹ol›‹uy›ew
Form tspáng tspoláng tspuyáng tspoluyáng
Parsed tsp‹ol›ang tsp‹uy›ang tsp‹ol›‹uy›ang

Moreover, when the vowel of the infix matches the vowel of such a verb, it may look like a suffix: luyu "be" (l‹uy›u, not *lu-yu), sivi "do" (s‹iv›i, not *si-vi). This is clearer in speech than in writing, because the stress stays on the root vowel: luyú (not *lúyu), siví (not *sívi). Similarly when a penultimate syllable mirrors an infix: lónu "release", lolónu "released" (l‹ol›onu, not *lo-lonu).

If there is no initial consonant, the infix still comes before the vowel:

Tsampongut Tsuʼteyl iveyk.
tsam-pongu-t Tsuʼtey-l ‹iv›eyk
war-party-acc (name)-erg lead‹sjv[note 4]
"Tsuʼtey will lead the war party."

In first position more than one infix may occur. When both convey temporal information, they fuse together (see below); however, when one infix has a more concrete function, such as a reflexive (acting on oneself), then it precedes the temporal infix(es). Adding such a "pre-first" infix ‹us› to the words above, and filling all three slots, we get:

Root káme steftxáw néw tspáng éyk
Form kusolámuye stusoleftxuyáw nusoluyéw tspusoluyáng usoluyéyk
Parsed k‹us›‹ol›am‹uy›e st‹us›‹ol›eftx‹uy›aw n‹us›‹ol›‹uy›ew tsp‹us›‹ol›‹uy›ang ‹us›‹ol›‹uy›eyk

However, it is rare to encounter forms this complex.

Pre-first position: Valency[edit]

The "pre-first" infix position is taken by infixes for non-temporal distinctions such as valence (changing the number of arguments of the verb).

Active participle (actv) us
Passive participle (pass) awn
Reflexive (refl) äp
Causative (caus) eyk

The participles are active, as in ikran atusaron "a hunting banshee" and ioang apuslltxe "a talking animal", and passive, as in yerik atawnaron "a hunted hexapede" and aylìʼu apawnlltxe "spoken words", from taron "hunt" and plltxe "speak".[note 5]

The active participial infix us is found in forms such as kérusey "dead", from ke "not" and rey "live" (that is, "not-living"), and txántslusam "wise", from txan "much" and tslam "understand" (that is, "much-understanding"). The passive awn is found in nìawnomum "as is known", from omun "know" and the adverbial prefix nì-. Like their English translations in -ing and -en, Naʼvi participles have characteristics of both verb and adjective, and may modify a noun: ruséya túte "a living person", túte atslusám "an understanding person".[note 6]

Hetuwongìl awngeyä swotut skaʼa, fte kllkivulat keruseya tskxet.
ay+ke-tute-wong-ìl awnga+yä swotu-it skaʼa fte kllte+k‹iv›ulat ke-r‹us›ey-a tskxe-it
pl+not-person-alien-erg we.incl+gen destroy so.that earth+dig‹sjv not-live‹actv›-attr rock-acc
"The aliens destroy our sacred place to dig up dead rock."

Naʼvi participles only work as adjectives, not as nouns. That is, rusey translates "living" in "the living earth", but not in "the living is good here". For this latter nominal (noun) meaning, add the nominalizing prefix tì-:

Korén aʼáwve tìruséyä ʼawsiténg
"The first rule of living together" (the Golden Rule)
koren a-ʼawve tì-r‹us›ey+yä ʼawsiteng
rule attr-first nomz-live‹actv›+gen together

Tìrusey "living" is distinct from tìrey "life", as in mì sìrey "in (my) life". While the existence and exact meaning of tì- derivatives is unpredictable, tì- ‹us› gerunds are regular, and may be used with any verb.

Likewise, the participle is not used for adverbs. Whereas in English one may say "she ran away laughing", in Naʼvi that would be "she ran away while (she was) laughing", with tengkrr "while" and the imperfective h‹er›angham for "(she was) laughing".

A reflexive indicates that the subject performs the action on his or her self. For example, oe yur is "I wash (something)", and oel yur kìʼongit is "I wash the (sp.) fruit", whereas "I wash myself" is reflexive óe yäpúr (y‹äp›ur), not transitive *oel yur oeti. Win is "fast", win si is to make fast (that is, to rush or hurry something), and win säpi is to make oneself fast (that is, to rush or hurry along).

A causative makes an intransitive verb transitive. For example, latem means "change" in the sense that 'something changes'; but to actively change something is leykatem. "To begin" is similar:

Sngoläʼi (sng‹ol›äʼi) tìkangkem "the work began"
Oel sngeykoläʼi (sng‹eyk›‹ol›äʼi) tìkangkemit "I began the work"

In some cases, the causative requires a different English translation, such as sleyku "produce" from slu "become".

However, there are other strategies for while "feed" is a causative translation of yom "eat", if the meaning of feeding is providing food, the Naʼvi word is not yeykom "make eat" but yomtìng "give (tìng) "eat".

The use of the causative depends on the meaning and transitivity of the verb; see the section on transitivity for details.

First position: Tense, aspect, and mood[edit]

Following these, but still in the penultimate syllable, are infixes for tense, aspect, and mood. With one exception (the subjunctive after a modal verb, see below), these are optional. That is, they are used to clarify things such as tense, but tend to be dropped when they can be understood from context.

Naʼvi aspect
Perfective (pfv) ol
Imperfective (ipfv) er
Naʼvi tense
Future (fut) ay
Immediate future (imm) ìy
Present (pres) (unmarked)
Recent past (rec) ìm
Past (past) am
Naʼvi mood
Subjunctive (sjv) iv
Intentional (intent) s
Imperative (imp) (intonation)

These appear after the previous set of infixes. So with the future infix ‹ay›, "they will wash themselves" is fo yäpayúr (y‹äp›‹ay›ur).


Tense is the easiest of these concepts for an English speaker. However, whereas English has three tenses, past present and future,[note 7] Naʼvi has five, with the addition of a recent past ("just did") and an immediate future ("about to do"):

taron [hunt] "hunts"
t‹am›aron [hunt‹past›] "hunted"
t‹ìm›aron [hunt‹rec›] "just hunted"
t‹ìy›aron [hunt‹imm›] "is about to hunt"
t‹ay›aron [hunt‹fut›] "will hunt"

Naʼvi past and future are used for general statements about events in the past or future, as in English; they are not necessarily remote in time. There is no absolute timeframe involved; whether something is considered recent or immediate depends on the judgement of the speaker. An example of the immediate future ìy is nì-Ìnglìsì p‹ìy›lltxe oe "I'll speak in English now", at which point the speaker switches to English, or tìyetxaw oe "I'll be right back".

More than one tense may be used in a verb. For instance, the recent past and immediate future double up in,

Oel pot tspìmìyang.
Oe-l po-t tsp‹ìm›‹ìy›ang
I-erg s/he-acc kill‹rec›‹imm
"I was just about to kill him."


unmarked taron "hunts"
imperfective t‹er›aron "hunts, hunting"
perfective t‹ol›aron "hunts, hunted"

Aspect is a more difficult concept. There are two in Naʼvi, a perfective, used when one views the action as a simple event, as if one were on the outside of the action looking in; and an imperfective, used when one views the action as having some component structure or flow, as if one were inside with the action. This distinction is not easily found in English, but there are parallels. For instance, if I were to say, "I went to the bookstore," your response is likely to be something like, "so? what did you get?". This is because I presented the event as a simple whole—perfective—and the implication is that we've now moved on to the next thing that happened. However, if I were to say, "I was going to the bookstore," your response is more likely to be, "and? what happened on your way?". This is because I presented the event as open ended—imperfective—and the implication is that we are still dealing with what happened during that event, even though it's the same event in both cases.

Even closer are constructions based on verbs of perception, such as "I saw him sit for an hour", with "sit" in the perfective (he sat for an hour, and I witnessed the whole event), and "I saw him sitting for an hour", with "sit" in a kind of imperfective (he sat for some time, of which I witnessed an hour—an internal portion of the event). Or more vividly, if more violently, "I saw the accused stab the victim" (I saw the crime in its entirety; I'm presenting it as a point in time) and "I saw the accused stabbing the victim" (I saw a part of the action as I passed by). In Naʼvi, however, aspect may occur on the main verb, and may take place in the past, present, or future. An example of the Naʼvi perfective is tsl‹ol›am "got it" or "understood", from tslam "understand"—the (unmarked) tense is either present tense or irrelevant; the point being communicated is that the understanding is a complete event, a point in time.[note 8] An example of the imperfective is t‹er›ìran ayoe ayngane "we are walking your way"; here the action is in process, a current in time. Although the English translation suggests present tense, the Naʼvi could actually be past or future: "we were walking your way (past imperfective) when we (suddenly) got it (past perfective)".

Tense and aspect need not be marked when they have been established, or if they can be understood by context. For example, in

Oel hu Txewì trram naʼrìngit tarmok. Tsoleʼa ...
Oe-l hu Txewì trr-am naʼrìng-it t‹a‹r›m›ok. Ts‹ol›eʼa ...
I-erg with (name) day-past forest-acc occupy‹pastipfv›› see‹pfv
"Yesterday I was with Txewì in the forest, (and we) saw ...",

the first clause sets up the context of the past tense, so the verb 'saw' can be marked as simply perfective, not as past perfective. However, both may be made explicit, and in such cases aspect is combined with the tense infixes:

recent-past imperfective oe t‹ì‹r›m›aron "I was just hunting"
past imperfective oe t‹a‹r›m›aron "I was hunting"
recent-past perfective oe tsl‹ì‹l›m›am "I just got it"
immediate-future perfective oe tsl‹ì‹l›y›am "I'm about to get it"

As noted in the chapter on Phonology, verbs with syllabic consonants may be irregular when inflected for aspect. If the aspectual infix ends in the analogous simple consonant (ol for ll or er for rr), and the syllable is not stressed, then the illegal sequence *lll or *rrr reduces to a simple l or r, as in plltxé "speak", pefective *p‹ol›lltxepoltxé. However, if the syllable is stressed, then the infix, which cannot be stressed, drops out, resulting in a homonym with the uninflected form, as in fŕrfen "visit", imperfective *f‹er›rrfenfŕrfen.


There are four moods in Naʼvi: an unmarked mood (the indicative) used when making an ordinary assertion, an imperative mood used for making commands, a subjunctive used when one is stating something that is not certain, and an intentional to show that an action is purposeful. The imperative, as in English, has no affix: Kä! "go!" The subjunctive is little used in English, but is found in a few set expressions such as "if I were you" (not *am you), "God bless you" (not *blesses), "I move that the meeting be adjourned" (not *is adjourned), etc. The Naʼvi subjunctive is formed with the infix iv, but is much more common than in English, used whenever one wishes, fears, or suspects that something might or must be so, but cannot say that it is so. It is found for example in

Oeri tìngayìl txeʼlanit tivakuk
oe-ri tì-ngay-ìl txeʼlan-it t‹iv›akuk
I-top nomz-true-erg heart-acc strike‹sjv
"Let the truth strike my heart," literally "that the truth strike my heart."

It is equivalent to the infinitive in English to show that something is done for a purpose, as in

Sawtute zeraʼu fte fol Kelutralti skivaʼa
ay+taw-tute z‹er›aʼu fte ay+po-ìl kelku-utral-ti sk‹iv›aʼa
pl+sky-person come‹ipfv so.that pl+s/he-erg home-tree-acc destroy‹sjv
"The humans are coming to destroy Hometree"

The subjunctive is obligatory after modal verbs of obligation, ability, or desire, such as zene "must", tsun "can", and new "want". (See section Modal verbs below.) This is the only time that a tense, aspect, or mood marker is grammatically required. For example, in

Trram kä naʼrìngur fte tsun tivaron yerikit.
trram naʼrìng-ur fte tsun t‹iv›aron yerik-it.
day-past go forest-dat so.that hunt‹sjv hexapede-acc
"Yesterday (we) went to the forest so we could hunt a hexapede",

the past tense on kamä "went" and subjunctive on tsivun "be able" have been omitted, but the subjunctive on tivaron cannot be.

There is some overlap between the Naʼvi subjunctive and the English conditional mood, in that the if-clause may take the subjunctive:

Pxan livu txo nìʼaw oe ngari, tsakrr nga Naʼviru yomtìyìng
pxan l‹iv›u txo nì-ʼaw oe nga-ìri tsa-krr nga naʼvi-uru yom-t‹ìy›ìng
worthy be‹sjv if adv-one I you-top that-time you people-dat eat-give‹imm
"Only if I be worth of you, will you then feed the people."

The subjunctive is also used as an optative to request that someone do or be allowed to do something, by expressing one's wish that they do it, as in,

Tivìran po ayoekip
t‹iv›ìran po ay-oe-kip
walk‹sjv s/he pl-I-among
"Let her walk among us[excl],"

and it is used to give permission, for instance in responding with p‹iv›lltxe "speak!" ("may you speak!") when someone announces they have something to say, or sp‹iv›aw oeti rutxe "please believe me". This is similar to the imperative.

There is no infix for a true imperative:

Kä! Kä! "Go! Go!"
Pot lonu! "Release him!"
Ikranti makto. ʼEko taʼem "Take the banshee. Attack from above."

The pronoun may be stated overtly:

ʼAwpot set ftxey ayngal
ʼawpo-t set ftxey ay-nga-l
one-acc now choose pl-you-erg
"Now you choose one"

Negative imperatives (prohibitives) are conveyed with räʼä "don't!":[note 9]

Txopu räʼä si! "Don't be afraid!"[note 10]
Tsakem räʼä si! "Don't do that!"

Instead of the bare root of the imperative, the subjunctive may be used in its optative role to make what was historically a request or polite command, though the distinction is no longer maintained:[note 11]

Aynga neto rivikx!
ay-nga ne-to r‹iv›ikx
pl-you to-away move‹sjv
"(May you all) step back!"

Similarly with the prohibitive:

Neto räʼä kivä "Don't go away!"

The intentional mood is used for planned actions, contrasting with the (indicative) for things that one has no control over. It is only attested in the future tenses.


Other reported temporal and aspectual forms include tovaron, tevaron, telaron, tairon. Their meaning is not known, and tairon at least would appear to be spurious, as the infix does not occur in its normal position.

Two of the infixes are known elsewhere: they are suffixes in trram "yesterday" and trray "tomorrow", from trr "day", and in txonam "last night" and txonay "tomorrow night" from txon "night".

Fused T.A.M. infixes[edit]

When tense, aspect, and mood infixes occur together, they fuse: The consonant of the aspect infixes within the tense, as recent past-imperfective ‹ìrm› in tìrmaron "(I) was just hunting", from ‹ì‹er›m›; or the consonant of the tense or aspect infixes within the subjunctive mood:

Aspect×tense in the indicative
ind pfv ipfv
fut ay aly ary
imm ìy ìly ìry
ol er
rec ìm ìlm ìrm
past am alm arm
Aspect and tense in the subjunctive
sjv pfv ipfv
fut iyev*
iv ilv irv
past imv
Intentional mood
intent pfv ipfv sjv
fut asy
imm ìsy
? ?osl ?esr ?
rec ?ìsm
past ?asm

The expected future subjunctive *iyv, however, is a problem, as *iy is not a possible syllable coda in Naʼvi. This is solved by inserting an epenthetic vowel e: ‹iyev›; moreover, in the common expression kìyevame "see (you) soon", there is a degree of vowel assimilation, and both ‹iyev› and ‹ìyev› are acceptable forms of this inflection. Note that because the vowel distinctions of the future and past tenses are lost, there are only three tenses rather than five in the subjunctive mood. Three-way combinations of tense, aspect, and mood (the dashes in the right-hand table) do not occur.

Although the intentional mood is only attested in the future, it is possible that it may be used for the past or present, perfective or imperfective, or even in the subjunctive, though this would require an epenthetic vowel the way the future subjunctive does, or a compound as in compound tense.

Ayngati hasyawnu ayoel
ay-nga-ti h‹asy›awnu ay-oe-ìl
pl-you-acc protect‹fut.intent pl-I-erg
"We will protect you."

With the negative, it indicates an intention that something not happen:

Tafral ke lìsyek oel ngeyä keyeʼungit.
ta-fì-ral ke l‹ìsy›ek oe-ìl nga-yä ke-yeʼung-it
from-this-reason not obey‹imm.intent I-erg you-gen in-sanity-acc
"Therefore I will not heed your insanity."

The intention is that of the speaker, regardless of the subject of the verb:

Nga kasyä
nga k‹asy›ä
you go‹fut.intent
"You shall go."
Ke zasyup lìʼOna ne kxutu a mìfa fu a wrrpa.
ke z‹asy›up lìʼOna ne kxutu a mì+pa fu a wrr-pa
not fall‹fut.intent (name) to enemy sbrd in+side or sbrd out-side
"The lʼOna will not perish to the enemy within nor to the enemy without."

Second position: Affect[edit]

The second (final) infix position is taken by infixes for affect: Speaker attitude, whether positive or negative; formality; and evidentiality to mark for uncertainty or indirect knowledge.

Naʼvi affect
Positive attitude (approb) ei
Negative attitude (pej) äng (äg)
Formal ceremonial (form) uy
Evidential (evid) ats (ac)

For example, in the greeting in the section on nouns, Oel ngati kameie "I See you", the verb kame "See" is inflected positively as kam‹ei›e to indicate the pleasure the speaker feels in the meeting. In the subsequent sentence, Oeri ontu teya längu "My nose is full [of his smell]", however, the phrase teya lu "is full" is inflected negatively as teya l‹äng›u to indicate the speaker's distaste at the experience. The affect can also be more indirect, as in,

Ngaytxoa, fìpänuti oeyä tswolängaʼ oel.
"Sorry, I forgot this promise of mine."
ngay-txoa fì-pänu-ti oe-yä tsw‹ol›‹äng›aʼ oe-ìl
true-forgiveness this-promise-acc I-gen forget‹pfv›‹pej I-erg

The formal infix, which is used in ceremonial contexts, goes with the formal pronouns, though the reverse does not always hold: Ngenga ... l‹uy›u set "You are now ...".

Only one affect inflection may be used per verb, so the choice depends on the speaker's priorities. For example, once formality is established, the ceremonial infix can be dropped, clearing the way for other affectual inflections even if the formal pronouns continue to be used.

Although only one affect infix may appear, they may co-occur with first- or second-position infixes in the penultimate syllable:

oe t‹ìrm›ar‹ei›on [hunt‹rec.ipfv›‹approb›] "I was just hunting": The speaker is happy about the experience, whether due to success or just the pleasure of the hunt.
po t‹ay›ar‹äng›on [hunt‹fut›‹pej›] "he will hunt": The speaker is anxious about or annoyed by the prospect.

The evidential indicates uncertainty or indirect knowledge, as in,

Fpìrmìl oel futa aynga natsew tsiveʼa fìʼut.
"I was just thinking that you might want to see this."
fp‹ìrm›ìl oe-ìl fìʼu-it-a ay-nga n‹ats›ew ts‹iv›eʼa fìʼu-it
think‹recipfv I-erg this-acc-sbrd pl-you want‹evid see‹sjv this-acc

To reinforce the uncertainty, kxawm "perhaps" may be added.

Special verbs[edit]

A few verbs have grammatical in addition to lexical uses.

Be, have, and copulas[edit]

The verb lu is a copula, meaning that it links two concepts together (like an equal sign), as in

fo lu kxanì "they are forbidden (here)",

where it links a noun phrase and adjective;

Naʼviyä, l‹uy›u hapxì "(you) are‹formAL› part of the People",

where it links two noun phrases ("you" being understood); and

tsahìk-u txele lu "the matter is for the Tsahìk".

It is the copula lu that makes a predicate out of an adjective:

kilvan angim "a long river",
kilvan ngim lu "the river is long".

Other verbs with this behavior include the copulas slu "become" and lam "seem".

Lu also functions as a verb of existence, equivalent to "there is" or "there are":

aungia l‹ol›u
"there was a sign"
ke fparmìl oel futa lu tute a tsun ...
"I didn't think there was anyone who could ...".

When used with—and generally preceding—a noun in the dative, it has the more specialized sense of "have", as in

Lu oeru ikran
"I have a banshee" (lit. "there is a banshee to me").

When used with a locative adposition, it shows existence in a place:

Paʼli lu uo utral.
"The horse is behind a tree; there is a horse behind the tree."
ʼAngtsìk lu lok ʼawkx.
"The hammerhead is close to the cliff."

However, there is a separate idiom for being within a location: the transitive verb tok "to occupy, to be in a place", as above in

Oel hu Txewì trram naʼrìngit t‹arm›ok
"Yesterday I was with Txewì in the forest",

where the location takes the accusative case rather than an adposition.


Naʼvi has a basic verb si which means "do" or "make". Besides its basic use, as in kempe si nga? "what are you doing?", it is used in numerous expressions, and is the primary way of turning a noun into a verb:

tsam "war" tsám si "make war"
kélku "home" kélku si "dwell" (lit., "make (one's) home")
tsapʼálute "an apology"     tsapʼálute si "apologize" ("make an apology")
iráyo "thanks" iráyo si / si irayo "thank"
lŕrtok "a smile" lŕrtok si "smile"
txópu "fear" txópu si "be afraid"

Si forms idiomatic expressions with the organs of the senses:

nári "eye" nári si "watch out, be careful"
éltu "brain" éltu si "pay attention, quit goofing off"

Si follows the noun, and though it may be separated from it (txopu räʼä si "Do not fear!"), the two words behave as an intransitive compound: The noun never takes the accusative suffix, and the subject of si never takes the ergative.[note 12] When there is an object to the noun+si construction, it takes the dative, as in ngaru irayo si "thank you".

Si can also be used with adjectives, such as teya "full" in kato oeru teya si "the rhythm fills me (with joy)".

In citation form, the si in these set phrases is unstressed. However, it may acquire stress when inflected. For example, from tìsraw "pain", there are intransitive tìsraw si /tɪˈsɾau̯si/ "be painful" and causative tìsraw seyki /tɪˈsɾau̯ sɛi̯.ˈki/ "cause pain".

The noun or adjective may be dropped when context makes it clear:

Nga tsapʼalute soli srak?
"Have you apologized?"
"I have."


The verb "give", tìng, has a smaller number of idiomatic usages. It is combined with organs of the senses to indicate an attentive action of that sense. So from nari "eye" there is tìng nari ("tìnnari") "look at" (cf. tseʼa "see"), and from mikyun "ear" there is tìng mikyun ("tìmmikyun") "listen" (cf. stawm "hear"). Somewhat less idiomatic are tìng tseng "back down" (lit. "give place"), pänutìng "promise" (lit. "give a promise"), oeyktìng "explain why" (lit. "give the cause"), yomtìng "feed" (lit. "give to eat"), and teswotìng "grant" (based on an unattested root).

Directional verbs[edit]

Naʼvi has two verbs that indicate direction: "go" and záʼu "come". These may combine with other verbs to give them a sense of direction, what in linguistics is called 'andative' and 'venitive'. For example, ʼärìp is "move" (move something, as with the hand); from it are käʼärìp "push" (move something away) and zaʼärìp "pull" (move something closer). Similarly, múnge "convey" may be used as either "bring" or "take"; for "bring" specifically, it is combined with zaʼu to indicate direction toward the speaker: zamúnge. Similarly, combines with mákto "ride" for kämákto "ride out". These directional verbs are not restricted to combining with other verbs; is also attested with tsatseng "there" in käsatseng "out there".

Modal verbs[edit]

As in English, Naʼvi has modal verbs ('helping verbs') which have a distinct syntax from other verbs. These are basic verbs of obligation, ability, or desire, such as zene "must", tsun "can", fmi "try", and new "want". They are followed by a regular verb, which must take the subjunctive mood, whereas English would use the infinitive, as above in zene fko n‹iv›ume nìtxan "there is much to learn" and tsun tutet tsp‹iv›ang ko "they can kill a person, you know". Likewise oe new k‹iv›ä "I want to go" and fmayi oe ʼ‹iv›eyng "I will try to answer / try and answer". The subject is not repeated if it's the same for the two verbs, but is required otherwise: Oe new nga k‹iv›ä "I want you to go" (lit. "I want (that) you should go").[note 13]

Note that the subject of the modal is intransitive regardless of the lexical verb:[1]

Oe new yivom teylut.
"I want to eat teylu."
oe new y‹iv›om teylu-t
I.intr want eat‹sjv grubs-acc


Fmawnit menariyä ke tsun oe spivaw.
"I can't believe what my eyes are telling me."
fmawn-it me+nari-yä ke tsun oe sp‹iv›aw
news-acc du+eye-gen not able I believe‹sjv

If there is an overt subject to the lexical verb, then it would be inflected for case as it would without the modal: Oe new ngal yivom teylut "I want you to eat teylu".

Compound verbs[edit]

In compound verbs, only the verbal root inflects. For example, zenke "mustn't" is an abbreviation of zene ke "must not", and so both first- and second-position infixes appear in the zen-. [needs confirmation] On the other hand, in pänutìng "promise", the verbal root is tìng "give", so all infixes appear in that syllable. In the case of a two-verb compound, such as yomtìng "feed" ("eat" plus "give"), all infixes appear in the final verb root, in this case tìng.[note 14]


  1. Infixes will be marked off with ‹angle brackets› when parsing words: t‹ol›aron.
  2. Technically, the first infix position is in the penultimate (next-to-last) syllable. However, because all existing Naʼvi verb roots have only one or two syllables, and because only the verbal root is inflected within compounds, this is the first syllable for all practical purposes. If three- or four-syllable verb roots are introduced in the future, the description will need to be worded more precisely.
  3. The meanings of these infixes, which do not translate well into English, will be explained later.
  4. Note that, despite the fact that the infix appears at the front of the verb, its gloss appears at the end. The glosses of Naʼvi infixes always come at the end of the verb, because this informs the reader that, in order to determine the position of the infix, one counts syllables from the end of the verb, not from the front.
  5. These may also be called subject and object participles, as the nouns they modify are respectively the subject and the object of the clause. "Subject" in this case means both ergative and intransitive, and so aligns with English rather than with the tripartite alignment of Naʼvi noun cases.
  6. However, it will be seen in the chapter on syntax that all Naʼvi verbs may behave in this fashion, not just participles.
  7. Actually, the future "tense" in English doesn't behave like the past or present, but more like a modal, so linguists consider English to have only two tenses, past and non-past. Naʼvi, however, has true future tenses; it's the present that is poorly defined in Naʼvi.
  8. With stative verbs such as "understand" (as opposed to more active verbs such as "hunt"), the perfective often has the meaning of acquiring that state; in this case, of achieving understanding. A similar idea is expressed in English by substituting the verb "get" for the verb "understand".
  9. räʼä : the stress on the second syllable
  10. In the film, räʼä si is pronounced räʼsi.
  11. In the film, the subjunctive imperative tended to be used in more formal situations, such as addressing the assembled tribe.
  12. It is not known if one can say po-l kelku-t s‹ol›i "he made a home" with the case suffixes, in contrast with po kelku s‹ol›i "he dwelled" without.
    Note that English verb-preposition phrases have similar behavior: they behave as single words in that they have fixed, often idiomatic meanings, yet the can be separated from each other: "I looked up an old friend" vs. "I looked him up".
    There is an exception to the noun-si word order, irayo si "thank". Irayo "thanks" is perhaps not a noun, and the reverse order, si irayo, is also found: ngaru s‹ei›yi oe irayo "I thank you".
  13. Because new can be transitive, a more explicitly spelled out subordinate construction (see below) with a subject in the ergative can also be used, but is not common: Oe-l new fu-t-a (oe) k‹iv›ä "I want that I should go". However, this option is not available with intransitive tsun and zene.
  14. In longer compounds like zamunge "bring" (za + munge), the infixes appear in the final two syllables, but that would happen regardless since the first infix position is actually in the penultimate syllable.


  1. "Frommerian Email", Learn Na'vi Community, 2010 Jan 25

Questions · Syntax

Questions · Na'vi · Syntax