Toki Pona/Grammatical categories

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Nouns are nouns primarily on account of where they appear in a sentence. Almost any content word can be used as a noun.

The basic sentence follows this pattern:

NP la NP li VP e NP PP
Noun Phrase - la - Noun Phrase - li Verb Phrase e Noun Phrase Prepositional Phrase

Individual nouns exhibit no internal structure. All noun operations with analogies in other languages are done at the noun phrase level.

The noun phrases has the following basic structure.

noun modifier possessor pi noun phrase

The following words are the pronouns

mi, sina These pronouns are worth considering separately because their meaning is resolved by context and doesn't refer to anything mentioned earlier. Both of these nouns at times take modifiers, usually mute, tu, or rarely suli.

ona This pronoun can be anaphora for anything mentioned, to be mentioned or in context. Unlike languages like Chinese, which use a similar pronoun, this word can't be dropped entirely. In Chinese, when the subject of the anaphora is clear, not only does the gender and number not need to be mentioned, the pronoun doesn't need to be mentioned. In toki pona, subject can never be dropped and objects usually are not dropped.

ona sometimes takes modifiers, usually mije, meli, mute

ni This is usually translated as "this" and is supposed to indicate the anaphora used when pointing, say with a finger. Because toki pona is almost never used in face to face situations, the word is used much the same as ona, except that ni can refer to an entire sentence, where as ona can't and primarily refers to a noun phrase.

  • * li lukin. It is always wrong to drop a subject.
  • ? jan li lukin. The man sees (something). This may be wrong if the speaker meant a transitive sense of the word.
  • jan li lukin e ijo. The man sees something. This is always correct.

jan, ijo -- These are the pronouns are the most generic and can be used as an indefinite animate and inanimate pronoun respectively.

Repeated Head Nouns When a head noun is repeated, it refers back to an earlier mention. These anaphora strategy can create ambiguity if it isn't clear that the repeated head noun is the same or a new player on the stage.

waso pi tawa wawa li lon ma Oselia. waso li suli li ken tawa ala kon. The emu is in Australia. It is large and flightless.


The verb phrase appears immediately after the li in a sentence.

Verbs have no internal structure. All verb processes are dealt with at the phrase level.

Verbs are intransitive, transitive, prepositional, and those that take unmarked complements. All verbs can increase their valence by adding prepositional phrases.

Intransitive. jan li suli. The man is growing.

Transitive. jan li suli e kasi. The man is growing plants.

Predicative Prepositions of Motion. Most predicate constructions convey a static situation. The tawa prepositional phrase conveys a sense of motion.

  • jan li tawa ma ante. The man went to another country.

Prepositional. When prepositional phrases are used with a direct object complement, usually with tawa or lon, their meaning changes to mean move and place/affix respectively.

  • jan li tawa ma ante e soweli. The man moves the animal to a different country.
  • jan li lon anpa kasi suli e ilo musi. The man places toys under the tree.

Verbs Taking Unmarked Complements The verbs of feeling, thinking, talking are the most likely to be used this way, although it is more common that the complement be treated as a direct object.

  • mi kama sona. I become intelligent/I become knowledgeable.
  • mi kama jan suli. I have become an adult.
  • mi toki pali. I speak about work.
  • mi toki pi pali mi. I speak about my work.
  • ? mi toki pi pali.

Serial/Auxiliary Verbs jan li ken pali. The man can work.

Serial verbs go between li and the head verb.

Verb Operations[edit]

Verb operations are entirely done at the lexical or periphrastic level.

verb agreement/concord. The verb phrase does not change to agree with the subject.

  • jan li pali. The man works.
  • jan mute li pali. The men work.
  • jan mute li pali mute. The men work a lot.

semantic role markers/applicatives. N/A ?

valence increasing devices. Valence can be increase by complementing a verb phrase with an unmarked noun phrase, a direct object or a prepositional phrase. The only thing baring a verb from taking a direct object or any of the prepositional phrases is deciding what those sentences might mean. Unmarked noun phrases are rare.

valence decreasing devices. Subjects are always obligatory. The direct object might be obligatory, it isn't clear yet.

  • 1) mi moli. I die.
  • 2) mi moli e jan. I kill someone.

It isn't clear if sentence 1) can mean "I kill someone"

Reflexive and reciprocals can't dispense with the direct object. It can be replaced with "sama" as anaphora.

  • jan li lukin e sama. The man saw himself.
  • meli en mije li lukin e sama. The man and the women saw each other.

tense/aspect/mode Tense is handled with la fragments, which are noun phrases followed by la, using the words pini, kama, ni for past, future and now respectively. The la fragment can also use a characteristic activity or quality of such a time to mark the time or tense.

tenpo ni la jan li pali. Now the men are working. tenpo pali la jan li pali ala. The men weren't working during their normal hours of work.

aspect is sometimes expressed through modifiers to the main verb. We don't have enough examples to be sure about this.

? jan li pali pini e pali. The man completed his work.

mode is usually expressed through auxiliary verbs which precede the main verb.

jan li ken pali. The man can work. jan li wile pali. The man wants to work.

subordination/nominalization By placing a prototypical verb in a noun phrase, it means "such activity." There are some set phrases with the prototypical object as a modifier compliment. There are also set phrases with a noun and a prototypical verb in modifier position.

pana sona - teaching "giving knowledge"

verb negation Verbs are negated by placing ala after the verb.

'speech act markers N/A? 'switch reference N/A?

Time-Manner-Place Schema Time comes first in a la fragment, manner is a modifier to the main verb, and place is always last in a lon prepositional phrase.

Time la S li V Manner lon Place


Modifiers follow nouns and verbs and have a different meaning when they do so.

Adjective do not change with their head and have no internal structure.

The language uses a variety of counting systems, the most common being 2/5/20/100.

  • wan
  • tu
  • tu wan
  • tu tu
  • luka
  • luka wan
  • luka tu
  • luka tu wan
  • luka tu tu
  • luka luka

There are many competing number systems, none of which are in wide usage.

Despite the impracticality of the base 2/5/20/100 system, one could count to any number with it. One does have the option of using the approximate system of wan, tu, mute.

Number phrases do not change regardless to what they are modifying.


Adverbs are rarely used. The most common are suli, lili, wawa, mute.

jan li pali wawa. The man worked fast.

Time phrases are put in la phrases at the beginning of sentences.

tenpo ni la jan li pali. The man is working now.

Directional phrases go after verb of motion. Tawa is also a preposition, so this can also be analyzed as compound prepositions.

jan li tawa anpa. The man went down.

Evidentials and epistemic markers are usually put into la phrases, or the sentence is prefixed with a set phrase

mi la ni li pona. I think this is good. mi pilin e ni: ni li pona. I think this is good.