Updated jan Pije's lessons/Lesson 17 la

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la - separates adverb of context from sentence

mun - moon, lunar

open - to open, to begin, to turn on

pini - end; to end, to stop, to turn off

tenpo - time

Also make sure you remember what kama and ni mean, because they will be used a lot with la phrases.


For most people, learning how to use this word is the most difficult concept in the language. Although I personally think that pi is harder, la is still fairly difficult. Fortunately, this is the last concept that you'll have to learn in this course!

la can be broken down into three different sub-uses. So, I'm going to cover each of these sub-uses one at a time. Let's begin.

la Preceded by a Single Word

First, let's look at a regular sentence, then we'll look at the same sentence with a la phrase attached:

ilo li pakala. -- The tool is broken.
ken la ilo li pakala. -- Maybe the tool is broken.

So already you can see that la phrases come at the beginning of the sentence. The word or phrase that will affect the sentence comes first, then la, and then finally comes the main sentence.

Why does ken, when it comes before la, mean "maybe"? The best way to understand this, is to remember that in toki pona the meanings of "may" and "can" are both conveyed with "ken":

May I go? -- mi ken tawa anu seme?

The "ken" in "ken la" is just like the "may" in maybe. Here are a few more examples:

ken la jan Lisa li jo e ona. -- Maybe Lisa has it.
ken la ona li lape. -- Maybe he's asleep.
ken la mi ken tawa ma Elopa. -- Maybe I can go to Europe.

Time and la

Before we can actually learn how to use tenpo with la, we need to learn about tenpo first. tenpo is pretty simple, really. It acts just like any other noun. Here is a handy list of many of the common phrases you can make using tenpo:

tenpo suno -- "sun time"; day
tenpo pimeja -- "dark time"; night
tenpo ni -- "this time"; the current time, the present
tenpo suno ni -- "this sun time"; today
tenpo pimeja ni -- "this dark time"; tonight
tenpo kama -- "coming time"; the future
tenpo kama lili -- "little coming time"; soon
tenpo pini -- "past time"; the past
tenpo suno pini -- "past sun time"; yesterday
tenpo pimeja pini -- "past dark time"; last night
tenpo suno kama -- "coming sun time"; tomorrow
tenpo mute -- "many times"; often

Now, you can stick these phrases before la to tell when something happened:

tenpo pini la mi weka. -- In the past, I was away.
tenpo ni la mi lon. -- At this time, I am here.
tenpo kama la mi lape. -- In the future, I'll sleep.
tenpo pimeja pini la mi kama nasa. -- Last night, I became drunk.

We also use a tenpo la phrase to talk about age. Just to warn you, we talk about age using a funny, idiomatic-like expression. Here's how to ask "How old are you?":

tenpo pi mute seme la sina sike e suno? -- Times of what amount (la) you circled the sun?

Yes, I know that seems silly. But that's essentially what you've done everytime you have a birthday. Birthdays come once a year, and each time you have a birthday, you have gone around the sun one complete time. And that's how we get the phrase. ---- To answer and tell someone how old you are, just replace the pi mute seme with your age:

tenpo tu tu la mi sike e suno. -- Four times (la) I circled the sun.

Expressing if/when with la

Study this example:

mama mi li moli la mi pilin ike. -- My parents die, I feel bad.

In casual English, we'd translate this as "If my parents were to die, I'd be sad." All la phrases follow the same order as that example. If you like formulas and patterns, here's a good way to think about it:

1 la 2. -- If/when 1 happens, then 2 happens also.

If you're not good at patterns, I'll explain a little bit more for you. When you say a sentence in English like "If I learn, then I am smart", you can switch this over into Toki Pona like this:

I learn (la) I am smart.

The word if (or when, depending on the sentence; both essentially mean the same thing) vanishes. The part of the sentence that went along with if (which in this example is the "I learn" part) goes before la. The word then also vanishes, and the part of the sentence that went with then (the "I am smart" part) comes after la. Here are some more examples:

mi lape la ali li pona. -- When I'm asleep, everything is good.
sina moku e telo nasa la sina nasa. -- If you drink beer, you'll be silly.
sina moli la sina ken ala toki. -- If you are dead, you can't speak.
mi pali mute la mi pilin ike. -- When I work a lot, I feel bad.


For the final thing that you'll have to learn in this course, I want to teach you about the comparative and superlative. If you're wondering what a comparative or superlative is, it's essentially what you're using in English when you use more and most, or -er and -est. Here are two examples in English, with the comparative or superlative form in bold:

He's the fastest person in the world.
John is more enthusiastic than Henry.

Now to use this concept in Toki Pona, you have to split your idea up into two separate sentences. Here's how you'd say "Lisa is better than Susan.":

jan Lisa li pona mute. jan Susan li pona lili. -- Lisa is very good. Susan is a little good.

Make sense? You say that one thing is very much of something, while you use another object as the basis for comparison and say that it's only a little bit of something. Here are more examples:

mi suli mute. sina suli lili. -- I'm bigger than you.
mi moku mute. sina moku lili. -- I eat more than you.