Kamakawi Verbs

Previous visitors may have been led to believe that Kamakawi lacked verbs, since there was no page dedicated to the verbal system of Kamakawi. I'm priveleged to be able to inform you that you may tell them that this is, indeed, not the case. This page is devoted to the mighty verbs of Kamakawi. Prepare yourself!

The Bare Verb

A verb in Kamakawi looks not unlike anything else. In this way, Kamakawi verbs are like English, where you can have a form "take" which is a verb and a phonologically similar form "cake" which is a noun (other pairs: "rob" vs. "nob"; "hinder" vs. "tinder"; "tender" vs. "sender", etc.). There's no phonological material which would tell you that any particular verb in English or in Kamakawi is a verb as opposed to a noun, adjective, etc. This differs from a language like Spanish, where if a word ends in -ar, -er or -ir, it's probably a verb (notable exception: hogar, "home"). For that reason (possibly), there's a kind of paper-thin barrier between the noun camp and the verb stronghold. Nevertheless, verbs fall into various classes, and I will enumerate these classes in an unordered list, for reasons uknown:

  • First, there are a large number of verb/noun pairs that are distantly or not obviously related. For these types of verbs, you generally have to resort to a paraphrastic expression to express the nominal/gerundial form of the verb. An example is kava. As a verb, it means "to cook". As a noun, it means "fire".

  • A second class of verbs is the class where the derived noun is essentially a nominal form of the verb. To form different types of specific nouns, affixes must be added to the verb. An example is noala, "to sing", whose nominal form means "singing" or "song".

  • Another type of verb is a verb that's basically zero-derived from a noun. These types of verbs commonly come from instruments. For example, fauma means "rope", and the zero-derived verb means "to tie up/down with rope".

  • Another type of verb is a verb whose zero-derived noun is an agent which performs the action of the verb, or who fits the description of the verb. An example is the verb pawake, "to be stubborn", whose zero-derived noun means "a stubborn or obstinate person".

  • Also worth mentioning is the large number of stative verbs used most commonly as either verbs or adjectives, and not usually nouns. An example would be elu, "long" or "to be long" (also "length", or a boy or girl's name).

The purpose of this little section was to give you some background on the kinds of verbs one comes across. It may or may not be useful to think of these classes later on. We'll find out. Together.

The Verb in a Sentence

Sentences like to have verbs, and verbs like to appear in sentences. This is what's known as a symbiotic relationship. In Kamakawi sentences, the relationship works as follows: First comes the verb; then come the nouns. The usual word order is VSO, where there are two arguments, but the language does allow (and in some cases prefers) pro-drop. At any rate, let's start with a simple sentence:

Heva ele.

This sentence means "The sky is gray" (or "The blue is gray", heh, heh, heh...). First comes the verb, heva, "to be gray", and next comes the subject of the verb, ele, "to be blue". The sentence lacks any other elements, so it's the fact that the first word can be a verb which tells you that it is a verb. Or perhaps it's the combination of the two and the lack of anything else. In order for it to be a complete thought, the first word has to be a verb, and the second the subject of the sentence. Since there are no other elements, the subject is assumed to be new information, and the verb is assumed to take place some time in the non-past.

To take this one step further, imagine that you have a transitive verb like hava, "To eat". If you have a dog eating a pineapple (it could happen), you'd say the following:

Hava palaki i kolata.

This means "A/the dog's eating a pineapple." The order is: (1) eat; (2) dog; (3) pineapple. The element that comes in between the dog and the pineapple is just that: An element which comes in between the subject and all other objects. It must always be present in transitive sentences.

Now you know the very basics of how a verb fits into a sentence. Hereafter we shall detail the rest away until there's nothing left but a crumb too small for a mouse.


Some languages do without tense. Kamakawi does not. The sentences in the section above are all in the present (or non-past) by default, because there's no tense specified. Tense can, however, be specified, but it may not appear on its own. In Kamakawi, tense comes bundled with the subject status markers. Subject status markers let the reader (or hearer) know whether the subject of the sentence is new to the discourse or not. These markers are generally the very first element in the sentence. There are two sets: One for the past tense, and one for the non-past. They are summarized below:

  Non-Past Past
Singular Plural Singular Plural
Brand New Subject a au ka kau
New Subject from Old Non-Subject ae au kae kau
Same Subject e u ke ku

There are a couple things to notice from the table above. First, there's a distinction made in the singular that isn't in the plural which deserves an explanation. In the plural, the only distinction is between a subject which is identical to or different from the previous clause. In the singular, there's a distinction between a new subject which is totally new to the discourse, versus a new subject which may have been introduced as, say, an object in the previous clause. For this situation, you use the marker ae. Otherwise, you use the ordinary switch-subject marker a.

Something else which should be obvious is that you form the past tense subject status markers by adding a k- to the front of the non-past subject status markers. In this way, tense is encoded. Compare the following two sentences:

A mama eine i nawa. vs. Ka mama eine i nawa.

The first sentence means "A woman (new subject) is hugging a fish." The second meands "A woman (new subject) hugged a fish." The only difference is the initial k- on the subject status marker at the begininning of the sentence.

In addition to past vs. non-past (the main tense distinction in Kamakawi), a small number of adverbials can be used to affect the tense or mode of the verb in various ways. Below is a list of them with examples.

  • Future: male (follows subject status marker), A male mama eine i nawa, "The woman will hug a fish."
  • Uncertain: ua (follows subject status marker), A ua mama eine i nawa, "The woman may be hugging a fish."
  • Conditional: male ua (follows subject status marker), A male ua mama eine i nawa, "The woman might hug a fish."
  • Habitual: neika (used sentence-finally), A mama eine i nawa neika, "The woman always hugs a fish."
  • Progressive: a (used sentence-finally), A mama eine i nawa a, "The woman is hugging a fish."

That's about it for tense. Now onto other things.


If you ever want to get a totally neutral reaction out of a linguist (typologists excluded), ask them about valency. If you (yes, you) divided up the world into those that care about valence-changing operations and those that don't and pitted the two groups against each other in a deadly game of dodgeball played with spiked metal balls rather than rubber ones, then at the end of the day, there'd no longer be anyone alive who cared about valence-changing operationsmyself included (though I'd put up a hell of a fight!). I love talking about valency. So let's all gather round the fire (or under the shade of this cool rock, without water) and discuss valency in Kamakawi.

A fair number of verbs in Kamakawi can be used intransitively and transitively. Some change their meaning; some don't. Then there are some verbs which can only be used intransitively, and those which can only be used transitively. There are no ditransitive verbs (see the section on such matters below). However, there are specific and radical valence-changing operations which can apply to pretty much any verb. These I shall discuss presentlyin fact, now.

The first is one with which we should be familiar: the passive. The passive is formed from a transitive active sentence. It is accomplished by suffixing the form -'u to the end of the verb and promoting the object to subject. You also demote the subject to an oblique preceded by the preposition ti. Here's what this looks like in real time:

  1. Active Sentence: Ka mama eine i nawa, "The woman hugged a fish."
  2. Passive Sentence: Ka mama'u nawa (ti eine), "A fish was hugged (by a woman)."

Please excuse the articles in that sentence: I'm feeling lazy. Anyway, that's the gist of it. Notice that the demoted agent phrase is optional, and is, hence, rendered in parentheses.

Our next operation is what's known as the causative. The causative adds an argument to the argument chain: a causer. To indicate that the verb has undergone a causative operation, the verb is suffixed with -le. This is what the operation looks like:

  1. Ordinary Sentence: Ka mama eine i nawa, "The woman hugged a fish."
  2. Causative Sentence: Ka mamale hopoko i mama (i nawa), "The man caused a woman to hug a fish."

The result of the operation is a transitive verb (the largest verb in Kamakawi), which means that the argument beyond the agent (the one being caused to perform the action) is optional. It is still introduced by the preposition i.

Next operation is a semi-productive operation known as the inchoative. This operation is associated with the suffix -mu, and is used on stative verbs to indicate a change of state in the lone argument from not-x to x (where x is the content of the verb). It's also used derivationally in some circumstances on various types of verbs, in which case the meaning is unpredictable, though it's often associated with some kind of change of state. Here's an example:

  1. Ordinary Sentence: Kelea hopoko, "The man is sad."
  2. Inchoative Sentence: Keleamu hopoko, "The man becomes sad."

Though this is the usual use of the inchoative operation, it can also change a transitive verb into an intransitive verb (the reason this operation is listed here). These meanings, however, are unpredictable, and will be listed separately in the lexicon.

The last valence-changing operation is also semi-productive. It's called the applicative, and is associated with the suffix -kV (where the vowel is identical to the previous vowel in the root). This suffix allows one to add an argument to the argument structure. It's typically a promoted indirect object or prepositional phrase. Since Kamakawi verbs are maximally transitive, the direct object must be demoted to an oblique. Here's an example:

  1. Ordinary Sentence: Ka mama ei i nawa i eine, "I hugged a fish for the woman."
  2. Applicative Sentence: Ka mamaka ei i eine (ti nawa), "I hugged for the woman (a fish)."

This might seem odd. You might ask yourself, why would anyone ever do that? Well, we shall discover, presently. Let's for now say that it's related to the preposition i, which, in the ordinary sentence, means "for".

Serial Verb Constructions

Ditransitivity was mentioned above as not existing. It, indeed, does not exist. So, for example, if you said the following:

A nevi ei i nawa i eine.

It would not mean "I gave a fish to a woman", or "I gave a woman to a fish". Rather, it would mean "I gave a fish on behalf of a woman". Gave to whom? No one knows. Further, this would probably be ungrammatical, since nevi really means "give to", and not "give". So, how do you know what's being given? I shall explain.

To convey the idea of "giving" in the English sense we need to utilize a serial verb construction. These are constructions where you have two verbs which, when combined, express a single meaning. In the case of Kamakawi, they also kind of share arguments. This is how. To say "I gave a fish to a woman", you first start with the sentence "I got a fish":

Ka li ei i nawa.

Now that that's been accomplished, you add "I gave to a woman":

Ka nevi ei i eine

What did you give? That idea is inherited by the previous clause. Together, they form one clause with two verbs that share arguments. This is what it looks like:

Ka li ei i nawa ke nevi i eine.

And now you have the sentence, "I gave a fish to a woman".

That's too long, you say? There is a shorter way to say it. By using the applicative operation (mentioned above), you can create a kind of ditransitive verb (as close to it as Kamakawi gets). This is what it looks like:

  1. Ordinary Sentence: Ka li ei i nawa ke nevi i eine, "I gave a woman a fish."
  2. Applicative Sentence: Ka neviki ei i nawa (ti eine), "I gave a fish (to a woman)."

So it is possible, but the serial verb construction is probably more common.

So, if you don't use an applicative to get a "normal" "give", where do you use it? Fine question. The place where you most commonly see the applicative is with intransitive verbs that have beneficiaries. For example, take the verb ma'a, "to learn". A sentence like the one below:

Ka ma'a ei i ima'a.

...means "I learned a lesson". However, the one below is technically ambiguous (actually, both are):

Ka ma'a ei i Alama.

This means either "I learned Alama" (say, a name of a play), or "I learned for Alama". This is because the preposition i marks direct objects and also is used like the beneficiary preposition "for" in English. True, this sentence probably means only the latter, but let's say I came up with a really convincing example (I'm too lazy to find a good verb right now). How could you tell the difference between a transitive sentence and an intransitive sentence with a beneficiary object? This is where the applicative comes into play. By putting the verb into the applicative, you can erase the ambiguity, so that the verb is conventionally understood to be intransitive, and the object is understood to be a beneficiary. Here's what it looks like:

  1. Ambiguous Sentence: Ka ma'a ei i Alama, "I learned (for) Alama."
  2. Applicative Sentence: Ka ma'aka ei i Alama, "I learned for Alama."

Thus, the applicative has a use. It's quite commonly used to express all beneficiaries with intransitive verbs, even if the verb in question can only be intransitive.


That's kind of it. The rest is just a series of derivational affixes which you may or may not encounter. Here they be, in flexo order:

  • take- (N, A > V)
    • This prefix is attached to verbs to render a meaning of "to be like/to act like". It's everywhere. You can't get through a discourse without seeing this prefix at least once. Example: polao "blowfish" > takepolao "to trick (the way a blowfish tricks you into thinking he's big and bad by puffing himself up, when really he's a little shrimp)".

  • he- (V > V)
    • This prefix modifies the meaning of the verb to indicate that the action is instantaneous, sudden, or has just begun. Examples: take "to wear" > hetake "to put on, to try on"; nai "to know (a person)" > henai "to meet"; hetu "to be scared" > he'etu "to get scared".

  • ku- (V, Adj > V, Adj)
    • This prefix is used to negate the meaning of the verb or adjective. Example: poneke "to trust" > kuponeke "to distrust".

  • fi- (V > V)
    • This is a reversive prefix. It takes a verbal process and reverses it. Example: li "to pick up" > fili "to put down".

  • -ka (V > V)
    • This suffix is used to indicate that the action of the verb is performed again. It's kind of like the prefix "re-" in English, and just as productive. Example: li "to pick up" > lika "to pick up again"; poneke "to trust" > ponekeka "to trust again"; takepolao "to trick" > takepolaoka "to trick again".

  • -la(m/n)V (V > V)
    • This incredibly bizarre suffix adds a sensation of growing (or waxing) to the verb. Its notation indicates that you use m, unless the last consonant before the l of the suffix is also m, in which case you use n. Additionally, the V is the same as the last vowel before the suffix is added. Finally, the stress is not shifted when this suffix is added. Unsurprisingly, this suffix is rare, and not very productive. Example: kavimu "to grow big" > kavímulanu "to grow bigger and bigger (said usually of children)".

  • -lu- (V > V)
    • This infix came in under the "I Can't Believe It's an Affix!" stage of Kamakawi development. It's primarily used in commands to tell someone to stop what they're doing for a moment (e.g., to stop and listen to what they have to say). It's very productive. Examples: hava "to eat" > haluva "to stop eating for a second"; kavaka "to write" > kaluvaka "to stop writing for a second"; mawa "to swim" > maluwa "to stop swimming for a second".

  • ne- (V > V)
    • No longer productive, this prefix signals the end of an action. Examples: li "to get" > neli "to keep"; ale "to go" > neale "to come to the end of one's journey"; mali'a "to study" > nemali'a "to come to the end of one's studies (i.e., to pass away)".

  • -kV (X > X)
    • This mystery suffix (which takes its vowel from the previous vowel, and is identical in form to the applicative suffix) affects the root in unpredictable, abstract ways. Example: emi "to be human" > emiki "to be pregnant".


That's about it. Any other questions can probably be answered in the section on relative clauses. Take a gander. Or take a goose. They're both charming fowl.

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