toki a, jan ale o! mi jan Kekan San! mi wile pana e sona pi toki pona!
Hey everyone, I’m gregdan3, and today I wanna teach you about Toki Pona.
Today, we’re gonna be going over the function of li and modifiers, with a few bonuses thrown in. This lesson assumes you already know how mi and sina work!
If you were here for my original lessons, you know I put a focus on vocabulary right at the start. This time around, we’re gonna go through the vocab as we do examples, but with a few basic concepts introduced right up front to make sure we’re all on the same page.
Let’s get right into it with an example, starting with, what is li, and what are modifiers?
The basic sentence structure in Toki Pona looks like this:
jan li pona
This word before li is jan, meaning person, somebody, people; it’s the subject of the sentence- who or whatever it is doing something!
The word after li is pona, meaning good, positive, simple, pleasant; it’s the verb of the sentence- what’s being done!
li in the middle introduces the verb to the sentence, showing the relationship between these both.
You can put pretty much any word in the subject and verb, to different effects! Let’s look at a few of these:
ona li loje
Here, the subject is ona as in some third person- he, she, it, they. The verb is loje, any shades of red. This sentence is a big deal: the verb doesn’t have to be only an action, it can also be a description. You might translate it as “they are red”, or more literally as “they are redd-ing”, as though being red were an action.
In toki pona, doing and being are grammatically the same. And this lack of distinction is part of what makes speaking toki pona so fun!
Next, there are modifiers. Let’s look at this example:
soweli pimeja li suli
Here, the subject is soweli, a mammal, or often furry critter that walks along the ground. It’s modified by pimeja. This means you have a soweli pimeja- a dark animal, which could be in shades of brown, black, or them sitting in the shade! Then the verb is suli, for large, or important. Maybe, the brown bear is huge!
You can also modify the verb:
waso li lape nasa
Here, the subject is just waso, as in a bird or flying creature. The verb is lape, to rest, relax, or sleep, and is modified by nasa, strange, weird, uncommon, unexpected. You might say, the bat sleeps strangely- and I would agree, they often sleep hanging upside down!
You can have any number of modifiers, which gets confusing quickly if you over-do it! But for fun, let’s try one out:
ilo suno wawa li seli ike pakala!
This one’s fun because it has some urgency to it- let’s break it down.
First, ilo suno wawa is a powerful light tool- both suno (light, or sun) and wawa (power, strength, confidence, electricity) apply to ilo (tool), but we’d still imagine it giving off a large amount of light.
The verb, seli ike pakala, is seli modified by both ike and pakala- this heat is both bad, and broken or destructive. You might imagine it’s straight up on fire!
But that’s a whole lot of words, isn’t it? Here’s a quick tip: you can pretend the modifiers aren’t there, look at the new shorter sentence, and still get a pretty good idea of what’s going on! This is because most modifiers, other than a few special ones, only make the word more specific- they don’t change the meaning entirely.
If this sentence is only “ilo li seli,” you might interpret “the tool is warm, hot”- it’s less vivid, but just as true!
You can also have any number of li, which lets you talk about a subject doing more than one thing at a time!
mama li pali li moku li lape
Here, the subject is mama, a parent or ancestor. And they’re doing three different things: pali, to work or create. moku, to eat, and lape, to sleep. Now, you’d think you can’t do all three of those at once- and yeah, that’s prooobably true. But! You can
Here’s something really clever about Toki Pona that you won’t really see in English: you can modify pronouns. Let’s look at the following two sentences:
ona poka li moku. ona weka li pini.
The first sentence says “those nearby are eating.” It’s specifying some third persons by their nearness: ona poka, they (beside)
The second sentence says “those far away are finished.” It’s specifying different third persons by their farness: ona weka, they (away).
And of course, the action of moku is implied in the second sentence by the first sentence- so the second group is done eating.
You can even do this with mi and sina:
[sina lape li kalama suli!]
Here, sina is modified by lape- this is talking about you, but when you’re asleep! And apparently, you’re really loud when you do it!
Be a little cautious though- these sentences can be interpreted two ways at once! Since mi and sina sentences don’t need li, the modifier could also be a verb. If you’re ever not sure, ask!
[do examples here]
I’d like to end this lesson with a little bonus: asking questions with seme, for all the parts of speech we’ve looked at! Let’s look at this sentence:
[jan seme li lon?]
The subject is “jan seme”, and the verb is “lon.” lon means existence, or truth- so without the modifiers, “jan li lon” is something like “people are here”
But seme is a special modifier, and a special word in general. It stands in for missing information- so this question is something like, what kind of person is present? Or, who’s here?
Here’s another sentence getting at the same idea, but now in the subject?
seme li open?
Open means to start, or begin- asking “seme li open” is some thing like, what things are starting?
Now one in the predicate:
kala li seme?
kala is fish or aquatic creature, and seme is now in the verb- this is asking, what is the fish doing? Or, what describes the fish?