Check out the video lesson too!
Table of Contents
Words to Know
All new words will be separated into categories!
Particles are for grammar. They are used for sentence structure, introducing new parts of a sentence. Most do not have meanings, only functions.
|(mark a predicate; begin a predicate phrase)||One right-facing arrow|
Content words have meaning, and can be used most places in a sentence- so far, the subject and predicate!
|plant, flower, tree, vegetation||A plant with two pointed leaves at its top.|
|rock, hard, tough, sturdy, durable||A five-sided diamond shape|
|dust, goop, clay, paste, squishy thing||A pile of goop, or a fluffy ball. Give it several curves!|
|liquid, water, fluid||Two wavy lines drawn horizontally, like waves on the beach|
|group, collection, nation, community||Three circles in a triangle shape, with some space.|
|gross, garbage, trash, sick||Scribble!|
|power, strength, courage, energy, electricity||A person holding their arms over their head|
|sweet, soft, fluffy, cute, fragrant||A cute and pleasant cat face like this emoticon: |
|strange, weird, silly, rare||A spiral. Any spiral will do!|
|hot, fire, warm, hot object||A dot with three big emitters, like a raging fire!|
|cold, ice, raw, undercooked, cold object||Three crossing lines making a simple snowflake|
The words from the last lesson were content words too!
Predicates and li
The next type of Toki Pona sentence is a simple but powerful addition!
[subject] li [predicate]
With this sentence, you can talk about things other than yourself and your listener. While li is present, any word but mi and sina can be in the subject, and any word can be in the predicate like in last lesson. You’ll find that the variety in Toki Pona words lets you say a lot, even with so few words!
A note on “any word”
I do say “any word”, but clever observers will have noticed I am treating the word li differently. It is introduced as a particle, its definition is given in parentheses, and it is treated as a grammatical structure instead of as a word. This is because li cannot be used in the subject or predicate, with some subtle exceptions we’ll get to later. For now, everything else can be in the subject or predicate.
Since using li lets you put any word in the subject, most of the words in the lesson before can now be used there! This leans heavily into the action/description duality described before. Unlike that duality, you can tell which sense a word is meant in based on its place in a sentence. Words in the subject are more likely to be specific objects or ideas, where words in the predicate are more likely to be actions or descriptions!
Remember, if the subject is just mi or just sina, do not include li!
Here’s a guided example:
mama li musi
- Mom is hilarious.
- Dad is being funny.
- My parent is exciting!
- My babysitter is amusing!
- Grandpa joked!
Here, the subject is mama, a parent or ancestor. Since the subject isn’t mi or sina, li is present and starts the predicate. Then the predicate is musi, fun and entertainment. musi could be either a description or action here, and these cannot be told apart without more context- Toki Pona doesn’t tell them apart! Check under the spoiler for possible interpretations.
To say a subject does more than one thing, you say li a second time at the end of the predicate, marking another predicate. Saying li multiple times is like saying “and” in English, but just for the predicate! Here’s an example:
kulupu li suli li pona
- The community is huge, and wonderful!
- The collection is enormous, and pretty!
- The stack is tall, and fantastic!
Here, the subject kulupu is doing two things: being suli (big) and being pona (good).
Using more than one li is the same as using two sentences with the same subject. This means we can restate the one sentence above as these two sentences, which have the same meaning together:
kulupu li suli. kulupu li pona.
Here’s another example:
jan li tawa li lape
- The person walks, and goes to sleep.
- The person walks, and sleeps.
- Everyone is traveling, and sleeping.
Here, jan is doing two different things: tawa (moving), and lape (sleeping). Toki Pona words don’t mark time, so these two actions can happen at different times, but be described in one sentence without issue!
And again, this is the same as the following two sentences:
jan li tawa. jan li lape.
You can have as many predicates as you want, but try to keep your sentences shorter- shorter sentences are easier to understand.
mi and sina do not use li, so you can’t normally do this with them. Instead, use separate sentences: mi tawa. mi lape.
Toki Pona to English
You and a friend are looking through old photos. Your friend points to one of a person leaning against a wall, smiling wide at the camera and says:
jan li mi
The person is me!
- The person belongs to me.
- The person is related to me. (not in the family sense)
A group of friends is at the side of a pool. All of them stare into the water, unsure whether they are ready to brave it. Suddenly, one friend cannonballs into the water, splashing everyone. When they surface, they yell:
telo li lete
The water is cold!
- The water is icy.
- The water is not boiling.
- The pool is freezing.
- The soda is cool!
- The ocean is cold.
You are walking along a forest trail, and brush your hand over a rock. When you pull your hand away, you find it covered in tree sap and remark:
kiwen li ko
The rock is gooey…
- The rock is dusty
- The rock is sticky
- The metal is glued
You’re on an expedition to see the tallest tree in the world. You’ve walked for hours upon hours, sweating heavily under the sun. You hike to the peak of one more hill, and spot the tree on the horizon. You can see it from miles away! You shout:
kasi li suli
The tree is enormous!
- The vine is long.
- The tree trunk is so wide.
- The patch of moss is huge!
- Plants are important.
- The grass has grown tall.
On an epic quest, you stop at a wizard’s tower and climb it. At the top, the wizard is deep in research. He teaches you a new spell to aid your journey: Spoonform. With this power, you can turn into a spoon for a short time. You don’t tell the wizard, but you think to yourself:
wawa li nasa
Magic is ridiculous!
- Power is absurd.
- Strength is odd.
- Confidence is confusing.
While visiting your grandmother’s house, she offers you piles of different sweets! You try each and every one, enjoying the smell and taste of your grandmother’s wonderful cooking. Your most favorite was her apple pie- thinking about it again, you think to yourself:
moku li suwi
Pie is sweet!
- The food is sweet
- The water is sugary
- The food is cute
After enjoying your grandmother’s cooking, you and your family head out to the beach to swim! The sun is beaming brightly, and the air feels hot as the ocean breeze whips past. You take your first step out on the sand and recoil- it’s way too hot!
ko li seli
The sand is hot!
- The tar is on fire!
- The dough is warming.
- The glue is melty! (due to temperature)
You’ve just come home from a long vacation. Unwinding was wonderful, but being back home means being back to the grind! While settling back in, you open your fridge and to your dismay discover some of your food went bad while you were gone! You shout:
moku li jaki
The food’s gone bad!
- The pasta is moldy…
- The chips are stale!
- The pie tastes awful.
- Eating is gross!
You and your camping crew have been out searching for clean water for hours. If you can’t find some you’ll have to go home! Through your traveling, you come across a stream, and kneel to drink. You forget you’re supposed to clean the water first, but a friend stops you and says:
telo li ike li jaki
The stream is bad and gross!
- The water is awful, and icky!
- The fluid is unpleasant, and nasty!
A young child comes home from school one day, upset that they’re not making any friends because others at school think they’re weird. Their mom explains that these troubles go away, but the weirdness stays and helps you stand out! She gives the following wisdom:
nasa li suli li wawa
Being different is important, and powerful.
- Uniqueness is valuable, and inspiring.
- Weirdness is critical, and amazing.
You’re staying over at a friend’s place, playing video games and chatting throughout the entire day. As it’s starting to get late out, you and your friend realize you’re hungry. Luckily, your friend’s dad is here to save the day! He calls down the stairs at you both to let you know to come eat dinner, and make you both come up to eat:
moku li seli li pona
The soup is hot, and tasty!
- Dinner is warm and ready!
- The food is heated up and delicious!
Your sister rushes down the stairs, excited to tell dad a new trick she just figured out! But you have to give her the disappointing news that he’s not gonna listen right now. You say to her:
mama li moku li lape
Dad ate and went to bed!
- Mom had food, then slept
- Mom will eat, then sleep
- The babysitter eats and sleeps
- Grandma ate, and slept.
You’ve been watching the snow fall from the comfort of your home all day. It’s so cold outside, you swear you’d freeze if you went out! But you brave it, because you have to know: is the tree in your hard okay? You reach out to touch its leaves with a gloved hand and remark:
kasi li lete li kiwen
The tree is so cold, and rock hard!
- The grass is cold and hard to the touch!
- The flower is frozen solid!
English to Toki Pona
Some of these will have multiple translations under the spoiler!
The sand is sludgy
ko li jaki
The conversation is weird
toki li nasa
The cold is unpleasant
lete li ike
The plant is cute
kasi li suwi
kasi li pona
The community is friendly
kulupu li pona
The water is fast
telo li wawa
Strangeness is wonderful
nasa li pona
People are strong
jan li wawa
The gravel is muddy
ko li jaki
kiwen li jaki
The following use “and.” Remember how multiple li works!
The person is tall and friendly!
jan li suli li pona
jan li suli. jan li pona.
The food is tasty and sweet.
moku li pona li suwi
moku li pona. moku li suwi.
The fire is smelly and ashy!
seli li jaki li ko
seli li jaki. seli li ko.
Water is food, and important
telo li moku li suli
telo li moku. telo li suli.
The group is small and having fun!
kulupu li lili li musi!
kulupu li lili. kulupu li musi!
The rock is wet and strange
kiwen li telo li nasa
Summary of li
li lets you talk about a variety of subjects in Toki Pona. Remember that the word before is the subject, and the word after describes what the subject is or does- respectively called the subject and predicate! You can think of li being similar to English “doing” or “being,” but comparisons to other languages are no substitute for practice!
Back to mi/sina
In the previous lesson, we covered a sentence which exclusively began with either mi or sina. In this lesson, we covered a sentence where anything can start the sentence- so long as it is followed by li. These are actually the same kind of sentence!
[subject] li [predicate]
mi and sina are just special subjects. Another way to think about this sentence is this: if the subject is exactly mi or exactly sina, don’t include li. You can also think of it as though mi and sina are li for their kind of sentence. These different ways of looking at it are helpful tools, but don’t let it get in the way of the language!
Content Words and Particles
Any meaningful word may appear in either the subject, the predicate, or both at once. When I say “meaningful”, this refers the idea of a content word, or a word which serves some semantic function instead of an exclusively grammatical one. The word li is only grammatical- it is not a content word. Every other word so far is a content word.
The word li is a particle, and is not the only one! We will learn about the rest in future lessons. What they have in common is having no semantic function- no meaning.
There are also a handful of words which are so-called pseudo-particles. This category is more blurry, but it contains words which have functions as particles and as content words. Again, we’ll learn about those in a future lesson!