jan Kekan San

jan Kekan San

Modifiers and pi

Check out the video lesson too!

Table of Contents

Words to Know


Word Use Writing
(groups modifiers into one modifier) Left and bottom sides of a square
(mark additional subjects/subject phrases) Plus sign

Content Words

Word Definition Writing
he, she, it, they, them, their, themselves Right hand index finger pointing to your left
this, that An arrow pointing downward
every, all, universe, countless An infinity sign
many, multiple, several, very Three vertical lines, like tally marks
light, shine, brightness, glow A sun with lines at top, bottom, left, and right
color, pigment, paint, relating to LGBTQ+ Triangle with a line through it, like a prism
blue, green Triangle with a plant on top
red Triangle with a mouth shape on top
yellow Triangle with a sun on top
white, pale, desaturated Triangle with lines coming off its top two sides
black, dark, unlit, shaded Triangle with an X inside it


en, quickly!

We saw before that li can be used more than once to refer to multiple actions or traits of the subject. We also saw e more than once for multiple objects, and you can them both together too!

What about multiple subjects? The word en is used to add subjects after the first.

sina en mi li musi

You and I are having fun!

pali en lape li pona e jan

Creating and sleeping heals people.

en can be used any number of times, but only at the start of a sentence, meaning before any predicates!

Also, this can be used just as well with multiple li and multiple e at once. Here’s a really involved example:

mi en sina en kulupu li tawa li moku e kasi e telo

Me, you, and the group will travel, and eat plants and water!

Now to the main part of the lesson!

One Modifier

In Toki Pona, words may be modified by adding words after the first in a phrase. This first word is called the Head, or sometimes Head Noun. Every word after the head is a Modifier. Here’s an example phrase:

lipu musi

The first word is the most important, telling you the most about the thing. Here, lipu is the head, so this is some kind of paper or document. Then musi modifies lipu, making it more specific. Now check the spoiler!

jan pona li toki

The nurse is giving instructions!

Here, the subject is modified: this is a jan, and the jan is pona! It’s similar to saying jan li pona, but in a single phrase.

mi sona suli e lipu.

I critically understand the paper.

Here, the predicate is modified: sona is the start of the predicate, and suli changes it. suli is making sona more important.

sina lukin e kasi suwi

You’re looking at a cute flower!

Here, the object kasi is modified with suwi. Try splitting this into two sentences:

sina lukin e kasi. kasi li suwi!

This means mostly the same: You look at the plant. The plant is cute.

mi and sina can be modified, even in the subject. If you do, you still use li! You only omit li if the subject is exactly mi or exactly sina. Check the first lesson again!

You can even modify multiple phrases at once!

kulupu mi li pakala wawa e kiwen suli

My team crushed a huge boulder.

My community blew up an enormous slate!

Also, the kiwen is now a kiwen pakala!

Check your understanding under the spoiler!

If you get lost reading a sentence, try ignoring the modifiers and reading just the heads, the first word of each phrase!

Many Modifiers

You can modify a head with many words!

mi sona e wawa nasa lete

I know a magical ice power!

Importantly, the order does not matter. wawa nasa lete and wawa lete nasa are the same thing. Think it through: In English, wawa nasa lete is a weird cold power. wawa lete nasa is a cold weird power. These statements aren’t even different in English!

jan li kalama musi suwi

Somebody is singing sweetly.

Same as before, the order does not matter. kalama musi suwi and kalama suwi musi are the same.

pi phrases

pi introduces a new head, and that head plus all the words that follow it become a single modifier. Then that modifier applies to the head of the entire phrase. That’s a complex idea, so let’s explore it!

mi jan pi pali kasi

I’m a gardener.

Here, the predicate begins with jan. pi turns the following words into a single modifier, with the first word as a head: pali modified by kasi makes it plant-related work. Apply this idea to jan and you’re done. Check the spoiler!

You must have two words or more after pi! You can’t use pi for one word because that word is already the modifier you want.

mi jan suli pi sona kasi

I’m an expert botanist.

You can have a pi phrase after other modifiers. The same rules apply: pi turns everything that follows it into a modifier, and that applies to the head of the whole phrase. Here, jan is both suli and sona kasi. Check your understanding!

For clarity, limit yourself to one pi per phrase.

If you have more than one pi, context tells whether they both modify the head or the second modifies the first. But with one pi, you can’t go wrong!

A note on multiple pi

When using or reading double pi, there are two possible interpretations.

Context tells you which is in use, but it is more clear to limit yourself to one pi per phase

Restatements for this example:

jan li pali wawa li toki pona

Here, the two are separated, since they’re separate predicates for the subject jan in a single sentence.

jan li pali wawa. pali li toki pona!

Here, the two are related, since the second sentence adds more information about the pali in the first sentence!


Toki Pona to English

One Modifier

Your penpal said in their last letter that they sent a gift! You had no idea what was coming, but you were so excited for it. When the gift finally came, you open it up to find a personalized piece of art, and you rush to write back that it arrived in good condition:

mi jo pona e pana sina

I safely have your gift!

A teacher is struggling to calm their students. The teacher comes in with a new plan each class, but the class stays rowdy! Finally, the teacher turns learning into a group activity, where each student learns one thing and then teaches it to their partner. When asked how the activity went later, the teacher responds excitedly:

pilin mi li ni: ona li kute sona e mi

My thought is that they heard and understood me!

As the air gets cooler and the sun is out for less time each day, you begin to notice the leaves on the trees change color. In your excitement for the changing seasons, you tell everyone you know:

kule kasi li ante

The plants are changing color!

The color of plants is changing!

kule can be used to refer to more colors than Toki Pona normally has! Think of saying “The color of sand” in English; this would be kule ko in Toki Pona.

Many Modifiers

It’s pollen season, and every surface in sight is coated in a fine yellow dust. When you step outside, you start sneezing up a storm. One of your friends, fortunate to not be affected, asks what’s wrong. You explain:

ko jelo kasi li ike e mi

Pollen gives me allergies.

You’ve been excitedly telling your friend about a fantastic ice cream shop that opened only a few weeks ago- they have the best ice cream in the city! You finally convince your friend to go with you, they get a bowl of ice cream heaped tall, and they realize how much they’ve been missing by not going sooner! They tell you:

lete walo ni ale li suwi mute

All this vanilla ice cream is sweet and delicious!

One of your friends has been confiding in you that they have no idea what to get for their partner’s birthday. You quietly talk to some others, and bring back suggestions for gifts and surprises. Finally, you tell everyone the plan your friend went with:

ona li pana e kasi laso loje

They gifted red and blue flowers.

Remember, modifier order doesn’t matter. Both the modifiers affect the head separately and no matter their order, so kasi is laso and loje- they don’t mix!

pi phrases

You’re having a conversation on the phone with a long distance friend who speaks Toki Pona! You’re walking in public while doing so, keeping your volume down to be respectful. But a little kid comes running up and, in the blunt way only a child can, says you talk super weirdly! When you get back to your call, you explain:

jan lili li toki e ni: mi toki pi nasa mute

A small child said this: I speak weirdly!

As you’ve been reading through a series of Toki Pona lessons, you slowly but surely gain an understanding and appreciation of Toki Pona. You’ve been talking to your friends through the process, trying to convince them to join in, and you say to demonstrate:

sona mi pi toki pona li suli

My understanding of Toki Pona is huge!

You’ve been writing down your thoughts and feelings in a journal as a meditation exercise. Unfortunately, you lost it somewhere, so you call up your friends and explain what you lost, what is important about it, and what it looks like:

lipu pi loje jelo li jo e sona mi

The orange journal has my knowledge.

The orange journal has my writings.

Here, loje is a head noun, and jelo modifies it. Unlike before, we’re changing a color from one shade to another with a modifier, instead of having two separate shades both present!

English to Toki Pona

I want the shiny white rock

mi wile e kiwen walo suno

mi wile e kiwen walo pona

All of these are strange-feeling

ni ale li nasa pilin

The strange-feeling part is tricky! nasa is a more appropriate head noun than pilin, because “these” are being “strange” in some way: a pilin way.

This is a fantastic shade of blue

kule laso ni li pona mute

kule laso ni li pona

kule telo ni li pona

The sun is very bright

suno li wawa mute

They are making a guide to explosions

ona li pali e lipu pi sona pakala

ona li pali e lipu pakala

pakala can directly modify lipu and not mean that the lipu is broken! It can be related to broken-ness as well.

I’m looking at a lot of plants!

mi lukin e kasi mute

mi lukin e kasi mute mute

The yellow light is shining brightly, and hurting my eyes!

suno jelo li wawa, li ike e lukin mi!

suno jelo li wawa, li pakala e lukin mi!

I gave many sweets and many foods!

mi pana e suwi mute e moku mute

The black and white flames are strange, and beautiful

seli walo pimeja li nasa li pona mute

Sleeping well helped me work and play!

lape pona li pona e pali mi e musi mi



We can change words in every part of speech with Modifiers, making them more specific.

The word at the start of the phrase is called the Head, after its “head” position in a phrase. It can also be called the Head Noun.

We also have a new particle. There’s some nuance to what that means, now that some of the particles do more than grammatical work, but that can be left for study outside these lessons!


Toki Pona sentences still look the same:

[subject] (li) [predicate] (e [object])

But now, each phrase can be modified! This does not change where anything belongs, but it lets you be more specific about what you say.

Modifiers and Meaning

Modifiers do not change what they modify, only make it more specific.

You can see this in English too: a blue book is a kind of book, and a deep understanding is still a kind of understanding. Toki Pona always works like this, with one exception coming up next lesson.

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