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Table of Contents
- Words to Know
Words to Know
|(replaces li; command, require)||Letter “o” beneath a vertical line like an exclamation point|
|(but, however)||A vertical line with a horizontal line from its left|
|only, exclusively, just||A vertical line with a horizontal line from its left|
|fight, battle, competition, compete||Two crossed swords with handles|
|remove, away, absent||4 small lines on each diagonal, away from the center|
|writing, drawing, art, painting, script||Paper with three dots in a horizontal row|
|die, kill, death||Cartoony head with “x” for eyes|
|home, room, building||House shape, with three box sides and a triangle roof|
|container, bag, box||Tall box with an open top|
|stick, rod, branch||Tall, thin stick with rounded top and bottom|
|fruit, vegetable||An apple with a little stem|
|bread, wheat, pasta, carbs||3 arrows pointing down in a column, the top of a bread loaf|
|animal, land creature||Body starting on the left, round head on the right, a leg, three more separate legs, and two dotted eyes!|
|bird, flying creature||From top, slant down-right into a beak, back to the center, and down to bottom. Then dot the eyes!|
|reptile, amphibian, scaly/leathery creature||A tall oval with two or three lines across for legs. Then dot the eyes above the oval!|
|bug, insect, spider, exo-skeletal creature||A vertical line with three lines across for legs. Then dot the eyes at the top two boxes!|
|fish, swimming creature||A fish in a loop: from top left of fin, down and around for body, back to the bottom left to finish the fin|
Don’t worry, these are content words too! I separated them to make them easier to remember.
We’re going to look at another new sentence! We’ll use the particle o, so we can give instructions or set out requirements.
The particle o is like li. It takes the same place in the sentence, but it changes the meaning: now, the sentence is an instruction!
You may give instructions without a subject, which are directed at the listener:
o lukin e kulupu kasi
Look at the forest.
Look at the garden.
This is the most common form of an instruction, without a subject.
In Toki Pona, it is not rude to give an instruction. If you say o ni as in “Do this”, it is as polite as “Can you please do this?” in English. There is no “please” in Toki Pona, and no need for it!
You may also give instructions to a specific subject:
jan lili o musi nasa ala
If jan lili is listening: Child, stop being silly!
If jan lili is not listening: The child has to stop being silly.
If the subject is not listening or not able to listen, you would interpret the statement as a requirement instead of a given instruction.
lipu o pakala ala
The paper should not be ripped.
The paper must not be torn.
The documents should not be shredded.
This also applies to inanimate things! What does it mean to give instructions or requirements to a building, collection, light, or colors?
You can also reword these as instructions:
o pakala ala e lipu
Do not tear the paper.
Do not shred the documents. indicate
Now the listener is responsible for the paper!
A note about politeness
It is possible to be rude in Toki Pona, as it is possible in any language. But in English, we soften requests with lots of extra words, such as please and can. In Toki Pona, there is an assumption that you are being earnest and respectful of your listener, so a request doesn’t need to be softened with other words. This is often called a “polite default” assumption, but I call it an “earnest default.”
You may use o directly after a subject phrase to get that subject’s attention:
Mom! [mom looks over]
Dad! [dad looks over]
This is an interjection, which we’ll learn more about in the next lesson!
This may appear before or after a sentence, but both mean the same:
jan sona o! sina pona
Teacher, you’re excellent!
sina pona! jan sona o
You’re excellent, teacher!
Here, jan sona o is getting the attention of jan sona, and the speaker says a complete sentence directed at them. The order of the sentence and interjection doesn’t matter, so do what feels right in the moment.
You can use this interjection with an instruction, so you know that an instruction will be heard by its intended listener:
jan ale o! o pana e lipu sina
Everyone, please turn in your papers!
And you can put the two together, because an instruction with a subject can get the attention of that subject at the same time as instructing or requiring:
jan ale o pana e lipu sina
Everyone, please turn in your papers!
Everyone must turn in their papers.
Sometimes you’ll see taso at the start of a sentence. This is like saying “but” or “however,” and is usually used before a later sentence to connect two ideas.
mi kute e pakala! taso mi pona
I heard something break. But I’m alright!
The first sentence establishes context, and the second provides some clarifying or contrary information.
For comparison, here is the second sentence without taso:
mi kute e pakala! mi pona
Without taso, the sentences are not as clearly related.
taso is a modifier the rest of the time, but usually as the last modifier of a phrase, affecting the entire phrase. Consider these examples:
kute taso li pona e sona sina
(Only listening) can improve your understanding.
kute li pona taso e sona sina
Listening will (only improve) your understanding.
kute li pona e sona sina taso
Listening will improve (your understanding only).
taso can also be the head of a phrase, used as a normal content word:
taso li pona
Being alone is good.
Exclusivity is good.
ona li kama taso
They became alone.
This is a rare use though; taso is most used together with other concepts!
In previous lessons, I gave many interpretations for each sentence. As these sentences get longer and more complex, I provide fewer or only one interpretation, but there are other interpretations; try thinking of a few!
Toki Pona to English
o for commands
You’re on a camping trip in the hills of a huge mountain range, and have a ranger with you to help the trip and provide knowledge of nature! You get back to your camp one night before sunset, and find a bear digging through your food. Oh no, you’ve gotta stop it! But the ranger tells you in hushed but serious tone:
o utala ala e soweli
Don’t attack the bear!
You’re on a boat with some friends, enjoying the sun and the wind. One of your friends has been intently watching over the side, waiting for… Something? Eventually, they call out to everyone to come look, because they spotted something! They say:
o lukin e kala suli
Look at this huuuuge fish!
Your neighbor somehow caught a bird, put it in a box, and is planning to keep it. Oh no, the poor bird! You explain to them that birds want to fly and be free, and tell them:
o poki ala e waso
Don’t put the birds in a box!
You’ve been frustratedly working on a piece of art for some time. It’s a painting you wanted to gift to your teacher, but you don’t think it’s coming out right and want to destroy it. You show it to one of your friends for advice, and they say:
o moli ala e sitelen sina! ona li pona
Don’t kill your painting. It’s fantastic!
Don’t destroy your painting. It’s fantastic!
moli here is being used to mean the same as pakala, but for something which is important or meaningful. This is incorrect if taking moli at face value, but it is still a common use in the community!
o with a subject
Your dad is leaving you at home while he runs errands. He wants you to clean the house, because you made a mess of the place not long ago, bringing in a bunch of branches from outside. He says to you:
palisa o jaki ala e tomo! o weka e palisa
Sticks must not make the house gross. Remove the sticks!
You’ve been hanging out on the porch for too long, and you’ve started to notice lots of obnoxious bugs coming out as the sun sets. In your frustration, you yell out at the bugs:
pipi o weka! o moli!
Bugs, go away! Die!
Bugs have to go away! And die!
You’re trying to play a board game with a group of friends, but only one of you knows the rules. The rest of you are sitting together, trying to make sense of the rules, when one of the group pipes up:
jan pi sona musi o pana e sona
The person who knows about the game should explain!
You’re explaining the rules to the game: When the leader covers their eyes, everyone runs as fast as they can. When the leader opens their eyes, if anyone is seen moving they’re out! You explain:
ona ale o tawa ala
They all must not move!
You’re in a cooking competition! The dish on order: authentic pasta. When the order comes in, you think long and hard about it; there’s a lot of competition. Your coach chimes in with similar thinking, saying:
pan sina o pona wawa
Your pasta has to come out amazingly!
o for attention
You spotted a cute squirrel, and you’re trying to get its attention!
You brought your friend out to birdwatch with you. They are much newer to the hobby than you, and keep scaring off birds with their calls:
Your pet lizard absolutely loves to eat lettuce, tearing right into it. You wanted to show off for some of your friends, but it seems your little lizard friend has stage fright: he won’t eat in front of the crowd! You tell him gently:
o moku e kili! akesi lili o
Please eat the lettuce, little lizard
You’re discussing hobbies with a friend, especially when you like to work on your hobbies. Your friend is a morning person and loves feeling the sun as they’re productive. You like the sun, but prefer to work in the dark when the moon is out. You tell them:
suno li pona! taso pimeja li pona e ken sitelen mi
The sun is good, but darkness helps my writing ability.
- Sunlight is okay, but the shade improves my writing performance.
- Lights are wonderful, but I prefer no lights for my writing.
It’s the middle of winter, and you’ve seen nothing but dreary gray skies for weeks. One day, the cloud cover finally breaks, opening up to reveal beautiful sunlight! You step outside to bask, but unfortunately, the air is still frigid around you. You remark to yourself:
mi pilin e suno. taso mi lete
I feel the sunlight, but I feel cold.
You’re a genius inventor, working on an amazing new tool: a working pair of wings you can strap to your back! When you come up with a working prototype, you demonstrate the invention in front of a crowd, explaining:
mi waso ala. taso mi ken tawa sewi!
I am not a bird, but I can fly!
Your friend has become quite philosophical as of late, and has been throwing various statements in their new philosophical views your way for review. The most recent one seems rather obvious to you, but you don’t let them know that. The statement:
ala li pona taso
Nothing is exclusively good.
Nothingness is only good!
This statement has two possible interpretations, even in the given context! It could be saying that no object exists which is entirely good, or nothingness itself is exclusively good. Maybe your friend is wiser than you thought?
Your friend is down-trodden, feeling rejected. They haven’t been invited to any parties or events lately, and are worried that all their friends are abandoning them. As a way of lashing out, they insist their friends are the problem, but you console them with some helpful perspective:
jan pona sina li ike ala. ona li pali taso. ona li wile e sina
Your friends are not mean! They’re only working. They want you.
You’ve been thinking long and hard about an upcoming event. You want it to be the most thrilling event to ever happen in your city- but you don’t know to do it without the help of somebody you really don’t want to ask for help. But it’s worth it. You resolve to get their help, and say to yourself:
ona taso li ken wawa e kulupu
Only they are able to excite the party!
wawa here is being used to mean “intensify.” It can intensify any anything!
English to Toki Pona
I only want the shiny black rock!
mi wile e kiwen pimeja suno taso
mi wile e kiwen pimeja pona taso
mi wile taso e kiwen pimeja pona
This is a little tricky! In English, saying “I only want the rock” means the rock is the exclusive thing in the sentence. When translated in the first example, taso only applies to the object.
If you translated with taso on the predicate, the “only” thing would be the “want.” But it
They only have their id card.
ona li jo e lipu ona taso
ona li jo e lipu jan ona taso
Here, if jo were taso, it would mean they only action they were taking is having their ID card. What is meant is that the only object they have is their ID card!
Make them stop!
o awen e ona
awen can mean to continue, or to stop. Here, applying awen to ona means to stop them!
Can you wash the dog?
o telo e soweli
Remember, instructions are just as good as requests in Toki Pona!
The reds cannot be that bright!
loje o suno ale ala / “The reds must not be completely bright”
loje o suno wawa ala / “The reds must not be intensely bright”
loje o suno pi wawa ala / “The reds must be bright in a non-intense way”
There’s a few interpretations possible here- if you caught loje as the subject taking an instruction, and brightness as suno, you’re set!
Also, you can’t directly translate “that” as ni! Here, “that” is intensifying a statement as in a comparison.
You must learn Toki Pona!
o kama sona e toki pona / “Learn Toki Pona”
sina o kama sona e toki pona / “You must learn Toki Pona”
sona sina pi toki pona o kama suli / “Your knowledge of Toki Pona must grow”
Take this with you.
o jo e ni
Smash this pumpkin!
o pakala e kili suli ni
o moli e kili loje ni
o moli e kili jelo ni
Move the box out of the way!
o tawa e poki
o weka e poki
Only remove the important files!
o weka e lipu suli taso
o kama jo e lipu suli taso
“Remove” in the sense of removing files (such as physically) is to convey instructions for which files to take. Thus, kama jo. But if it means “remove” as in “get rid of,” weka!
Toki Pona is earnest by default. Giving somebody an instruction is not rude unless you are very intentional about being rude. You can tell somebody what to do, and it’s perfectly okay for them to say “mi ken ala” -> “I am unable to.”
You can use o in place of li in a sentence to turn that sentence into an instruction or command! This doesn’t change the grammar much, but you can omit the subject before o in which case it is intended for the listener.
You can optionally include taso before a sentence, which connects it to previous statements in a similar way to “but” or “however” in English.
(taso) [subject] (li) [predicate] (e [object])
taso can be used at the end of a phrase to indicate that particular phrase is exclusive.
There’s also a bit more freedom for what can go around a sentence. You can interject subjects, followed by o, to indicate who should be listening!
Now that we’ve learned the word sitelen, here’s a fun side note: Toki Pona’s writing system is called sitelen pona, “good writing”!