jan Kekan San

jan Kekan San



pali doesn’t mean “do”, just “work” or “create”.


This small nasin is interesting enough to document because it changes an existing word, rather than outright adding or removing words or grammatical behaviors.

palin’t is named weirdly. Unlike other n't nasin, this one does use pali. But it doesn’t use one meaning of pali: “to do”. This way, pali only means to create or to work, among a few other related definitions. Keep in mind, it can still mean any kind of creating or working, which overlap with “do”.

This distinction is sometimes subtle. Both working and creating are kinds of doing, but “to do” is more broad than both. You can think of this removing pali’s most generic meaning. The primary consequence of this is changing a common conversation starter:

sina pali e seme?

This is taught as a greeting to learners, to mean “What are you doing?”. It works given pali’s “do” meaning, but without that meaning, this statement is more like “What are you working on?” or “What are you creating?”.

Still, remember that “to do” is a pu usage of the word pali, and will be understood by most Toki Pona speakers. But the use of pali as “to do” is falling out of popularity over time, even with pu using “sina pali e seme” as an example greeting.

On that note, I recommend these conversation starters instead:

sina seme?

“What are you doing?” in Toki Pona’s most common nasin. Could also be “What describes you?”, or “What kind of ‘you’ are you?” if taken literally. For comparison, “jan seme” asks the same questions: “What describes this person?” or “What kind of person?”

seme li lon?

Literally, “What exists?”. Figuratively, “What is happening?” or “What’s up?”. This is also my personal favorite.

seme li sin?

Similarly to “seme li lon”, this asks what is new rather than what exists.

I encourage you to be as curious as you want as well, and use any conversation starter! Ask about somebody’s week, or their favorite hobby. Ask about a trip they want to go on. There are interesting topics in every direction; be excited!