Check out the video lesson too!
Table of Contents
- Words to Know
Words to Know
|(negates previous word or phrase)||An X|
|want, need||Curvy letter “w”|
|capability, power, permission, possibility||Letter “K”|
|summon, arrive, invite||Pair of legs walking to the left|
|remain, stay, continue, stop, protect||Pair of legs standing still, feet facing out|
|knowledge, understanding, to know||Piece of paper with emitters|
|hunt, seek, search, forage||A bow and arrow pointing to the right|
|eyes, to look||An eye with pupil in the center|
|none, nothing, not, zero||An X|
The word ala is a particle and content word! You’ll be able to tell these apart by how the word is used.
|to want, to need||Curvy letter “w”|
|to be able, to have permission||Letter “K”|
|to begin, to become||Pair of legs walking to the left|
|to continue||Pair of legs standing still, feet facing out|
|to be skilled in||Piece of paper with emitters|
|to try||A bow and arrow pointing to the right|
|to try||An eye with pupil in the center|
Pre-predicates, also known as pre-verbs or pre-preds, are special modifiers that go at the start of the predicate.
There are seven pre-preds in common use. We already know some of them as normal content words!
mi wile pali
I want to create.
I want to work.
The wile pre-pred means the predicate is wanted or needed.
You could say:
mi wile e pali
And that could mean the same thing. But it’s more clear to say mi wile pali.
When something is in the object, it is often considered not an action. If you want to talk about a wanted action, ensuring that word is in the predicate is the most clear!
mi ken wawa
I can be strong.
The ken pre-pred means the predicate is an ability or permission. Consider this version:
ken mi li wawa
Again, this has a similar meaning to the original statement that used a pre-predicate.
You can often restate a sentence without a pre-predicate. Using pre-predicates saves time and makes you more clear!
sina kama sona
You are learning!
The kama pre-pred refers to things changing, which may be beginnings or endings, or something becoming different over time! It’s similar to words in English that end with “-ing,” such as learning or growing.
kasi li kama suli
The plant is growing!
The plant is becoming huge!
jan lili li kama lape
The child goes to sleep.
mi awen kute
I am still listening.
The awen pre-pred means the predicate describes something staying the same- not changing, as opposed to the kama pre-pred which does refer to change.
You can still restate this without the pre-predicate:
kute mi li awen
But still, the predicate version is most clear to the “listening” meaning.
ona li sona pakala e ni
You can’t always tell apart a normal predicate from a pre-predicate. Pay attention to context!
Pre-predicate sona: They know how to break this.
Predicate sona: They poorly understand this.
The sona pre-pred means the predicate indicates knowledge of how to perform the action. mi sona pali is like saying “I know how to create.” Consider this:
mi sona e pali
The same action-versus-thing distinction happens as with the ken pre-pred. If something is an action, or knowledge of an action, that will be better understood in the predicate.
alasa / lukin
mi alasa pona e sina / mi lukin pona e sina
I’m trying to help you!
Lastly, there’s alasa and lukin, which have the same meaning as pre-preds: to try. I recommend alasa most: it is more commonly used. But both will be understood, so use whichever you feel!
alasa and lukin mean the same as pre-preds because Toki Pona has changed over time, even as a constructed language!
Here are some extra notes on pre-predicates before you continue:
You can use a pre-predicate with itself in the predicate, such as saying mi wile wile! This is not common, because the pre-predicate usually does what you need.
We can’t ignore pre-predicates like we ignored modifiers before. They do change the predicate, where modifiers just make it more specific!
Like modifiers, you can use multiple pre-predicates at once!
mi awen ken mama e kasi
I am still able to raise plants.
I am still able to grow plants.
- awen means something is ongoing
- ken means something is an ability
- mama is the predicate, making this a parenting action.
The order of pre-predicates matters. Consider this:
mi ken awen mama e kasi
I am able to continue raising plants.
Multiple pre-predicates apply from left to right. The thing that is ken is the awen mama, and the thing that is awen is mama.
In the original, the thing that is awen is ken mama, and the thing that is ken is mama.
ala has a simple function: negate the previous word or phrase.
mi pona ala
I’m not well.
I’m not good.
Here, pona is negated by ala- it’s like saying “not”.
Toki Pona words don’t have opposites. There are some uses of pona opposite to uses of ike, but pona ala is not ike.
Compare the phrases “this is good” and “this is not bad” in English. They can be close in meaning, but the negation does not make them the same.
jan ala li ante e lipu
Nobody changed the book.
A non-person changed the book.
Two interpretations are possible here! The first means the book was unchanged, and the second means something other than a person changed the book. If you want to be clear that the book is unchanged, try lipu li ante ala.
ala can be a normal modifier! If it is, it applies nothingness to the thing it modifies. This is a rare case though!
You can also use ala in pre-predicates:
kasi li kama ala ike
The plant did not get hurt!
The plant did not become unpleasant.
And in pi phrases:
ona li jan pi pana ala
They are not a giving person.
They are not a gift giver.
Stick to negating predicates, modifiers, and pre-predicates. Easy to understand!
Toki Pona to English
A teacher is trying to communicate to all of his students that recess is over, and everyone needs to come inside. He sends a nearby student with a message for everyone to group up in the classroom:
jan sona li wile kulupu e jan pi kama sona
The teacher wants to group together all the students!
The original statement could be shorter: “pi kama sona” could be dropped and the statement would be similar. Modifiers only make things more specific!
You’re observing the plants outside. Some are tall and wide, others are small and low to the ground. One plant in particular has many outstretched leaves glowing gently in the sun, and you remark on the shape of these leaves:
kasi mute li ken lipu
Many plants can be papery.
Lots of leaves can be flat.
Every day, you come out to the edge of the water and watch the waves lap over the rocks and wash back out. As you come out day after day, you see that all the spots where water can reach are turning green- growing moss! You remark:
telo li kama laso e kiwen
The water turned the rock green!
You’re discussing a difficult decision with your family: do you leave your job, that has stressed you for months on end? You don’t want to leave, because you know that will hurt your co-workers, and your friends, as they try to fill the gap you leave behind. Your brother chimes in with helpful perspective:
wile sina li awen suli
Your wishes are still important.
Your wants are still important.
You’re applying for a new job as a social media manager! You’ve been talking on about your experience and skills, but most importantly, you explain that you know the primary skill of a social media manager:
mi sona pali e kulupu suli
I know how to create a huge community.
I am skilled at creating large groups.
I skillfully created a huge community!
You’ve been talking up Toki Pona with your friends for a while now, and finally convinced one of them to join you in learning! But your friend asks, why were you so persistent about others learning Toki Pona? You explain:
jan pi toki pona li alasa nasa e kulupu ona / jan pi toki pona li lukin nasa e kulupu ona
Toki Pona speakers try to make their communities weird! [positive connotation]
Toki Pona speakers try to weird their communities.
Remember, pre-predicate lukin and alasa have the same meaning!
Your friend is sick! Your other friends have been asking how your friend is doing, so you explain:
ona li awen kama pona
They are still getting better.
You are watching your little brother stare into a triangular prism. Light is shining from the window into the prism, and the prism scatters all the light throughout the room in a variety of colors. Your brother says:
mi wile alasa sona e kule ale / mi wile lukin sona e kule ale
I want to try understanding all the colors.
ala and pre-preds
Your research team has been working to put together a presentation. However, one member of your team will not be present on the day of the presentation- the one who was going to give it! You go to the coordinator and explain:
ona li ken ala ni
They can’t do this…
You’ve discovered you have a fascinating new power: You can grow plants wherever you point! But you can’t make more than small blades of grass or patches of moss. As you discuss this with your teacher, they explain the roadblock you have:
sina sona ala wawa e ken sina
You don’t know how to empower your ability.
You’ve been feeling unwell lately, and sleeping a lot as a result. As the hours go by, and you’re stuck in bed trying to recover, your responsibilities pile up. You unhappily remark to yourself:
mi wile ala awen lape
I don’t want to keep sleeping…
Your family has been clearing out a ton of space in the back yard, and carting all the extra leaves and branches to a pile. They burn the pile to get rid of it, and the smoke makes it a struggle to stay outside so you go in and settle into a book. Later, your brother comes to tell you they stopped:
ona li awen ala seli e kasi
They stopped burning brush!
They’re no longer burning plants!
You could also say “ona li seli ala e kasi” to similar effect!
You’re going swimming in a lake in the middle of summer! The sun is beaming brightly, and your dad is concerned you’ll get a sunburn. He’s reminded you too many times to bring sunscreen, put on lots of sunscreen, keep re-applying sunscreen, but you know all that already! You finally tell him:
mi alasa ala kama loje / mi lukin ala kama loje
I’m not trying to get sunburnt!
You can apply pre-predicates to descriptions too!
I’m not trying to turn red!
ala and other things
You’ve been sorting through boxes of donations, trying to make a list of contributors to thank for their help. Somebody you’re working with you points out that you’ve made a mistake- you attributed a donation to the wrong person! They say:
ona li pana e ni ala. ona li pana e ni!
They gave not this. They gave that!
The English here is a bit clunky to better reflect the original Toki Pona!
While negating the predicate can be similar to negating the object, choosing one over the other can emphasize your intended meaning better! If the original sentence had used ala on pana instead, this would be the translation:
They didn’t give this. They gave that!
You’re watching a friend confidently dive through piles of trash to find their lost hat. You’re grossed out, but they insist they’ll find it. Eventually, they come up from the pile with their hat! But the hat desperately needs to be washed after its garbage stint. Your friend tries to hand you the hat, and you exclaim:
ni li jaki mute! mi pilin ala e ni
That is so gross. I’m not touching that!
English to Toki Pona
I don’t think anyone has the answer.
pilin mi li ni: jan ala li sona
pilin mi li ni: jan li sona ala
pilin mi li ni: ala li sona e ni
This one sentence needs to be broken up to accomplish two things: expressing that the statement is your feeling or thought, and the information of the statement itself!
That glacier is not white!
kiwen lete ni li walo ala
lete ni li walo ala
I didn’t do that!
mi ni ala
I’m searching for my son
mi alasa e jan lili mi
mi alasa e jan ni: mi mama ona
The second example here uses a second sentence to add more information about the object!
The fire won’t consume the forest!
seli li pakala ala e kulupu pi kasi suli
seli li moku ala e kulupu kasi
seli suli li moku ala e kasi ale
seli wawa li moku ala e kasi ale
Even though “consume” is not meant in the eating sense here, moku still works!
I’m still waiting!
You could say “mi awen awen” here, but “mi awen” already captures that!
They’re really good at that.
ona li sona ni
My ears are still feeling really weird.
kute mi li awen pilin nasa mute
kute mi li awen nasa mute
kute mi li awen nasa
This tree is ruining my view!
kasi ni li pakala e ken lukin mi
Here, a “view” is expressed as a looking ability. There are other ways to express this statement which we haven’t learned yet; you could also say “I am unable to look because of this tree.”
Your moss garden is becoming pretty!
kasi lili sina li kama pona
ko kasi sina li kama pona
Clarity of Grammar
If something is in the predicate, it will often be assumed to be an action. This is especially true when an object is present with e.
If something is in the object, it will often be assumed to be a thing, especially something physical.
Neither of these are true all the time, but they are true enough that you can rely on it! If you want to reference an action, putting that in the predicate can be helpful, and the same goes for putting physical things in the object.
Most of what pre-preds are used for can be said without pre-preds. But using them makes you much more understandable.
In this lesson, we saw that some phrases are ambiguous. There are multiple possible interpretations, statements that need more detail, and more. This is a common feature of Toki Pona. You do not need to specifically learn to avoid it- that will come naturally as you figure out what works and what doesn’t!
That said, if any ambiguity or even simple misunderstanding comes up when speaking, restating yourself is helpful!