jan Kekan San

jan Kekan San

Asking and Answering Questions

Table of Contents

Words to Know


Word Definition Writing
(connect phrases with ‘or’) A capital letter “Y” with a wide top
(request information) A question mark

By the way, anu comes back next lesson for a thing that isn’t questions!

Content Words

Word Definition Writing
body, torso Like a wide chest: flat line on top, three lines to bottom from left, right, center
head, mind, brain, control, plan, govern, lead A head wearing a hat, bill facing to the right
front, face, wall The right half of a box with a dot to the right. Faces towards new writing!
hand, arm, tactile limb Hand outline with thumb and extended fingers
foot, leg, locomotive limb Foot facing to the right
boundary, skin, bark, peel, outer layer A table shape, but with four straight legs in two pairs nearer to the edges.
mouth, lips, eating orifice An open, smiling mouth with a dot beneath
hole, door, window, orifice A deep hole, curved at the bottom
back, behind, rear The left half of a box with a dot on the left. Faces towards old writing!
bump, lump, extrusion, hill, mountain, nose A tall hill
inside, center, between, organ The bottom half of a box with a dot in the center
thing Just a circle. A perfectly generic object.


Questions are the cornerstone of speaking toki pona skillfully. Where a newbie speaker would be stuck wondering what a phrase or sentence means and not sure how to get past it, a skilled speaker knows what question to ask- in toki pona- to get the answer! In other words, if you master asking questions, you can make your way through any conversation!

In Toki Pona, there are three ways to ask questions, and many ways to answer them. You can use questions to cover gaps of all sorts- asking yes or no questions, clarifying something you misheard, asking what color and flavor yesterday was, and tons more.

Let’s get into the first way of asking questions, with the word ala.

Asking your first question with ala

We can turn any sentence into a question by doubling the first word of the predicate, then adding ala between them both. As a reminder, the predicate comes after li, or after mi or sina if they’re alone in the subject! Here are some examples:

sina pona ala pona?

kasi ale li weka ala weka?

Are all the plants gone?

Did all the plants go away?

Will the forest disappear?

These questions are the closest to yes or no questions found in English. But you might have noticed, Toki Pona has no words for answering questions- no “yes” and no “no”!

Instead, you answer questions by repeating the doubled word for “yes,” or ala for “no.” You may also say the word and ala together for no.

ona li moku ala moku e ale?


Translation of the above!

Did they eat everything?


Asking questions with anu seme

Another way to make a question out of a sentence is to add anu seme to the end of it. This forms the same kind of question, and is answered the same way, but there are a few interesting tricks to it!

You still answer “yes” the same as before, repeating the word that would have been doubled:

pipi li wile moku e pipi anu seme?


You also answer “no” the same as before:

jan li kepeken ilo ni anu seme?


Questions formed with anu seme tend to be based on an assumption by the speaker. They expect that you’ll answer, yes, the statement part of their question was true!

It’s easier to ask about negatives:

kulupu li tawa ala tomo anu seme?


You can add anu seme onto the end of any part of speech! It’s much more common to use it at the end of the sentence, to the point that using it elsewhere can occasionally confuse your listener, but it’s always valid.

You’ll see more of how to do this in the next lesson when we look closer at anu

Translation of the above!

Asking questions with seme

Another way to turn a sentence into a question is to replace any content word with seme. This leaves a blank that your listener fills in, and you can put it anywhere!

Asking multiple questions at the same time

Sometimes, you have a lot of questions! Fortunately, Toki Pona speakers have lots of answers.

Questions formed with ala aren’t mixed with questions formed using anu seme, because that would be redundant. This does the same thing to the sentence!

But you can put seme in every part of a sentence, and it’ll always form a valid question- even used more than once! The

seme la mi pana e mani seme tawa sina?

o pana e mani kepeken lipu mani. o pana e mani luka luka tu.

Translation of the above!



How do I send you money, and how much do I send?

Send money with your credit card. Send twelve dollars.

The translation here is pretty loose- the meaning is still the same, but the vibe is totally different. You’ve been warned!

Limit yourself to two seme in a single sentence. The more you add, the more confusing your sentence gets-

Lots of ways to answer questions

Frequently Asked Questions

This section is a quick summary of a few common and important questions you’ll need as you study and practice! This is only a starting point though- many of these can be asked in a variety of other ways more than I list here. Be open minded and creative!

Who? What?

Both of these are generally formed in the same way- put seme in the subject!

seme li pali e ni?

If you know or need to be specific about the who or what being a person, then you would say jan seme.


lon seme? lon ma seme?



Why questions can be formed with tan seme or seme la …!



Several of the question fragments stated here are often valid as full questions! For example, if you said lon seme? to somebody in the right context, they’d understand you to mean “where?”


Toki Pona to English

English to Toki Pona


Fluency is not about understanding everything. It’s about knowing what questions to ask if you don’t understand!

Previous lesson

Next lesson